Nightmare on Conservation Drive

Frank and Kim Smith, a father-daughter duo of engineers, have put together a fantastic and impressively complex setup of Halloween decorations since 2013, making this their 10 year anniversary.

The setup includes 100+ year old antiques, like a 1911 baby carriage, a radio from the 30s and a TV from the 50s and horrifying mannequins depicting scenes from all of the classic horror movies you can think of. The experience opens every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night (and of course, Halloween) from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Once you reach the house, you are greeted by a skeleton holding a pamphlet explaining the exhibit and a movie reference scavenger hunt. The path wraps around the tree in the front yard with different designs inspired by horror films such as “The Shining”, “The Ring”, and more.

“I don’t even like horror movies,” said Ms. Smith. “But I love designing things and Halloween, and watching horror movies with the intent of making something come to life makes them less scary. I’m watching them for ideas, not for the thrill.” 

Mr. Smith though, is not the same, he has had a passion for horror movies, and especially the books they are based off of since he was a kid. 

Walking through the exhibit is essentially a yard-sized haunted house, with a singing pumpkin patch, with foam pumpkins carved by Ms. Smith, by hand, a baseball themed graveyard for all of the Washington Nationals postseason failures, and a real 1930s radio playing the infamous “War on Worlds” radio broadcast from the 1930s, along with so much more. 

The way it works is simple, if you’re a genius engineering mind like the Smith’s. Arduinos (AKA Raspberry Pi) control the entire setup, and the Smith’s have a lengthy blog post on detailing each part of the setup for other ambitious horror lovers to follow if they want to build their own experience.

“Everyday we add more to it, piece by piece, the final product usually isn’t done until Halloween weekend,” explained Mr. Smith. “It’s usually a couple hours of work a day. It’s always being worked on, if we aren’t out here placing or decorating, we have something on the 3D printer. I’ll hear it stop during the workday and I’ll go start something else.”

Halloween is the big day for the Smith’s, and given that, Ms. Smith replaces the foam pumpkins for real ones to add to the authenticity. Mr. Smith estimated that they pulled in 1,400 people on just Halloween alone. 

“It’s all about authenticity,” said Mr. Smith. “All of the clothes and props you see represent the time period they are from, the clothes are from the 20s and the technology as well.” 

To find more information about Nightmare on Conservation Drive, you can visit their website at