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How a 12-foot skeleton became the hottest Halloween decoration around

<i>Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Getty Images</i><br/>How a 12-foot skeleton became the hottest Halloween decoration around. A Maryland family is seen here breaking out their Home Depot skeleton
The Washington Post via Getty Im
Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post/Getty Images
How a 12-foot skeleton became the hottest Halloween decoration around. A Maryland family is seen here breaking out their Home Depot skeleton

By AJ Willingham, CNN

There are two kinds of people: those who understand the allure of a 12-foot skeleton decoration, and those who have yet to understand the allure of a 12-foot skeleton decoration.

Fall beckons the arrival of the Home Depot skeleton, a massive Halloween yard decoration that first hit the market in 2020 and has captivated imaginations ever since. Affectionately known as Skelly, the looming figure is now a mascot of sorts for those who delight in the gothic excesses of Halloween decor.

Why so many people identify with this creature — enough to snatch up entire inventories in hours and spawn a whole skeleton black market in the process — is a question best left to a higher power. Perhaps Skelly is a bridge between the extremes of our human nature; sorrow and joy, famine and excess, the sacred and the profane encased together in high-density polyethylene.

Or perhaps big skeletons are just funny to think about.

“I mean, it’s the moment,” says Jenni Tabler, a sociology professor at the University of Wyoming. She summed up the zeitgeist in a now-viral tweet: “Happy enormous skeleton season to all who celebrate.”

Tabler doesn’t have a Skelly herself, but she gets the hype.

“I think for me as a sociologist, I find it very heartening that we can all rally over some of the small joys in life. And the enormous skeleton is one of those fascinating small joys.”

Jill Troutman of Memphis, Tennessee, searched for two years before securing her Skelly. She had an inside contact at her local Home Depot, so when she got a call in September that the skeletons — the skeletons — were back in stock, she raced to the store and swiftly snapped one up.

Well, as swiftly as one can when the skeleton in question comes in a box the size of a Manhattan apartment.

“The box was HUGE,” Troutman said. “I wasn’t sure I could get it in my small SUV, but I was going to die trying!”

Skelly is born

Several retailers like Costco and Lowes now offer their own Halloween behemoths, but the Skelly phenomenon started in the Home Depot offices in 2020.

To hear Lance Allen, Home Depot’s senior merchant of holiday décor describe it, bringing Skelly to life was a labor of love.

“What our holiday decoration team does is go out into the market, find inspiration, and see what we can do differently.” he tells CNN. ” We went to haunted houses to see what they were doing. We watched all the classic scary movies.”

Ultimately, the team spotted a giant torso at a trade show, and the gears started turning.

“We really brought the item to market at the perfect time,” he said. “It was during the first year of the pandemic, when everybody just needed to smile.”

While the skeleton doesn’t have a name on the box, Allen says people around the office started calling him Skelly and, well, it fit.

Allen’s teams know all about the culture their enormous brainchild has spawned, from the store sellouts to the undefinable charisma people find in his LED-illuminated eyes. In response to the Skelly success, Home Depot has added even more immense offerings: A giant pumpkin skeleton rolled out in 2021, as well as a 12-foot-tall levitating witch that was inspired by a floating street performer Allen saw near the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

This year, the retailer debuted a giant werewolf figure that, at 9-and-a-half feet tall, looks like it belongs on the 18th hole of the best putt-putt golf course in town.

“What this is showing us is, customers are passionate about items that are larger than life,” he says.

Skelly will never die

Skelly’s popularity presents a chicken-and-egg-type quandary: Does a 12-foot skeleton increase one’s fondness for Halloween decor, or does a fondness for Halloween decor increase one’s likelihood of owning a 12-foot-skeleton?

It’s a little of both.

Troutman, for instance, is giving her new skeleton (his name is Todd) a place of honor among her existing Halloween finery.

“The whole neighborhood enjoys coming by and checking out our decorations,” she says. “I have to rethink the whole scheme because Todd is now the star of the show complete with his own special lighting.”

When Vicky Euell and Glenn Grimstad of Toms River, New Jersey, got married last October, their household Skelly served as a wedding altar.

“This is our favorite holiday, and everyone knows we don’t have a simple party. It has to be to the nines,” Euell told CNN. The couple’s holiday displays draw admirers from around the area, and last year they acquired the 12-foot Home Depot witch to add to their collection. (Euell, a woman of taste, also has a permanent witch-themed bathroom.)

As Halloween passes, Euell and Grimstad have to contend with another critical phase of the Skelly experience: finding a place to store a 12-foot skeleton.

“We actually decorate him through the fall, and leave him up through Christmas. Someone even made him a snow suit with a Santa hat.”

“But it’s just for indoors,” Euell says. “I don’t think he’d last outside in that.”

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