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Amongst the beautiful Victorian houses in Oakwood, there’s one that stands out immediately. As you walk up East Street, a gigantic dinosaur with a bloody baby dangling from its mouth suddenly appears out of the bushes. You scream and run around the corner onto Oakwood. There, you’re confronted by an army of zombies, Hellraiser, and a terrifying werewolf. But behind the exterior of that hairy creature exists a heart of gold, and it belongs to Jesse Jones.
Every year Jones and his wife, Sue Tillery, transform their home into an apocalyptic palace embodying the spirit of Halloween, handing out thousands of pieces of candy to kids in the community, many of whom drive into the neighborhood from nearby areas.
It all started eight years ago when Jones and his wife first moved into Oakwood. Jones was told that hundreds of trick-or-treaters would ring his doorbell so he put up a few decorations; about 500 showed up. “I saw that a lot of the people who came weren’t from Oakwood,” he says. “We have a lot of inner-city kids in the neighborhood and they don’t have a safe place to trick-or-treat. They don’t have great costumes, but they want to have a great time.”
That night struck a loud chord with Jones who is a criminal defense lawyer in his day job. He looked up at the historic homes and he imagined a Halloween that would transport people to a different era, one that would create a safe environment for both kids and adults alike to enjoy the holiday. He diligently set about turning his vision into a reality, and now, in his ninth year, almost 8,000 people come through the neighborhood to visit his house and trick-or-treat in the neighborhood. It’s gotten so big in fact, that he now hires four police officers to patrol on Halloween and make sure it continues to stay safe.
Given that the neighborhood has become such a popular attraction, it’s surprising there aren’t more complaints from those living in the area. The few times neighbors have said something to Jones, he’s responded with, “I don’t do it for the Oakwood kids I do it for all kids.”
This sense of social justice guides Jones both in his life and in his career. Jones represents the family of John Livingston, who was shot and killed by Harnett County Deputy Nicholas Kehagias last November after the officer allegedly tried to enter Livingston’s home without a warrant. The deputy was not indicted by a grand jury due to lack of evidence. But, Jones not one to back down, continued pressing for justice and the release of the SBI report to uncover what he has said is corruption in the system. The case is ongoing.
“It’s been tough,” he says. “My job is very stressful but Halloween relaxes me.” So where does he find time to fight for social justice and decorate his house as if it were a blockbuster movie set? Jones says he only sleeps two to three hours a night, something he’s done since he was a child, which gives him ample time to focus his energy on the house. “His mom says she and his dad had to take turns staying up with him when he was young,” says Tillery.
Though his Dad felt Halloween was a waste of time, Jones takes an entirely opposite approach: “I start running the house three weeks before Halloween,” he says. His cousin, a producer on “The Walking Dead,” has passed along incredible costumes and props for the decorations. A lifelong dinosaur lover, Jones picked up the Tyrannosaurus Rex at an antique store, and it stays in his front yard year round. “A family will come to me and say my kid loves dinosaurs,” he says. “I’ll surprise them and put it in their yard for a month.” Probably a time of relief for Tillery, who Jones says, isn’t the biggest fan of the T-Rex.
Jones also has taken to outfitting an army of zombies and other creatures on the night of Halloween who walk around the neighborhood spreading holiday spirit. People randomly show up at his house and ask if they can get in costume; he often obliges. The night of Halloween, volunteers do cinematic quality face painting to transform mortals into supernatural creatures. He always wears a lifelike werewolf costume: “I’m always the wolf because I played football at NC State. My costume is really scary so a lot of time I have to take off the mask” when younger kids are around, he says.
This year-long labor of love culminates on Halloween when the big event takes place, the creatures come out in the dark, the candy flows freely, the house pulses with energy, and the efforts of one single man are enjoyed by thousands. “I don’t ask for any sponsors, I don’t promote anything political. This is completely non corporate,” says Jones. “But when I’m out there seeing all the kids—that’s worth a billion dollars.”
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