Interactive show lights up the night

By Colin Shively

An eerie fog slowly spreads across the grass, wrapping around the tombstones that jut from the ground across the enclosure.  Skeletons litter the yard as small, white ghosts appear to hover around their graves. The walls of the house begin to glow as a low sound emanates around the peculiar scene. As the music gets progressively louder, skulls light up, pillars of light seem to erupt from the ground and the yard is illuminated as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” resounds. It is time for Halloween, with a little flair.

Halloween is a time for ghosts, ghouls and candy, but for Michael Farney it is a time to put on a show. Farney’s Halloween light show at 1045 Dunlop Ave. in Forest Park, Ill. is set up to entertain anyone who wants to get into the Halloween spirit.

“When you come to the display, what you see is an actual show,” Farney said. “It is a show to come and enjoy, not just decorations to look at.”

Starting his third year with light shows in Forest Park, Farney creates displays for both Christmas and Halloween using his own themes. This year, the Halloween light display is themed “Disney’s Fantasmic!” where Mickey Mouse creates a vivid light show while fighting a gargoyle and a witch in a battle of good versus evil.

For the past two years, Farney has been planning the programming that controls the lights and music. After the programming, it took about 80 hours to set up the lights and individual circuits. Despite the massive amount of lights, his show does not consume a lot of power because the lights are not all on at once—if they were, it would draw 230 amps, he said.

The inspiration for Farney’s light show came from Carson Williams, who in 2005 created a Christmas light show featuring music from The Transiberian Orchestra in Mason, Ohio.

“Carson was definitely a big influence on my designs,” Farney said.  “We became friends because of our shared hobby.”

Friday and Saturday nights are the busiest times for the light display, Farney said. On any of those nights, the sidewalk in front of the house will be lined with neighbors and traveling families who want to see the show. Oftentimes, people will stay for long periods of time to hear the different songs and light displays play through.

“Me and my daughter have stood out here for over an hour to watch it twice,” said Marvic Gordon, a resident of Forest Park. “This is great for the neighborhood and everyone should come and take a look at it. My daughter absolutely loves it and can most likely talk more about it than I can.”

As the lights flicker on and off, illuminating the fog as it rises from the ground children and families of all sizes can relax on the sidewalk or in their car without fear of missing the music.

“People in cars can tune their radios to 99.1 FM, so they can hear a broadcast of the music as they watch the show,” Farney said. “A cool new feature this year is that people can call in to a request line and choose a song from my ten-song library that they want to hear.”

Farney said it is funny to watch people get really involved in the show. Usually a group of people will be frantically dialing the request line just so they can hear their song. For Farney, this type of interaction with the audience is why he enjoys doing these shows.

“People will literally be battling each other over calling to request a song,” Farney said.

Watching from her minivan with her children, Ann Harmon tunes her radio to the station to stay out of the cold, yet still enjoys the show.

“This is just really cool,” Harmon said. “My kids love the lights and the music together and it creates a very unique experience for them. It isn’t too scary and they just stare at it. Even after 40 minutes, they don’t want to leave so I am sure we will be back. And I can’t wait for his Christmas display.”

Unfortunately, the main light, called the atomic strobe, malfunctioned and has been sent for repairs.

It is unclear if it will be back by Halloween night. Farney said the show is still amazing even though it is missing a few details.

Farney has the show set up to run from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., but the audio will be turned off at 9 p.m. due to city sound ordinances. However, he said viewers can still tune to the radio station and hear the musical broadcast during the last hour.