12-Foot Home Depot Skeleton Close Up Shot
Photo by Cathryn Virginia
Life

An Oral History of Home Depot’s 12-Foot Skeleton

“Let’s go higher than everybody thought was possible!”

It’s not that often that you have the chance to witness the birth of an icon. And yet, just two years ago, our nation welcomed the arrival of “Skelly,” Home Depot’s “12 ft Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes(TM) LCD Eyes.” Ginormous skeletons now grace suburban lawns and city stoops from coast to coast—if locals are lucky enough to snag one.

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Skelly’s arrival at Home Depot, in early October and even as early as July in some locations, has become a cultural event in its own right. National media outlets announce when it’s back in stock and offer strategies for getting one before it sells out again. The oversized Halloween prop’s popularity has inspired knockoffs and a Skelly black market. For three years in a row, the home improvement chain has sold out of the 12-foot skeleton only a few hours after its release, with customers frantically snatching them up at $299 a pop. 

That’s no easy feat: The skeleton weighs more than 85 pounds and its box is nearly four feet wide and almost as deep—too unwieldy for even the most muscular among us to wrangle. But even with the challenge of just getting one home, the Skellys have been such a hit that they’ve spawned a whole line of oversized Home Depot Halloween decor, including a 12-foot levitating witch, a 15-foot phantom, and a 9.5-foot werewolf.

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To get the backstory on the towering skeleton’s creation, VICE spoke with Home Depot’s senior merchant of decorative holiday, Lance Allen, senior product engineer Rachel Little, and Georgia store manager Mark Cox, as well as Skelly superfan Rob Sheridan. Here’s how Skelly came to be, from the people who were there from the beginning. 

A 12-Foot Home Depot Skeleton set up in a Virginia front lawn bathed in green light

The Home Depot skeleton on a Richmond, VA front lawn | Photo by Cathryn Virginia

Lance Allen, Senior Merchant of Decorative Holiday: We’ve got a really close-knit team and we’re always trying to find something that inspires us and take everything to the next level. We’ve got a group that will go to haunted houses together, we’ll watch all the horror classic movies, and go to trade shows. 

Our team got together, probably mid-2019, where we really wanted to come out with something completely different for Halloween 2020. As we got into a lot of the haunted houses, larger than life was so popular—just to scare everybody and really make the items overpowering. Then we started going to some trade shows, and one that really stood out was a torso—the waist-up of a skeleton coming out of the ground. But the prices on these oversized haunted house props—you’re talking between $3,000 and $5,000—was just stuff the average customer could never afford. How cool would it be if we could make a full-sized skeleton so everybody could have one at home? 

Mark Cox, Georgia Home Depot Store Manager: When I started [16 years ago], if we got in a Halloween [product], it was literally one small stack of Snickers or Reese’s, and that was the whole kit and caboodle.

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Allen: We were trying to figure out sizes. At one time, it was like, “Ah, a 10-foot would be huge. That’d be empowering. Everybody would like 10 feet!” And then it’s like, Let’s just press everything, no limits! Let’s go higher than everybody thought was possible.

Rachel Little, Senior Product Engineer: The biggest challenge—one of the first things that I always think of—is the assembly itself. You can set it up in store and have the pros and our team set it up, but we want to make sure it’s easy for the customer to put up, as well. So we think about what pieces can we break apart? What’s going to be the most intuitive thing to do? One of the things for Skelly is that his like legs are like Poka-Yoke-y, so it’d be impossible to switch the wrong leg on the other side, like his specific knee [goes] into that specific calf.

Allen: Rachel was one of the main ones I had to convince [of the 12-foot size], because it’s her job to make sure it doesn’t fall over. Of course, [her] team’s like, “Wow, that’s gonna be too big. We don’t know if we can even put that in stores. Like, that might be too tall and hit the fire extinguishers!”

Man walks in front of 12-foot home depot skeleton

Home Depot's 12-foot skeleton in front of a Brooklyn wine shop | Photo by Jacqueline Jing Lin

Little: You [have to] think about structure, stability, can it withstand wind? People pushing or trying to hold his hand? That sort of thing. So we made sure to test in both real case [scenarios] and with machinery in that way to make sure that it can withstand that and stay standing. 

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Allen: It was probably an eight-, nine-month development to get that item just right. It took a while to get it there. We did a lot of research where we knew what the retail was that the average homeowner could afford for a piece like that, and we really did all our design work to make sure we were hitting that retail of $299. One day, our team just referred to the towering decoration by the name “Skelly.” It just stuck. Ever since, we’ve been calling him “Skelly.”

Little: We have a whole packaging team. They’ll look at the configurations of all the pieces, so [they can say], like, “We need to cut this leg a bit shorter so that it can fit in a certain box, so that it can go in the trailer and everything else that goes down the supply chain.” Then they’ll kind of configure [it like] Super Tetris into the box so the item can fit, and then they’ll go through testing to make sure that they can be clamped or lifted and make sure that if anything happens to it, it’ll be good to go.

Allen: At least for me, managing the financial aspects of the program, [it was] like, we’ve got the greatest Halloween item ever created, but we were releasing it right when COVID had hit and everybody was having to stay at home. So it was nerve-racking, like, “Hey, what’s going to happen to our program this year? Are these items going to sell? Are people going to want to decorate and get out?”

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We brought them out for just an online launch in July of 2020. Once people started seeing him in stores, that’s when it just went absolutely insane.

Cox: I remember when we first set [Skelly] out, the associates, they were excited, so you knew it was gonna be a hit with the customers. When it first happened, it was a phenomenon. Some people were trying to treat it like an Xbox—buy and resell.

Rob Sheridan, Skelly owner: I got swept up in the 12-foot skeleton mania when it launched in 2020, but it was sold out. I was like, Oh, man, I blew it. I really should have pulled the trigger on that. And then it became an instant kind of meme. I was having such serious FOMO seeing all these people with their giant skeletons.

Allen: Nobody had ever seen a 12-foot skeleton, so the problem was, as fast as stores could put them up, people were buying them. They were buying the displays right off the floor and taking them home.

Sheridan: [The next year], I missed the online presale, which went out in seconds. So I was calling all the local Home Depot stores, pestering employees about when their Halloween stuff was going to go out, and finally, finally found a store near me that told me a day that they’re putting their Halloween stuff out. So I got up at like 5:30 in the morning before they opened, and sure enough, there was like a gaggle of other giant skeleton weirdos all waiting outside the Home Depot to get in.

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Allen: One of the things we didn’t prepare for was, we didn’t know people were going to keep these up year-round. All the tests and everything we did for the temperatures, it’s like, all right, this has got to be up for the month—October—then it’s going to come down. We’ve had to go back, add UV additives so it holds up to the sun better, and change some of the mixtures in the resin so the arms can handle the Arizona heat, like if somebody keeps it up in the summer. Then the original one just ran off the batteries, but the batteries would only last three or four weeks, because, again, we just wanted him to last the Halloween season. So now we’ve had to go back and put a cord in there so people can plug him in, and it became a year-round decoration. And the other one that we never really kind of solved for—we just figured customers could figure it out—was how people were going to get it home.

Sheridan: So they let us in, this group of people, the first people entering the store early that morning [they were releasing Halloween decor]. It’s still dark out. And everyone rushed in and cleared out their stock of 12-foot skeletons, and I managed to get one. But I had to have them hang on to it and then go try to find a friend with a truck. The box is gigantic—way bigger than my car. 

Cox: Normally, the conversation [when someone is purchasing a Skelly] is, “Hey, what are you driving, because we gotta know if this is gonna work or not.” That, or I guess they can unbox [the item] and try and piece by piece take them home, if that’s something they want to do. But oftentimes people just ask, you know, “How heavy is this and am I gonna be able to get into my car?” It’s got some weight to it, but it’s nothing that two people can’t do with ease. I’ll tell you, it’s terribly awkward for one person. Probably not a good idea from a safety standpoint.

Cox: We do a kids’ workshop on the first Saturday of every single month, and the kids coming in actually get scared [of the display], they’ll do the little jump. It’s hilarious, let’s not lie. [But] we did not actually get to build a display of Skelly this year because I sold out before I could even make a display of him.

Sheridan: Spooky season is almost as big as Christmas now. You go to the grocery store, and you can pick up your bananas and your cereal and then your bag of human skulls, you know? There is no bigger symbol, literally, of how far this has come than the 12-foot skeleton.

Addy Baird is a freelance writer who has written for BuzzFeed News, the Daily Beast, the Nation, and others. Feel free to send her tips about oversized holiday decor at addysbaird@gmail.com.