‘It wouldn’t feel like Halloween’ without scary display

Marlena Sloss/The Herald
Rusty Kline of Jasper works on his Halloween display outside his home on Wednesday. Kline has been building Halloween displays from scratch his entire life and hopes to pass the tradition on to his three sons.


JASPER — On Tuesday, Rusty Kline paced among the bloody butcher shop, and the grave-filled cemetery, and the towering Grim Reaper. Like every good artist, he sees the imperfection in his work.

The fog machine needs fixing. This dummy needs to be stuffed better. That empty patch in the back — it’s driving him nuts. It needs to be filled.

As his favorite holiday drew near, Rusty made the final tweaks to the extremely intricate — if relatively unknown — Halloween display that goes up annually at his home on Sycamore Manor in Jasper.

Other front yards in Jasper are dotted with carved pumpkins and inflatable ghosts. Rusty takes it to another level of scary. He doesn’t buy, he builds.

And after hours upon hours of work and help from his family, Rusty’s 2019 arrangement is nearing its final form.

“They’re always so excited whenever I start setting it up,” he said of how his neighbors look forward to the haunting yard art. “Because they just want to see how far I’m gonna go with it.”

This year, like every year, he’s gone pretty far. But it’s not all about freaking out the public for Rusty. He’s been working on Halloween decorations with his family since he was a kid, and it’s a tradition and craft he hopes to pass on to his own children.

Earlier this week, Rusty finished stuffing a spooky butcher dummy that is stationed in a tiny house. Its frame was constructed of reused wooden pallets, and the door of that house fires open when a motion detector positioned behind a wooden tombstone is tripped.

The gigantic Grim Reaper — made of chicken wire and PVC pipe — sternly points over the graveyard and out into the street. Not too far from that, a dummy with a ghoulish mask for a face hangs from a branch in a tree.

A coffin with a cross burned into it rests propped up against the face of the family’s brick home, and the cemetery fence that Rusty painstakingly built surrounds the Klines’ front yard.

Some of the pieces roll over from previous years, while some are new to this season. Some will be kept and stored when the display comes down Friday, while others will be pitched. At the end of next September, he’ll start the steady construction process once again.

“Not a lot of people know it’s here,” Rusty said of the blood-chilling yard art. He usually gets 20 to 30 trick-or-treaters, maybe 50 on a good year, he guessed.

Though slightly different each Halloween, the display is always chilling enough to stir pause in those who do come out to see it. That’s another issue Rusty faces: Some of the little candy seekers are actually too afraid of the yard to walk up to the door and collect their goods.

“It’s such a fight to get the kids in the yard,” Kline said with a laugh. But there’s no rewarding those who sneak around through the driveway and up to the door. If they want the goods, they have to bravely walk through the “Sick Manor” gate at the front of the yard.

Rusty’s brother is Barry Kline, who has served as a leader for the Crazy Caretakers haunted houses in Holland as that project has evolved over the years. The two bonded over all things frightening as kids and teenagers, and now, they’re leading a charge to keep Dubois County scary.

Rusty makes people scream when he volunteers as an actor at his brother’s houses, and he brings that same experience to his own home on Halloween.

“One year, I got a really good Freddy costume and had to take it off,” he remembered. “Nobody was coming up.”

His wife, Sydni, was embarrassed when the couple moved into the home five years ago and the display started going up. But now, it’s grown on her.

“I think if it wouldn’t be there, I’d probably miss it,” she said.

Added Rusty: “If we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t feel like Halloween to us.”

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