Kathleen Barbiere of Tarpon Springs and Palm Harbor’s Michael Long never knew each other prior to 2018, but they shared one thing in common other than the same area code.
Both the Barbiere and Long families have an undeniable passion for Halloween, decorating their homes each October with mechanized monsters, fake smoke, scare actors and every type of ghost, goblin, demon, and creature imaginable. They also use their creative, handmade haunts — the Barbiere’s House on the Hill Haunted Trail and Andrew Long’s Haunt for HEP — to raise money for local charities as well as help area schoolkids who participate and earn Bright Futures credits and other scholarship opportunities.
With that kind of dedication to entertaining the masses on All Hollow’s Eve it was only natural the Barbieres and Longs would eventually collaborate, and after communicating for a couple of years, they’ve joined forces this year for what they hope will eventually become a local network of homegrown haunts.
“I’m in a group of Southern California haunters and they created a local network where they share props and tips and advertise each other’s attractions,” Barbiere said by phone in mid-October while preparing for this year’s haunted swamp-themed trail at her home at 611 Beckett Way. “I thought it was really cool how they all helped each other promote their haunts and I wanted to try it here in Pinellas County.”
Long, an IT specialist, said his family has always enjoyed decorating their home at 3425 Brian Road S. for the holidays, noting “Christmas is fun, but Halloween is addictive!” But he began taking it to the next level — as in, adding frighteningly realistic animatronic props — in 2016 as a bonding activity with his son, Andrew, who was then a student at East Lake High School’s Academy of Science and Engineering and is now a sophomore architecture major at the University of Florida. The father-and-son team combined their technical and engineering know-how with their love of decorating the house into an impressive haunted yard, featuring a rattling coffin, a twitching hangman and a “zombie breakout cage.”
“Everything you see, Andrew built from top to bottom,” Long said during a tour of his haunt for the Suncoast News in 2018. “I can’t even set it up by myself. So, when he goes away to college, he’s going to have to teach me, or we won’t be having it!” Today, Andrew is residing in Gainesville studying to hopefully become a designer of professional-grade scares for a major Orlando attraction while traveling back and forth on weekends to help his dad continue the family’s Halloween tradition. “He comes home on the weekends, and we work on the scares, and then he goes back,” Long said. “This is a father-son project like thousands in history that’s surpassed anything we ever thought we could do together.”
Regarding this year’s collaboration with the Barberies, Long admitted he was initially skeptical.
“She asked about forming an association and I said no at first, but after giving it some thought I said absolutely,” he recalled, noting he asked Kathleen and her husband, Paul, if they would be willing to contribute the proceeds from their $8 entry fee to the Homeless Empowerment Program, a Clearwater nonprofit that provides housing, food, clothing, and services to the homeless and low-income families. The Longs have given 100 percent of their donated proceeds to HEP since they started the public haunt.
“Mike invited me to go to the HEP facility and it’s amazing,” Kathleen Barbiere said of the headquarters at 1120 Betty Lane N. “The people who are doing things there are amazing and I was immediately on board.”
In addition to the matching donations the pair agreed to cross-promote each other’s events, share tips, tricks, and ideas, and maintain a spirit of fun, camaraderie, and collaboration between grassroots haunts.
“We’re working together sharing scary ideas,” Long said, adding, “We’re trying to turn it into a community event outside our community.”
“I’d like to see many of these home haunts of like-minded people benefitting local not-for-profits helping each other out,” Barberie said. She noted she hand built a giant gator out of professional materials to inhabit her haunted swamp, which is twice as large this year due to changes made during the pandemic. “I know when I was young, I wanted to do as many haunted houses as I could, and I know other people do, too!”
For Mike Long, who said they’ve also supersized their haunt this year with a 23-foot-tall “murder groom” as well as 25 East Lake High students serving as scare actors, he said he’s all for a local collaboration of like-minded haunters because he doesn’t know how long he can keep it going by himself.
“I hope we keep doing it because it’s such a big part of our lives,” he said, “But in three years I may not be able to do it anymore, so we have to figure out who’s going to take this amateur haunt into the future.”