Every Halloween for 20 years, this Overland Park retiree delights in haunting his neighborhood
Since 2001, Kenneth Torres has been decorating his yard for Halloween with an ever-expanding assortment of skeletons, witches, jack-o'-lanterns and tombstones. The spooky display requires a 17-foot U-Haul and nearly a full week to set up.
Skeletons swing on trapezes, roast body parts over a campfire, and dangle from a red maple tree. Ghoulish clowns stare them down, as 50 grinning and frowning jack-o’-lanterns look on. A cluster of witches whisper and cast spells.
For 20 years, Kenneth Torres has crammed a literal truckload of Halloween decorations into his front yard on Hadley Street in Overland Park, where he and his wife have upped their festive decorations into an increasingly wild and well-known tradition.
It wasn’t always this extravagant. Torres says when his family began their display in 2001, the decorations were relatively tame, just carved pumpkins and lights set up around the house.
“We started this after 9/11,” Torres says. “It was our way of going, ‘OK, we’re not going to let what was going on in the world affect the kids.’”
Over two decades, though, the collection became so massive that, the rest of the year, Torres has to keep it in a self-storage unit.
Torres got tired of the many trips required to haul the decorations in his SUV, so this year, he rented a 17-foot U-Haul to ferry them to his house. It takes about a week to set it all up.
“Every year we add a little bit more,” he says. “We just try to keep expanding it.”
The collection keeps away from the instant, pop-up or inflatable decorations available from box stores. Instead, most are hand-made or modified from their original form, with the exception of the skeletons, which he poses into original scenarios.
Torres is a retired plant cell biologist, and doesn’t claim to be either mechanically minded or possess significant engineering prowess. Like the rest of us, he relies on the internet for tutorials and inspiration.
“You can find some of these ideas on the website,” Torres says, nodding toward a 5-foot-tall tree stump he fabricated. He shaped it with a concrete footer, covered it with spray foam and painted it to mimic bark.
“But I kind of took ‘em a little bit further and put lights in ‘em, put sound in ‘em,” Torres says. “And this one, if everything works right this fall, should have fog coming out of it.”
Torres likes to keep the yard fresh. One Halloween, he set up a ghostly scene celebrating the Royals’ World Series win. “Last year during COVID, I put masks on all the ghosts,” he says. “We did little scenes with dead people saying, ‘Mask up so you don’t look like this.’”
As the festive display has grown, so has its notoriety. Torres says that even people outside his neighborhood come to view the expansive scene: “I’ve had people find me and say, ‘Oh, you’re the crazy guy that does all the stuff at Halloween.’”
Paul and Marilyn Lyons are Torres’ neighbors, and love having the display next door.
“It’s something we look forward to,” Paul says. “It’s a great asset to the neighborhood.”
The Lyons say the attraction draws a good number of trick-or-treaters. Their own children are grown and out of the house, and they don’t have grandchildren yet.
“It’s a lot of fun to see the kids come out all dressed up, having a good time,” Marilyn says. “It just adds to our enjoyment of the evening too.”
Now in his mid-60s, Torres says he can feel his age catching up to him. Even though he still enjoys the displays — including one he does for Christmas — it’s getting harder to set them up.
“It just seems a little hard to think (about) not doing it,” he says. “But I know that our time for doing this is coming to an end in the future.”