Wards Point Cemetery
by Laurie Poynter

October 2000 - Orchard Lake, MI - What started out as a simple animated coffin has turned into a monster all it's own. At least that is what the neighbors of a Orchard Lake, Michigan man probably think. Six years ago, Greg Slagen, being a big fan of Halloween, thought it would be interesting to set up a small Halloween display in his front yard. He came up with the idea of a simple coffin with an air actuated piston to raise and lower the lid. Everyone thought that was pretty neat, but Slagen was not content. The following Halloween saw a more complex display as more pieces were added, and Slagen's yard was officially transformed into the "Wards Point Cemetery."

The Wards Point Cemetery is a temporary display that goes up for an entire month in this peaceful, Detroit suburb. Of course it's not a real cemetery but undertaker, rather, proprietor Slagen won't comment whether or not anybody is really buried there. Over the past few years, the display has grown by leaps and bounds with the addition of new props and special effects. Three years ago, the animated elements increased to the point that a separate Omron control computer was added just to manage the one hundred plus relays for valves and low voltage lights. Last year, a giant mausoleum was added to the display. Slagen decided he wanted to add some form of audio to his display, so, on the recommendation of a friend, he contacted Advanced Lighting & Sound, a systems contractor in Troy, Michigan.

"Wards Point Cemetery"

One of the owners, Bob Sullivan, took the call and tried to determine what the needs actually were.  "At first I thought they were a little crazy," commented Sullivan. "I  didn't think they really understood what might be involved."  Sullivan quickly changed his mind when he visited the site. "I was completely blown away by what they had achieved and how technical the systems already were!" said the astonished Sullivan.
After reviewing the needs, Advanced Lighting & Sound decided the best solution for the system would be the Stage Research SFX software package. Because the need was for both multiple audio channels and show control the top of the line SFX package was selected as well as a remote contact closure input board to allow interfacing with the Omron system that was acting as the master controller.

Many hours were spent adding background effects and dialog lines for some of the characters and after 4 long nights of programming the project was completed.

This June, Slagen (not being one to sit back and relax), again contacted Advanced Lighting and Sound for more graveyard improvements. This time, Slagen and Sullivan decided that a story line for all the characters should be developed and this made it necessary to include more audio channels and speakers. Work then began early on the newest creation, a Crypt, that was to house a life size replica of Bela Lugosi that would be animated to sit up, rotate and speak to the crowd.

Footings were poured to support the new, gate pillars, each made from wood and real, face brick and weighing more than 700 pounds apiece.  Footings were also installed for the fence posts that surround the cemetery. More trenching and a few more effects and the rough elements would be in place. The SFX RS-232 PlugIn was downloaded from the Stage Research web site and an Echo Gina 8-channel audio card was added in place of one of the stereo cards. Six more speakers were added to the display to create a wider sound-field capable of more localized voices and effects. Increased amplification was added and many more hours of programming were needed to complete the display. The goal this year was to use the SFX software as the master show controller for the entire display.

The juice that keeps the undead alive (above) and the SFX computer and control systems (left).

The RS-232 PlugIn allowed SFX  to send commands to the Omron machine to recall specific animation subroutines during the evening. This provided great flexibility in planning out the display and allowed for adjustments as needed. After 3 nights of programming and over 300 cues the show was complete. The system references the computer's internal clock to automatically start every night at 6:00 p.m. and shut off at 10:00 p.m.. The show has gone off every night without a hitch. Crowds of 10 to 30 people line up at the fence to watch the show as it cycles every 20 minutes.
One of the crowd's favorite elements is a replica of the Caddy Shack Gopher that pops out of the ground and begins to dance to Kenny Logins "It's all Right." At the end of most shows the appreciative crowd has erupted in a round of applause for all the effort that has been put into this display.
People wonder what more can be done. "Well," Slagen says, "you'll just have to wait until next year to find out."


System components.

1 - SFX pro audio / show control software package
1 - Gina 8 channel audio card
1 - Yamaha stereo audio card
2 - Samson 150 stereo power amplifiers
1 - Rane MA-6 6 channel amplifier
12 - Bose outdoor speakers
Over 30,000 feet of buried wire in the front yard.
Over 1,500' feet of air line run to various positions.
Way too many hours of time.