Royal Oaks transforms into a spooky spectacle during the month of October.
Derek Schmidt has long been a fan of Halloween. Unlike many children, who may revel in the winter holiday season of light shows, décor, unwrapping presents and eating desserts, Schmidt looked forward to his father decorating their family home during the month of October growing up in southern Minnesota.
“Back when I was 4 or 5 years old, we always had big haunted houses,” the Woodbury resident says. “My dad’s birthday is the 30th of October, so every year as a kid, we had a Halloween house.” In Schmidt’s teenage years, his father purchased a barn—which turned into a spooky house during October. Schmidt’s time spent in Cub Scouts and different high school clubs included events centered on Halloween, too. “That’s how I got my start,” he says.
Schmidt and his wife, Stephanie, first moved to a townhome complex Woodbury six years ago. He had a small display at that home—“It was the biggest one in the complex by far,” Schmidt says. After purchasing their home, which sits off the corner of Courtly Road and Lamplight Drive, he began adding to the display. “That’s how it started, and every year I’ve been adding to it, and it just gets bigger and bigger,” he says.
Schmidt is hoping this passion for Halloween will be passed to his children, Sophia (6) and twins, Evan and Ellie (4). “I started bringing stuff out of storage, and my twins were a little spooked. But my 6-year-old is a little into it; she’ll put out skeletons or skulls,” Schmidt says. “But she’s still a little too young to understand that it’s only our house [and] how it’s not super common to have elaborate displays.”
Now, many of Schmidt’s neighbors are joining in on the fun, too.
“Shortly after Derek and his family moved into the neighborhood a couple of years ago, we got to talking about Halloween and how we both enjoyed decorating for it,” says neighbor Joe Briol. “I have lived in this neighborhood since the late ’90s and have always done some type of Halloween display. But we didn’t start collaborating and going all out on our displays until 2021.”
Since then, Schmidt agrees that he’s seen the number of decorated houses drastically increase. “It feels like since [two] Halloween seasons ago, my neighborhood especially has doubled or tripled with people putting decorations up … It’s about 20–30 houses with decorations.”
Schmidt’s displays change each season, and last year it included animatronics, a five-piece sound system with thunder and a simulated lightning machine, a custom-built “wrought iron” fence and more. “It’s fun because a lot of people think it’s a real wrought iron fence, but it’s all fake,” Schmidt says. “It’s hundreds of hours of planning and creating throughout the year, and the funny thing is [that] the stuff comes from Home Depot and they do their Halloween launch in July, so I’m buying stuff in July for Halloween.”
Other houses also add over-the-top decorations. “Most of my neighbors joke that every creepy—I mean well-loved—doll in the county has somehow ended up living here,” Briol says. “This year, those creepy dolls may just be joined by some equally creepy clowns!”
Last year, Waconia resident Mitchell Hall brought his 1970s Cadillac Miller-Meteor hearse to the neighborhood to be displayed. It was a hit with the crowd. “He brought it from across the Cities to be put on display. People loved it … We thought that was pretty fun,” Schmidt says, noting that due to unexpected weather conditions, not all décor, including fog and sound machines, can be displayed 24/7.
Schmidt’s favorite part of it all—throughout the beginning all the way to the end—is seeing the excitement around the event. “I love seeing the kids coming out … They all look forward to it,” he says.
Briol agrees. “My husband and I both come from small towns where people really got into Halloween, and it was a fun and safe holiday for kids of all ages,” he says. “When we moved into this neighborhood in 1996, we wanted to bring some of that nostalgia and fun to our Halloween decorations, and that’s what keeps us motivated each year. It’s so fun to create a memorable experience for the kids (and adults) who visit us.”
Schmidt’s already dreaming up the future of The Haunted Oaks—and his own displays, too. “Some people add pirate ships to their display—and I mean full-fledged ships made out of pallets or foam board. That would be the ultimate goal; to have a pirate ship theme,” he says. “Something more realistic would be to turn my garage into a mad scientist’s laboratory. I’ve looked into that before, but it’s funny because it’s really, ‘How big do you want to go?’”
The mission of The Haunted Oaks was to bring the neighborhood together—and it’s done much more than that. Briol estimates that the neighborhood welcomed more than 1,000 trick-or-treaters in 2022 alone.
“The Haunted Oaks project was born out of a desire to bring people together after a really tough couple of COVID-19 years,” Briol says. “I’m extremely proud of how our neighborhood has jumped on board to make it successful … Hopefully, The Haunted Oaks will continue to thrive and make our Royal Oaks neighborhood a Halloween destination for years to come.”
The displays can be viewed in the Royal Oaks neighborhood, on the corner of Courtly Road and Lamplight Drive, beginning on October 1 through the end of the month.
View the Haunted Oaks
The Royal Oaks neighborhood transforms into the Haunted Oaks beginning on October 1. Many of the homes in the neighborhood join in on the display, and trick-or-treaters will be delighted with many treats.
Briol says, “For as long as I can remember, we have been referred to as the ‘pop house,’ because we have handed out full-sized cans of soda every year … We also have a Little Free Library in our yard, so this year, we will be making a special effort to offer teal pumpkin items (items specifically for kids with food allergies).”
The Royal Oaks neighborhood is currently undergoing construction, so displays may not be as large as previous years. Visit the Royal Oaks neighborhood to view the display, and join the Facebook group, The Haunted Oaks, for more information.
Looking for other spooky sites around Woodbury? Check out our interview with John Soma, the Halloween Dad.
Facebook: The Haunted Oaks