Among the palm trees and grass, crawl scary things. Glowing spider webs swoop from the roof, headstones peek out and a mad doctor’s lab displays jarred heads, eyeballs and brains.
It’s a Halloween collection 25 years in the making, an explosion of eerie fun in someplace you might not expect — a quiet golf community in Maitland.
“It’s a labor of love,” Dr. Daniel LaVene said.
LaVene, who is an emergency physician at Central Florida Regional Hospital, used to spend a month decorating his home in Maitland in time for Halloween. Today, his decorations have a different home — on the LaVene Family Trail of Nightmares in downtown Celebration.
The Trail will be open Friday through Sunday.
His passion for the holiday started as a child. His birthday is Oct. 22, and he always felt it was “his” holiday. He remembers his father taking him trick-or-treating at apartment complexes so he could get lots of candy for little effort.
“He was either smart or lazy,” LaVene joked.
Once he had his own children, his zeal for the creepy grew. He began collecting decorations, and when he couldn’t find what he wanted, he made it. Many red and green items became black and orange with a little ingenuity. He did most of the work himself, and would take time off from work at the hospital to make sure it got done. He loves seeing the kids enjoy the finished product.
“I look at it as a time of giving,” he said. “It’s the only time of year that perfect strangers open their door to other strangers.”
All the hours LaVene puts into it doesn’t surprise close friend Scott Hanover.
“He is one of the most caring, sweetest, giving men I’ve ever met in my entire life,” he said. “He loves this.”
Last year, LaVene’s work paid off, the community of Celebration asked him to bring his Halloween haunt to them. LaVene agreed and donated all of his decorations and work to create the now annual LaVene Family Trail of Nightmares.
The ghouls and ghosts now haunt the Celebration nature trail, which, once transformed, becomes a pitch-black path of frightening scenes. Even the rustling of leaves can give a little chill — mostly because of what might lurk in the dark.
“It’s never when you’re scared — it’s the build of the anticipation of being scared,” said Tom Touzin, vice president of the Celebration Homeowners Board. “It does a good job of that.”
LaVene loves a good scare, and when he had his home decorated, scaring was a family affair. His son, Aaron LaVene, would lay in a coffin, and as people walked by, he’d pop out. Aaron remembers on one occasion trying to scare a couple. As he burst out of the coffin, the husband, a giant man, ran away terrified, while his wife stood there unfazed.
“It was hilarious,” Aaron said.
LaVene said he’s a bit sad the haunt isn’t at home anymore, but jokes that his wife is happy about it. What he loves about the move is that instead of hundreds, now thousands of people will be able to enjoy his collection.
“It’s thrilling,” he said.
The LaVene Family Trail of Nightmares runs Oct. 29-31 and opens at 7:30 p.m. It is located at Lakeside Park in downtown Celebration. Tickets are $10. It’s not just scary — there will be a pumpkin patch, a bounce house for kids and other food and fun. Visit www.trailofnightmares.com for more information.