Editor’s Note: This is the sixth post in the Ghost Light II: Monstrosities series edited by Caroline Abbott. The 2023 theme of this series aims to problematise the notion of “monstrosity” in the environmental humanities in the interest of illuminating the relationships between non-human, or other-than-human beings, folklore, and environment.
“I’m alive today and a saint tomorrow. Now give me candy.”Nathan Finochio, former pastor of the now-disgraced megachurch Hillsong, qtd. in Schwedel 20231
During the Halloween season of 2001, anthropologist Cindy Dell Clark worked in an area of Pennsylvannia heavily affected by the trauma of September 11th, 2001.
On November 1, 2001, Clark met a Philadelphia family whose ten-year-old, Robert, had experienced “continual distress” since September 11th.2
Robert’s younger sibling, Ryan, had no such fears.
The six-year-old revealed that he had dressed as a skeleton for Halloween, based on his own personal theory that this disguise — as a “mean guy who scares” —would “strike fear in [others] before they could strike fear in him.3
For Ryan, October 31st, 2001 would be a “Bones Day,” no matter what.4
In All Together Now: American Holiday Symbolism Among Children and Adults, Clark described the effects of September 11th on American families during the Halloween season:
“Parents […] observed Halloween differently in 2001 compared to the prior years. Mothers and fathers reduced the amount of trick-or-treating they did with their children and stayed closer to home on Halloween night.”Cindy Dell Clark, All Together Now: American Holiday Symbolism Among Children and Adults, 2019, 87.
While the events of September 11, 2001 dulled that year’s Halloween festivities, the events of 2020 appear to have had the opposite effect.
That year, North American communities experiencing a different age of trauma hungered for the transgressive comforts of the holiday. Largely homebound for much of that year, consumers (if they were privileged enough to do so), paid more attention to domestic self-expression than before.
In an earnings call on November 17, 2020, Ted Decker, CEO of The Home Depot, Inc., remarked on the company’s third quarter as their “most successful Halloween event yet,” noting: “[c]ustomers responded to our larger assortment of animatronics, inflatables, and yard décor, as evidenced by our 12-foot giant skeleton that sold out before October.”5
In July 2020, The Home Depot Inc.’s Decorative Holiday Merchant, Lance Allen, unveiled a most unusual item: a 12-foot skeleton he and his team lovingly refer to as “Skelly.”6
A review published on The Home Depot’s website entitled “#HalloweenWillHappen2020” captures the zeitgeist, noting: “[l]ove coming home after a long shift and being greeted by his blinking eyes!”7
The following year, Allen and his team introduced Skelly’s successor. Inspired by “Midwest farms with a haunted twist,” the 12-foot “Inferno Pumpkin Skeleton” features “LifeEyes™” embedded with liquid-crystal displays, and a “flaming light chest.”8 Both are powered by an ON/OFF switch located within its pelvis.
The manual is unintentionally funny. “CONTACT US,” it urges, “IF EYES, MOUTH, CHEST DON’T WORK,” as a technical drawing of the sinister skeleton advances towards the reader.9
While its 164 bones are made of lightweight, high-density polyethylene, the box it comes in weighs 90 pounds.10
For the low, low price of $299.00 USD / $398.00 CAD, the 12-foot skeleton will give your home a gothic aesthetic on the scale of an eighteenth-century folly.11
“How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?”Mary Shelly, Frankenstein; of, The Modern Prometheus, 1818.
Early Twitter posts about Skelly explain why it became such a phenomenon during the summer and fall of 2020. With a photo of a 12-foot skeleton looming over a Home Depot’s concrete floors, one user wrote: “[o]n Earth 2, where Hillary Clinton is President, there’s no pandemic, I’m getting this 12-foot skeleton, and giving out full-size candy bars.”12
In an era marked by self-denial, loss, and the many large and small unfairnesses of pandemic life, Skelly represented frivolity and escapism — writ large.
Americans — along with millions worldwide — gathered in protests which followed the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd when autopsies corroborated Floyd’s dying words: I can’t breathe.
Under the weight of a police officer’s knee, Floyd had been asphyxiated.
Many of the protestors were masked — not because of the lingering tear gas, but because of the ongoing pandemic.
U.S. Park Police and National Guard troops had used tear gas to disperse a crowd of protestors in Washington, D.C.. Shortly thereafter, the then-president was photographed holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church.
“We have the greatest country in the world,” he said, unmasked.
“Keep it nice and safe.”13
By October of 2020, the White House confirmed Trump’s earlier announcement on Twitter that the President had been diagnosed with COVID-19.14
Following his release from hospital, onlookers noticed that he struggled for breath as he climbed the steps to the White House.
A “textbook example,” noted Dr. Ilan Schwartz: “[s]trained muscles;” “ribs that expand the chest cavity;” and the “accessory muscles” of the President’s neck “kicking in to help draw a breath.”15
As Skelly rolled off the assembly line and into the yards of countless North Americans, its trademarked LifeEyes™ witnessed none of this.
“With an anxiety that almost amounted to agony, I collected the instruments of life around me, that I might infuse a spark of being into the lifeless thing that lay at my feet.”Mary Shelly, Frankenstein; of, The Modern Prometheus, 1818.
In chapter thirty-seven of the Book of Ezekiel, God placed the prophet in a barren valley scattered with thousands of human bones. As Ezekiel marveled at their number and condition, God instructed him to repeat the following:
“Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live: And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live […]”Ezekiel 37:5-6 (King James Version).
When the Word of God tumbled down Ezekiel’s tongue and out of his mouth, there was “a noise,” a “shaking” and the loose bones neatly assembled themselves, “bone to his bone.”16
The Home Depot provides no such favours. To assemble the skeleton, we must de-centre our own selves — and our own bodies — in favour of the non-human body lying in pieces before us.
In a document called “How to Maintain Your 12-Foot Skeleton and Other Giant Halloween Decorations,” The Home Depot says, “[o]rganize the pieces so you know which ones go on the skeleton’s right side and which ones go on the left.”17
Crucially, “Right and Left are relative to the character,” the manual notes.18
Some cultures are known to have placed coins over the eyes of their dead.19 In a whimsical reversal of this ancient custom, the 12-foot skeleton arrives with its eyes covered by thin protective stickers.
“Take the stickers off the [LCD] eyes before you add the skull to the body,” says The Home Depot. The skeleton’s spinal support can then be threaded through the chest cavity.20
“The skull goes on top of the spine. Be sure to lock it into place.”21
Two — but preferably three — adults should work on the skeleton from the time the pelvis is assembled. Additionally, The Home Depot recommends the use of a ladder when it’s time to connect the pelvis to the femurs.
If you own a 12-foot skeleton, but not a ladder (priorities), or if you prefer not use a ladder, you are invited to follow step 4.1, which advises customers to momentarily lean the skeleton against the box it came in: prone.
The resulting somatic proceedings start to resemble absurd performance art; making so many suburban Marina Abramovićes out of The Home Depot’s customers.
The author Jenny Lawson assembled her 12-foot skeleton, “Bone Crawford,” in this manner, bending Crawford, face down, over the box. Once Crawford was horizontal, Lawson awkwardly “pushed its pelvis with mine to lock the ribs in place.”22 Here, the skeleton’s absurd proportions required Lawson to manipulate it bodily, while using the structure and energy of her own frame to bring Crawford to life.
“The form of the monster on whom I had bestowed existence was forever before my eyes, and I raved incessantly concerning him.”Mary Shelly, Frankenstein; of, The Modern Prometheus, 1818.
In a five-star review published on The Home Depot’s website, one customer says:
“I got the call from the delivery guy that he was on his way. Emotions rushed over me […] Could I live up to the expectations that come with a 12 foot skeleton?? Will my setup/display be Pinterest worthy?? How am I going to afford alimony AND child support??”23
Those dry bones of the Old Testament had Ezekiel to pick them up and bring them home. With the advent of Skelly, The Home Depot has created a new generation of prophets and proselytizers.
The Washington Post tells of Larry, who drove twenty six hours to finally find his Skelly in an Orlando Home Depot.
And of Justin, who drove nearly two hundred miles, there and back, to buy a 12-foot skeleton in Kenton, Ohio.
And of Jane, a Canadian living in Switzerland, who paid nearly one thousand dollars to have her Skelly shipped to Europe.24
On Twitter, 12-foot skeleton aficionados write about the “12 ft void” in their lives “without him.”25
“[I] will marry whomever lets me have the 12 foot tall home depot skeleton.”26
Poignantly, author Kristen Arnett illustrated the somatic sublimity of the 12-foot skeleton in the domestic landscape:
“I want to live inside the giant home depot skeleton”
[m]ake my home inside his bare ribcage”27
In 2001, Ryan, the six-year-old interviewed by Cindy Dell Clark, cried when his mother took him on a spooky hayride.28
In 2020, Marie, a 46-year-old profiled in an article about the 12-foot skeleton in The Washington Post, cried in the aisle of her local Home Depot when she learned that they had sold their last 12-foot skeleton.29
In an age of overlapping social crises, the 12-foot skeleton is a flamboyant status symbol, and a super-human vector for discussions of privilege, comfort, and wealth.
Its existence is a symbol of environmental privilege: home and land ownership, car ownership, community, space, and shelter from sudden and extreme weather events.
I argue that the 12-foot skeleton’s body is a contested site, in part because it (a human frame on a non-human scale) demands certain conditions of its owners, and because it stands, literally, as a mortal reminder of pandemic.
12-foot skeletons are made of plastic, so they will survive us by hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Archeologists and anthropologists of some far-distant future may acknowledge the existence of the ‘Skelly-tecene’ as they pick through the fragments of our time.
How will they interpret these long, synthetic bones? As cryptids or spiritual relics; the memento mori of the 2020s?
Will they perceive our homes as suburban ossuaries?
Will they quote the immortal Jack Skellington, hero of Danny Elfman’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (also the subject of an oversized character sold by The Home Depot)?
“What! Is! This??”
Who will piece these scattered bones back together when we are gone?
Who will delight in their presence, as we do?
Who will name them, and give them homes?
Flowers are temporary. The 12-foot skeleton is forever.30
1 Schwedel, Heather. “All Hail Hailey Bieber, the … Um … Patron Saint of Halloween.” Slate Magazine, October 10, 2023.
2 Clark, Cindy Dell. All Together Now: American Holiday Symbolism Among Children and Adults. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2019. 86.
3 Ibid. 88.
4 Taylor, Chad. “What Does a ‘no Bones Day’ Mean? Watch Noodle the Pug to Find Out.” Daily Paws, October 18, 2021.
5 “Third Quarter Quarterly Earnings Transcript.” The Home Depot. Accessed October 30, 2023. 5
6 Baird, Addy. “An Oral History of Home Depot’s 12-Foot Skeleton.” Vice, October 27, 2023.
7 Mill, Hampton Bay Hartford, StoneyBoi, ElSanto, Needthe12ftskelly, Andrew, Casey, Dave, and G5. “Home Accents Holiday 12 Ft. Giant-Sized Skeleton Halloween Decoration with LifeEyes LCD EY…” The Home Depot Canada, July 9, 2020.
8 StephK87, BilltheEngineer, skf1965, Trish, PT55, Anonymous, Acm928, and Artemis. “Home Accents Holiday 12 Ft. Inferno Pumpkin Skeleton Halloween Decoration.” The Home Depot Canada, September 14, 2022.
9 Before you begin yow 1006033377 scan for easy 3D instructions. Home Depot. Accessed October 31, 2023..
10 StephK87, et al. 2022.
11 Folly, from the French folie: “foolishness; madness; extravagance.”
12 Peter_M_V (@Peter_M_V). 2020. Twitter, August 31, 19:00. https://twitter.com/Peter_M_V/status/1300493799920218115.
13 “Peaceful Protesters Tear-Gassed To Clear Way For Trump Church Photo-Op.” NPR, June 1, 2020.
14 Porter, Tom. “Trump Appears to Struggle to Breathe in Video of His Return to the White House after COVID-19 Treatment in the Hospital.” Business Insider, October 6, 2020.
16 Ezekiel 37:5-8 (King James Version). This event is referenced in the spiritual Dem Bones, a popular Depression-era ditty, which is now often sung as a child’s first anatomy lesson.
17 “How to Maintain Your 12-Foot Skeleton and Other Giant Halloween Decorations.” The Home Depot. Accessed October 31, 2023.
19 Schuster, Caroline E. “Repaying the Debts of the Dead: Kinship, Microfinance, and Mortuary Practice on the Paraguayan Frontier.” Social Analysis: The International Journal of Social and Cultural Practice 60, no. 2 (2016): 65–81.
20 “How to Maintain Your 12-Foot Skeleton and Other Giant Halloween Decorations.” The Home Depot. 2023.
22 Lawson, Jenny. “Honestly, I’m Surprised It’s Taken Me This Long to Get a 12 Foot Skeleton Because Shit like This Is Kind of Made for Me.” Web log. The Bloggess. (blog), October 17, 2022.
23 Reviews for home accents holiday 12 ft giant-sized skeleton with … Accessed October 31, 2023.
24 “Can the Giant Home Depot Skeleton Save Halloween?” The Washington Post, October 28, 2020.
25 will (@dysdandy). 2020. Twitter. September 24, 00:56.
26 yeah yeah no for sure (@ghosthousecat). 2020. Twitter. September 25, 00:02.
28 Clark, 88.
29 The Washington Post, 2020.
30 The precise attribution of the original instance of this phrase is murky and has permeated meme culture since Skelly’s 2020 release. Numerous figures have used it in digital discourse.
See also: Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein. Project Gutenberg, 1818.
Feature image: “Austin’s Best Private Halloween Party / Neff Halloween Party – Austin Texas, 2022.” 29 October 2022. Wikicommons. CC BY 2.0. User: daveiam.
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