A local teen gives back to his community in a very unique way come the Halloween season … and it involves pirates.
People will drive an hour just to tour Jacob Larson’s front yard.
Every October, its glowing green mist and maritime horror story lights up the T intersection of their street in Orange. Visitors love it. Neighbors have embraced it. Jacob has grown up with it.
Together, Jacob and his dad, Dave, share a unique passion: They’re home haunters.
Every fall, just as the school year is getting underway, Jacob is also helping his dad prep Pirate’s Cave Haunt, the front yard Halloween attraction — also known as a home haunt — that Dave has been running in one form or another since before Jacob was born. With Jacob now 17 and in his senior year at Villa Park High School, he’s become much more a partner in the annual production.
“It takes blood, sweat and tears to create and put on our event every year,” Jacob says. “It definitely takes up a lot of your time physically and mentally as I never stop thinking about the haunt.”
Jacob has grown into a tech wiz as well as performer and last year, edited video and sound, programmed the lighting and special effects, and managed the website. Yet, there’s still high school.
“It’s definitely been a challenge to juggle my school work and making sure the haunt is being completed at the same time,” he says. “I’ve slowly become accustomed to it over the past couple years and many of my teachers actually know about the haunt and come out to support it.”
As Jacob tells the tale, Pirate’s Cave be a beast that grows and changes as it goes on. It was started simply to entertain the neighborhood kids.
“Every year, it got bigger and better,” he says. “When I joined the design team for the haunt in 2018, that’s really when Pirate’s Cave really started to take shape.”
There are sets, costumes, various visual and sound effects and polish that all tell a story it takes the average visitor several minutes to go through. As they leave the maze, it’s usually with a scream and a smile.
“Our goal is to really immerse you into these environments we’ve made using sound, theatrics, water, air and even smells to create something you’ve never seen before,” Jacob says. “Our haunt is for the community. We simply do it for the reactions and laughter we see from our guests exiting the haunt and that alone is what drives us.”
The neighbors have come to embrace Dave and Jacob’s holiday attraction for more than 20 years. Many of the local kids have grown up with it as well, that is, when they’ve summoned the courage.
“Every year we bring in more guests to our haunt, which can be a lot to put up with — but our neighborhood understands how much joy it brings to the community and how much joy it brings to us,” he says. “We really appreciate their undying support.”
But over time, this has become about father and son as well.
“I was born into the haunt family,” Jacob acknowledges, and the growth and evolution of what they do is a point of pride.
“We have our own creative visions that sometimes clash, but overall my dad gets the final say. In order to convince him of my ideas, I draw up sketches and descriptions of each of our new rooms and scares and present it to him. Throughout all stages of creating and building, we work hand in hand,” and he says, “it’s special to be able to create something with my dad.”
The pandemic did present a challenge early on, but the Larsons adapted. The walkthrough became a lawn show. Fans were eager to see just how they adapted and 3,000 people came out to see 2020’s Pirate’s Cave Origins over six nights. This year’s attraction will return to a walkthrough and run weekends in October.
For aspiring home haunters, Jacob suggests starting out small, then adding something each year.
“No one starts out with an elaborate production their first year, so don’t get discouraged. It just takes time.
For more information about Pirate’s Cave Haunt, visit: https://piratescavehaunt.wixsite.com/piratescavehaunt