WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — Dean Johnson loves decorating for Halloween.
With the help of his family and a close friend, the 46-year-old U.S. Army veteran has been transforming his Warwick home into a spooktacular Halloween destination for the past three years.
“It’s a lot of planning, but it’s a lot of fun,” Johnson said with a grin.
Johnson’s first walk-through display was centered around his vegetable garden, but has since expanded to include his entire front yard.
“We started out small and yeah, it got a lot bigger,” he said.
The Johnson Family Haunted Garden typically takes roughly a month to set up, and includes countless animatronics, string lights, spotlights, decorations and smoke machines.
“We just keep adding to it every year,” he said. “I honestly couldn’t tell you [how many decorations there are]. I just set them up.”
Johnston tells 12 News his display consists of “a little bit of everything,” including creepy circus clowns, a zombie daycare, a cemetery and a horse-drawn hearse. He even seeks volunteers each year to scare unsuspecting visitors.
“We have had a lot of people run out of here,” he said with a chuckle, adding that he typically dresses in costume and situates himself among the animatronics.
Johnson’s nightmare garden isn’t for the faint of heart, but it’s nothing compared to what happened to him on April 9, 2000, in upstate New York.
“I stopped on the side of the road during a blizzard to help a family,” Johnson recalled. “I saw this 18-wheeler coming and thought, ‘Oh crap.'”
Johnson said the tractor-trailer had jackknifed and was speeding toward them.
“I threw the family over the guardrail and got caught between the guardrail and the trailer,” he continued. “I just kind of reacted.”
Johnson tells 12 News he had just returned from deployment a month prior.
“Both of my legs went missing and I broke my back,” he said. “I received a couple of medals from the military and then started living my new life.”
When asked whether he considers himself a hero, Johnson replied, “The government does, but I’m just a guy.”
Johnson, who spent three months at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said his recovery was long and grueling.
“It’s never over,” Johnson explained. “With a broken back, you have to keep constantly trying to strengthen it or else you’ll just waste away.”
“I’m too young to do that,” he said. “Plus, I have more Halloweens to scare people at.”
Johnson said his life philosophy is simple.
“Have fun, do the best you can, and don’t be mean to other people,” Johnson said.
“I could sit here my whole life and go ‘boo hoo,’ but it isn’t worth it,” he continued. “I’d rather have fun.”
Johnson said his family will be passing out candy on Halloween night. He has teamed up with another family to raise money for the Pilgrim High School varsity football team.
Though his display is free, he “would love it” if visitors donated to their cause.
The Johnson Family Haunted Garden is located at 144 Essex Road in Warwick.