Halloween Happenings: 'The neighbors are awesome' at Swansbrough Manor
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
They take Halloween very seriously at Swansbrough Manor.
Every year, Dawn and Steve Swansbrough, along with their daughters, other family members and neighbors, turn their home in Sharpsburg’s Barrington Farms subdivision into Swansbrough Manor, a haunted house/graveyard/pirate ship.
This year, Swansbrough Manor was open on Friday and Saturday, and will be open Halloween night from 6 to 10 p.m.
On Friday, the home at 255 Barrington Grange Drive was a hub of activity, with friends and family members working furiously to get everything ready for opening night. Neighbors dropped by as the afternoon went on and got to work.
“The neighbors are awesome,” said Dawn Swansbrough. The Thornes live next door and the whole family helps out. Across the street, Brian and Dawn White provide parking in large area beside their home.
“If we didn’t have that, we couldn’t do it,” Dawn said of the parking lot. And the Tuckeys, also across the street, help raise the “mast” on the various ships in the yard and help decorate.
“Everybody picks up a paint brush or screwdriver or whatever we do to get it done. And then everybody changes into costumes,” said Dawn, an art teacher at Thomas Crossroads Elementary School.
“We couldn’t do it without all the neighbors. They’re the ones that make all the difference,” she said.
Everything at Swansbrough Manor is free, but donations are appreciated. They go to the art and music programs at Thomas Crossroads. Last year, they raised $1,755.
Turning their home into a Halloween attraction came naturally to Steve and Dawn, who met when they were both cast members at Disneyland. They always had a love for the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disneyland. “We always enjoyed the holiday seasons at the parks,” Dawn said.
They moved to Georgia in 1993 and to their current home in 2002. A few years later, they visited a home on Fischer Road that had quite a few features of its own for Halloween.
“We saw that and we were so inspired,” Dawn said. That’s how the idea of Swansbrough Manor got its start.
Then, “once they started talking about making Pirates of the Caribbean as a movie series, that is when we went bananas. We said ‘we have to do a show,’” she said.
They started out pretty small in 2006. “It was really small, a little area right by the front door,” Dawn said. “Then we expanded it to a large cemetery, then the next year we added the ship,” she said. “Each year it has grown.”
That first ship was the Black Pearl, from Pirates of the Caribbean, which attaches to the home’s garage. Later, Steve Swansbrough built the Flying Dutchman, as well as a horse-drawn hearse.
Most of the scenes are inspired by things either in the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disneyland and Disney World, or the movie series.
There are a few new things this year, including an animatronic Blackbeard’s chest and a haunted swamp.
The Swansbroughs have amassed a collection of items over the years, and are always on the lookout. “Each year, we pick up a few new things,” Dawn said.
People donate items as well, and some things are on loan from local antiques dealers, including a pump organ that has been altered so it looks like it is playing by itself.
Getting ready is a big endeavor — and it takes a while. “Labor Day is when we start working outside,” Dawn said.
They have a website, www.swansbroughmanor.com , and they pass out fliers at the school and at other locations, but most of their visitors arrive through word of mouth.
Swansbrough’s students always want updates on how the work is progressing, she said, and “when the bus goes by, they are plastered to the windows,” she said.
Many of those students volunteer as characters at Swansbrough Manor.