Today's post is all about my Master Gracey Tombstone Build for the 2015 Haunt.
Now if I have not stated it before I will once more...I love the Disney Haunted Mansion. It has to be the main reason I took a liking to the weird and macabre and a definite reason I love haunting.
Every year that I have done a yard display I have for the most part used the same foam carved tombstones which I created in one night back in 2012. I remember having just moved into our new home and being so excited about creating my first ever scene on my front lawn but all of my older stones were pretty worn out so I bought foam and quickly dremeled various epitaps into each stone, added some rough cracks here and there then furiously painted each. It was so late at night at one point and I had my garage door open while working on adding some highlights with some spray paint that cops had stopped in front of my house wondering what I was doing! It felt funny telling them that I was making prop tombstones for Halloween but they ok have fun shook their heads and drove along.
I made 13 tombstones that year and remember chasing half of them down the block when the winds and rains of super storm sandy came bustling through. At that very moment I vowed that one day I would make durable tombstones that would not only look real but would stand both the tests of time and the crazy weather that we can experience in NJ from time to time.
The years following 2012 I scaled back on using tombstones to go with a more natural look of scarecrows and cornstalks but this year I knew I wanted to bring back the cemetery and I had to begin the task of create a more sturdy stone so I began thinking about how I was going to go about it.
I wasn't really trying to re-invent the wheel since there are plenty of techniques that can be found on line about tombstone prop making but I wanted to think out the process for myself and find a solution that worked best for me. In the end I was going to have to store these things and I didn't ever want to have to make them again so finding the right solution was important to me.
At first I thought about a hollow construction made out of plywood which would make them slightly lightweight but heavy enough that they would not fly away on me. Where I struggled with this design idea was how I would fill in the gaps on the top and sides of the stone. If I made any unique curves I just didn't know how would I close them up. I toyed with the idea of running wood laminate around the outside as well as the possibility of using spray foam and that's where things started to click for me. I would trace my tombstone shape onto wood and cut out the same shape for the front and back then use insulation foam like I normally would to make a tombstone and sandwich it in between both pieces of wood until I got the desired depth I wanted for the stone.
I used the front of the tombstone which I cut from wood as a template to trace and cut out the pieces of foam and began layering or I should say stacking my tombstone sandwich up until I reached my desired depth. Since the foam I was using was older left over foam it didn't cut all that well so the edges were pretty jagged after being cut but that was ok, I was going to use a rasp and sander to smooth the edges out once everything was glued together.
I used a combination of gorilla glue and great stuff foam in between each layer, stacked it all together then set some patio stones on top and left it to dry. Once I was convinced the stone was completely dry I began to sand down the edgesso that everything was nice and even but there were still gaps and cracks and I wanted the sides and top of the stone to be nice, smooth and seamless so next up on my mind was how was I going to fill everything in and smooth it out?!!
When contemplating what I should used to fill in the gaps and cracks on my tombstones edges I thought of multiple ways I could do it from Monster Mud to bondo but ultimately I used what I already had on hand and that was wood filler. I knew it would dry hard so I just said the hell with it and figured this was all trial and error anyways but it worked out quite nice! I spread the wood filer on with a spatula and in areas that weren't as easy I simply used my hands. I would say it took me 2-3 passes with the wood filer before I looked at all the edges and they seemed fully filled in. Once dry I proceeded to sand the sides until smooth. I choose to not fill in the underside of the tombstone with the wood filer and instead seal it off with plywood as well in order for the stone to be able to sit flush on the above ground tomb that I would later build.
The next step (which I should have explained more towards the beginning of the write up) was the epitaph. I was able to find a good copy of the Master Gracey Epitaph online and took that into a computer program I had Illustrator and sized it accordingly. Once sized I printed it out then used the printout to trace and transfer the letters onto the wood. Originally I was going to use a projector to project the image of the tombstone and trace the letters like that but found it to be a bit difficult so I scrapped that idea fairly quickly.
After all the letters were in place I used a dremel and routers bit to router out the letters into the wood. Now I had never really used a router before so it wasn't so easy getting all the letters to be perfect especially in wood so while I wouldn't rule out doing this method again I think I would instead glue a piece of 1" foam to the front wood piece and dremel the words into it just for the ease of doing it because etching out the letters in the wood really took some time and patience but I got through it. Some of the letters didn't come out great but you could read the entire wording and after paint and putting it outside at night I felt the few flaws it did have wouldn't really be noticeable to the average Joe.
The painting process was the easiest part. Time was dwindling down so I knew I wasn't going to be able to match up the paint scheme of the original so I choose to give the stone a black base then bought my ever so favorite stone spray paint which gave it that nice stone texture. To age it up a bit I sprayed on some watered down black paint and dry brushed a few areas with some green and browns. I went back into the type and painted in each letter with black just so they would stand out and poof, just like that the stone was complete!
The next and final task was the above ground tomb the stone would sit on. Now the Disney version is actually quite nice. It is a brick base, the top edges are surrounded by a small black metal gate with golden toppers at each of the four corners and the center is real grass. The stone actually sits at the back end of the tomb in the grass.
How the heck was I going to pull all of this off I wondered?!! My time was very short and to reiterate I was also short on money so I searched around my garage and found left over faux brick siding I had used years ago on the first set of columns I ever built for Grimlock Manor. I also had plenty of spare lumber, green outdoor carpeting and rope so I decided these were the items I would use and all I had to do was find some finials online.
I constructed a frame for the tomb out of some 2 x 2s I had then covered the the front and both sides with the brick paneling but left the back open which I will get to why I did that shortly. I then covered the top of the tomb with a flat piece of plywood. Around the edges I drilled hole to fit in PVC piping which would be my fencing. I added my outdoor grass carpet to the top of the plywood, painted the PVC piping black, added my finials to the top of each PVC pipe then ran rope around each piece of PVC. I had wanted black chain but again just went with what was handy.
Now that most of the tomb was set I drilled 2 holes in the base of the tombstone and to matching holes on the base of the tomb. I inserted PVC into each hole of the tombstone then slide the tombstone into the two holes I drilled in the base of the tomb. This allowed the tombstone to sit very sturdy on the tomb and not be blown over by any strong winds. The PVC was also long enough to slightly stick into the ground under the tomb and having the backside open I was able to adjust everything so it fit nice and snug.
Once it was all in place I attached mini spot lights to the front of the tomb to help highlight the Master Gracey Stone at night. I also used the underside of the tomb to house my sound system and speakers that played my Halloween Atmosphere FX during Halloween night.
Overall it was a long build with many things to learn during the process but it was also a fun build and a prop I was fairly fond with in the end. The great thing is I can still improve upon this prop this year and make it look closer to the original by adding the various pieces I couldn't this year due to time and money but even if I don't it is still a great central piece to my forthcoming Disney Haunted Mansion themed cemetery and one I am finally happy to have built.
Below are all the progress pictures I took during the process. I hope these will help you see the process a little more clearly than maybe I explained it here and of course if you have any comments you may please feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.
Next up is my build process for my Madame Leota tombstone. This is one I have started but is still unfinished so hopefully I can take you all along for the ride to it's completion.