The Monster Barn: A Photo Essay

There’s a barn, just a few miles southwest of Marion, that’s full of monsters. If you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll get to see them this year just before Halloween. These monsters are the passion of local graphic designer Jeff Roberts, and when I saw some of his creations on Facebook a few years ago, I just knew I had to interview him.

Jeff clowning around with one of his creations in his barn workshop.

Giant spiders, killer Amish boys, mud-flecked corpses and doctors from hell. Sitting in Jeff’s tidy, cheerful house, it’s hard to reconcile the quiet, thoughtful and funny man in front of me with his nightmarish creations. His enthusiasm for horror was something Deanna, his wife of 17 years, didn’t initially share with him. “When we first got together, I absolutely hated it. Over the years he’s got me used to it,” she laughs.

Growing Up

As an 80s kid growing up in the LaRue and later Marion area, Jeff remembers listening to Disney’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House and going to Halloween parties at his uncle’s house in Caledonia. When I asked him what movie scared him the most as a kid, he told me the made-for-TV version of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, which he watched with his two brothers one night while their parents were gone.

He was an artistic kid whose first passion was drawing. Comic book art, especially, appealed to him, and his favorite artist was Bernie Wrightson, of of the creators of The Swamp Thing. Jeff said he was fortunate enough to meet him a few times before Wrightson died of brain cancer in 2017. “You always worry about meeting your heroes. But he was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” he told me.

One of Jeff’s monsters, its face reminiscent of a scene in the 1982 classic The Thing. The 1980s were rife with jaw-dropping practical effects, and Jeff told me Stan Winston’s work in Pumpkinhead as well as Rob Botine’s work in 80s classics like The Thing, Twilight Zone: The Movie and The Howling were formative to his own efforts at monster making years later.

Making Monsters

Jeff really got into building monsters after taking his kids out to the Horror Hotel in Chatfield, which was owned and operated by mask maker David Lady, about 25 years ago. The Horror Hotel was not a haunted house in the classic sense – no one wearing a mask would jump out of the shadows and chase visitors – but more of a display of Lady’s work. Jeff said he remembered thinking to himself How does he make all of this stuff? 

While Jeff never got t a chance to learn any prop-making techniques from David Lady himself, he later found out that Lady had taught a guy from Marion, Rob Cametti, some of his craft. Rob went on to run the Mucklebones Monster Museum in Marion for a few years in the late 90s and early 2000s. Jeff eventually got a chance to talk to Rob who divulged some of the surprisingly mundane secrets to monster-making: two-by-fours, carpet tubing, foam rubber. At the time, the internet was still relatively new, and Jeff said he used to peruse a site called the Monster Page of Halloween Projects where like-minded enthusiasts could swap ideas and techniques.

For inspiration, Jeff and Deanna also travel frequently to conventions and swap meets – Transworld in St. Louis, the Midwest Haunters Convention in Chicago, the Haunted Garage Sale in Cleveland
To demonstrate his progression over the years, Jeff showed me two scarecrows he made. The first one (on the left) is based on one of his paintings and is around 20 years old. Jeff said it was one of his first props, and he was proud of the work at the time. Unfortunately, he hates it now. A few years ago, he decided to try his hand at a new scarecrow (on the right), and he is much happier with the results.
While Jeff is not opposed to making gory creations, he has his limits. He said this clown holding an axe and bucket of guts might go a little too far. He also avoids creating anything that he would consider explicitly satanic.

The Barn

About twenty five years ago, Jeff’s uncle, who was living in a decrepit farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, decided to move out. Jeff got in touch with the farmer who owned the property, and soon enough he moved in. “The place was falling down, ” Jeff told me. When he met Deanna, she said she’d live with him on the property only if he knocked down the old farmhouse and built a new one. So he did.

An old barn was also located on the property, and that’s eventually where Jeff set up his monster-making workshop. The barn is big, though, and Jeff’s workshop occupies only a small part of it. Over time, the rest of the barn began to fill with his creations…

Among the usual implements and clutter commonly found in garages or barns, Jeff’s uncanny creations take shape.
I asked Jeff if he’s ever freaked out by his own creations, and while he said his own work doesn’t generally faze him, he did admit that a nun prop he built a few years ago gets to him. He told me that if he’s working out in the barn and the nun can “see” him, he has to turn her around. “Maybe it’s the eyes?” he mused.
One year Jeff had this twelve foot skeleton in front of his barn. People would stop at all hours to look at it and take photos. Jeff was working third shift at the time, which meant that Deanna was at home alone most nights. The comings and goings of unwanted visitors at all hours began to fray her nerves, and Jeff eventually decided not to put any more big displays outside of the barn.
Jeff generally works on his creations year-round. It’s during the Halloween season, though, that they get the setting and attention they deserve.


Jeff said that since he wasn’t really using most of the barn for much, he decided around twenty or twenty-five years ago to throw a Halloween party in it and decorate it with his creations. He called it Spookfest, and it’s become a yearly event at the Roberts home.

Spookfest usually takes place on the last Saturday of the October

He said around a hundred people show up, most of them friends and family and business associates, though he added with a laugh, “Some people just invite themselves.” It’s a potluck party, so everyone brings a dish, but Jeff doesn’t charge an entrance fee or make any money off the party.

Spookfest embodies some of the fundamental contradictions of the Halloween season: the mixing of the terrifying with the fun, the trick and the treat, the grim reminders of death while experiencing the joy of being around loved ones. Among the dozens of ghastly props and horror show creations, Spookfest is, at heart, a kid-friendly event with games and candy and a costume contest. “I still remember the Halloween parties I went to as a kid, and I want these kids to remember this party for the rest of their lives,” Jeff told me.

Jeff said arranging all of the different scenes in the barn only takes three or four days, though he generally tweaks the scenes right up until Spookfest.
Some of his creations are absolute winners, like the spider and wrapped body shown above. However, Jeff also talked about some of his failures. “I found a mask of, like, a rat person at a convention. I bought it and brought it home. I had an idea for it.  I built the framework to put the mask on and covered it with a hood – I wanted to make it look like an underground rat person – and I put it all together, and it looked so bad. I tore it apart and used the frame to build a ghost. I’ve never gone back to the rat idea, but I’ve still got the mask out there [in the barn].”
When I asked Jeff if he’s ever thought about turning his barn into a fee-charging haunted attraction, he said he has. He even talked to someone at the building commission who sent him a checklist. However, it was such an extensive list and would’ve required so much extra work and renovations on the barn that he eventually decided it would be too much of  a hassle and dropped the idea.
Jeff said that even if some of his creatures include parts he has purchased rather than made, he tries to put them together in an original way. He avoids buying pieces from Spirit Halloween, for example, unless he intends to use them as background props. “Everyone has seen that stuff,” he told me.  “I try to make stuff no one’s seen before.”
Jeff said one of his favorite creations is this witch holding a baby because it’s an image that demands a narrative. “When you see it,” he says, “you start figuring up the story in your head as to how this evil-looking witch in her nasty, dirty living space came into possession of this clean, innocent baby. I like to make scenes that make you think about the backstory.”

When the Party’s Over

Aside from a few props he keeps in the house (Winifred Sanderson from Hocus Pocus and Sam from the cult Halloween film Trick ‘r Treat), most of his monsters live in his barn year-round.

The day after Spookfest, Jeff says he’s out there putting everything away for the year. He said it takes him around a week to clean everything up and put it in storage. “[That part] is so much work. Afterwards, I just want to be done with it and not think about it anymore for awhile. But after Christmas is over, I’m already thinking about the next year.”
The Future

Between them, Jeff and Deanna have four daughters, and they’re all interested in Jeff’s work. His youngest daughter, especially, has an interest in monster making.  Who knows, maybe she’ll be organizing the Spookfest parties some day?

As for future plans, I asked Jeff if there’s anything he’d like to build which he hasn’t tried yet. He said he’d really like to build a headless horseman sitting on a horse. “The horseman’s not the hard part. The horse itself is the hard part,” he told me.

Shipped right to your door? He said he’s thought about selling some of his creations or custom building them, but he’s afraid they wouldn’t ship well.
He’s always experimenting. Here he’s trying to emulate a corpse that’s just dug itself out of its grave.

Many thanks to Jeff and Deanna for allowing me into their home. I would also like to plug Jeff’s business, Lobo Awards and Graphix. If you need a poster, t-shirt, trophy, etc., he’s your man. You can check out his website and Facebook page for more information.

Happy Halloween!
Josh Simpkins
October 2023


3 thoughts on “The Monster Barn: A Photo Essay

  1. My wife, daughter and I have had the privilege of being invited to Jeff’s party for the last several years now. The barn is amazing and it is always a fun time and something we look forward to every year. He is extremely talented with the creepy creatures he creates.

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