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Sometimes it takes 12-foot skeletons to bring people together for good

Home Depot’s wildly popular giant Halloween skeletons appear to be here to stay.
A giant skeleton is seen outside a home along Curlew Road Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in Dunedin. Homeowner Douglas Austin, 42, said he purchased the skeleton, which he has nicknamed Skelly, for about $350 a little over a year ago.
A giant skeleton is seen outside a home along Curlew Road Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, in Dunedin. Homeowner Douglas Austin, 42, said he purchased the skeleton, which he has nicknamed Skelly, for about $350 a little over a year ago. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Oct. 27
Updated Oct. 27

They named him “Boney Toney.”

Or “Sherlock Bones,” or “Rob Bonebowski” or “Steve.”

The thirst for the 12-foot-tall skeletons that won our nation’s dark hearts during our first pandemic Halloween has not subsided in 2021. The cult following for the giant, sold-out lawn decoration from Home Depot is evidenced by the 24,000-member-strong Facebook group devoted to owners and aspiring owners.

Maybe you’ve seen the bony behemoths in the wild around Tampa Bay, adorning the roof of Smoke Signals smoke shop on Tampa’s Florida Avenue, or the Pro Karting Experience go-kart track in St. Petersburg, or lucky front yards anywhere from Brooksville to Brandon. One home on Tampa’s Davis Islands has two out front, which a skeleton-owning Seminole Heights resident described as “such a flex.”

One place you likely haven’t seen them is Home Depot. They’ve been pretty much sold out since summer, when ravenous, eagle-eyed skeleton fans first spotted them hiding on high shelves in garden centers before the stores’ Halloween displays were even set up.

One Temple Terrace woman said her wife would not leave the store until they’d convinced a manager to get one down and sell it early.

Two 12-foot skeletons guard the entrance to a home on Davis Islands in Tampa.
Two 12-foot skeletons guard the entrance to a home on Davis Islands in Tampa. [ Lesa Alkire Doyle ]

The retail price is $299, but owners tell tales of spending $600, $800 or $2,000 on a single 12-foot “skelly” they drove hundreds of miles to collect. When they are spotted in a store, the Facebook group posts a “code orange” alerting seekers in that region to race over.

One skeleton scalper in Tampa Bay has sold at least eight this year for $899 each, according to their eBay account, all for local pickup. We’ll do the math for you: After tax, that’s about a $4,600 profit.

The box won’t fit in a car, which is how a Florida State University student who snagged one in Tallahassee for her Land O’ Lakes mom ended up driving around for days with a pile of loose bones in the back seat.

“I feel like a crazy person,” Bradenton’s Janae Rudacille said of her participation in a group where people regularly refer to the skeletons as their “tall sons.” “But I think he’s the coolest thing ever.” Hers is named Lenny, after Buccaneers running back Leonard Fournette.

Lenny the giant skeleton towers over children in a yard in Bradenton.
Lenny the giant skeleton towers over children in a yard in Bradenton. [ Courtesy of Janae Rudacille ]

The skellys have been dressed up in custom blue and orange suits like characters from Dumb and Dumber and have posed holding the leash of a pack of skeleton poodles. Many have been paired with Home Depot’s 6-foot spider (which has its own smaller Facebook group for devotees).

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A thief was caught on surveillance video last year dragging one of the valuable, 89-pound skeletons out of a yard in Longwood, which is why Lutz resident Jennifer Dobbs protects hers with motorcycle alarms.

But what is it about the big skeletons that makes them so coveted?

Some in the Facebook group cited the American “bigger is better” mentality, saying the skeletons are a status symbol on par with a lift kit on a pickup truck. Others said only a 12-foot skeleton is large enough to make adults feel childlike again.

Several said the skeletons arrived as a fantastical distraction when the pandemic was bumming everyone out.

Some wanted to get deep.

“I think Halloween gives us a time to face death, even if in a lighthearted and fun way,” said group member Christian Blackhart. “Having something that’s the literal embodiment of death itself, at a towering 12 feet tall, to stalk our yards is probably one of the best ways to do just that.”

Some didn’t overthink it.

The skeleton is great, responded Sherleyne Marie, “Because it’s 12 feet tall.”

A giant skeleton stands tall in a front yard in Land O' Lakes.
A giant skeleton stands tall in a front yard in Land O' Lakes. [ Courtesy of Chrystal Woodard ]

And for some, like Polk County resident Hiara Santos, the successful hunt for something so scarce has offered a boost of self-esteem.

“Every time someone looks at it in awe,” Santos said, “I kind of feel like a winner.”

The creator of the 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club Facebook group, Nashville resident Jennifer Corcoran, said the group has become a delightful community, a rare, drama-free corner of the internet.

“In a world that is crazy, where you read about bad stuff all the time,” Corcoran said, “people are going out of their way to help each other and find these skeletons.”

Last year, a North Carolina man used attention around his 12-foot skeleton to raise $3,000 in donations for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. This year, Corcoran helped take that campaign nationwide, with more than 300 homes across the U.S. displaying QR codes alongside their skeletons so people can donate.

Temple Terrace resident Alicia D’Amico is taking part with a lavish display titled “Temple Scare Us” at 5303 E 127th Ave. It features her skeleton, Bernie. She is also setting up a box to collect cash donations.

A giant skeleton holds a pumpkin outside a home in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood.
A giant skeleton holds a pumpkin outside a home in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood. [ Courtesy of Kelly Marsicano ]

The Skeletons for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital campaign has already raised more than $100,000 total, with help from a $45,000 donation from Home Depot.

Want a 12-foot skeleton, but don’t have the storage space? If you have vaulted ceilings, you could live with one in your breakfast nook year-round, like Brandon’s Le Lockwood.

Or you could leave it assembled in your yard, like Dunedin’s Douglas Austin. He dressed his in an American flag bandanna and swim trunks for the Fourth of July.

Home Depot now sells a 12-foot Santa suit for your 12-foot skeleton, but good luck finding one.

A giant skeleton grazing in a yard in Brooksville.
A giant skeleton grazing in a yard in Brooksville. [ Courtesy of Millie Lyons Batten ]