The Ruggieri Family Halloween House: A Haunting Experience at 636 Mace Street

By Ari Case

A young boy in a peculiar suit directs strangers to look toward a fiery skeleton presiding over ghoulish jack-o-lanterns and pumpkins.

“Welcome to the Ruggieri family pumpkin patch,” he says. “We have over 100 real pumpkins. This is Lugosi, he’s the king of the patch.”

Lugosi presides over the pumpkin patch. Photo by Ari Case.

Lugosi the Skeleton King growls as they pass him, moving on to the next part of the tour.

The boy leading them through the creepy cemetery is Gabriel Ruggieri, the youngest member of the Ruggieri family.

Gabriel stands under Joedavis, the reaper animatronic, solemnly telling the tale of another grave. Photo by Ari Case.

The Ruggieris have turned their entire yard into a spooky exhibition for the whole community, not just because they love Halloween, but for a good cause.

As people walk through or drive by the house at 636 Mace Street in Southwest Greensburg, they can donate to Skeletons for St. Jude’s with cash or the online link.

Skeletons for St. Jude is a nonprofit that provides a way for over 500 houses nation-wide to turn their love of Halloween into a platform to benefit a noble cause. 100% of the proceeds go directly to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to help young victims of cancer and their families.

“St. Jude’s does a really good job at helping people,” sophomore Emily Ruggieri explained.

Even the family cat, Mimi, participates in the tours. Photo credit: Ari Case.

The Ruggieris have a connection to the cause that led them to the charity.

“My father passed away when I was a year old,” Emily said. “He passed away from cancer. [Since] then, we’ve always been motivated to try and help others who have been affected by cancer or had a loved one affected by cancer.”

The family’s goal is to raise $5000 by Halloween, and they are already more than halfway there. The success is driven by amazing decorations.

“When my family and I decide to do something, we try to take it to the next level,” she said. “So instead of just a skeleton holding a sign, we have a lot of animatronics—I’d say over 15.”

Everyone in the family has their favorites.

“For me I really like the tavern scene because it was my idea and I created it with Emily,” Gabriel said. “I like saying ‘Watch out! Joey over here is throwing darts and you might end up like this head!'”

Gabriel poses with his favorite scene in the display. Photo by Ari Case.

Joey is a patron skeleton at the bar, waited on by Dean the animatronic barkeep–the prop that inspired the whole setup.

“As soon as I saw the animatronic, I knew we needed him,” he explained. “So, I just came up with the blind date scene in a bar.”

There are also many stationary pieces that make up the experience, from skeletons and tombstones to a bubbling cauldron.

Emily’s favorite decoration is the 6 by 18-foot mural, airbrushed by family friend Joe Davis.

The mural is framed by animatronics and lit spookily. Photo by Ari Case.

“It took a total of 24 hours over 3 days,” she said. “We have lights flashing on it and you can see different things at different times. It’s awesome, my absolute favorite thing.”

Part of their success beyond the amazing decorations is the entertainment value of the tours.

Gabriel has fun teaching people about the design in spooky ways, even giving miniature lessons on certain horror movies. His theatrics coupled with charisma make for an enjoyable experience.

His favorite part of leading the tours is “getting the chance to show kids that Halloween isn’t a scary time and that it’s fun.”

He isn’t the only one who entertains guests, though.

“This is Gabriel’s Great Aunt Mildred,” Mr. John Ruggieri said, poking a skull in the fire pit. “She’s just as hot-headed in death as she was in life!”

Great Aunt Mildred burns with other skulls in the fire pit. Photo by Ari Case.

Mr. and Mrs. Ruggieri said that they love putting the spectacle together, and especially enjoy seeing their kids entertain people.

“I lost my father to cancer and know how hard something like that can be,” Emily said. “I really enjoy knowing I brought someone joy or made someone’s life just a little bit better.”

Gabriel said that he hopes people have fun experiencing and interacting with the display.

“If you want to come down and check it out, we are more than happy to meet you,” he said. “There are treats here and we hope you consider sharing and/or donating.”

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