The Bexley Clown House: Meet the Couple Behind the Animatronic Halloween Display

Creepy Halloween clowns will welcome visitors on weekends throughout October.

Joy Frank-Collins
Cherie and Ian Garriott with some of their animatronic clowns and props

Derry, Maine, may have Pennywise, but Bexley, Ohio, has Wally, Motown-Philly, Hamlet, Big Head, Juggles and 15 of their closest friends. And unlike Stephen King’s homicidal dancing clown who lives underground, this creepy crew hangs out in plain sight—the front yard of 935 Montrose Ave., to be exact. 

For around 10 months of the year, Ian and Cherie Garriott’s neat, green-sided house with white trim and stone pillars blends in perfectly with the rest of the neighborhood. But something happens around mid-September. First, a spider web appears, stretching all the way up the chimney to the second floor. And then come the clowns. 

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In 2010, the couple moved to the neighborhood with their son, Bishop, now 17, and immediately saw the potential for Ian to realize his dream of creating the ultimate Halloween yard haunt. “We started building, and that was it; it really took off from there,” Ian says. 

To date, Ian has built—and Cherie has sewn the costumes for—around 20 clowns, many of them animatronic, all of them incredibly creepy. Each gets its own name, backstory, elaborate props, glowing eyes and specific assignment—one jumps out of a box, one swivels its hips, some shudder and shake—to scare the pants off the trick-or-treaters (and parents) who dare to walk “The Gauntlet” (the walkway up to the Garriotts’ front porch). 

Cherie and Ian Garriott work on one of their clown animatronics

The process starts in mid-August when Ian, a captain with the Columbus Division of Fire, opens his workshop in their garage. He pulls out his creations from past Halloweens, makes and revises props and assembles his army of killer clowns—adding a few new soldiers each year. He never sets the yard up the same way, so even kids who have visited for years are guaranteed a new fright, he says. 

They chose the clown theme, Cherie explains, because it wasn’t offensive and was “an acceptable level of scary for all age groups.” 

Neighbor Nancy Burley loves the display, with one exception. “There is this one he puts in one of the upstairs bedroom windows. It looks straight into my kitchen window and if I look up, it’s just creepy!” she says, laughing. 

The only complaint the neighbors have, really, is that the increase in trick-or-treaters caused by the “Clown House” means they have to buy more candy. The Garriotts estimate they get nearly 1,000 visitors most years. 

“But that’s OK,” Burley says. “Especially at a time like now, when we have not a lot of fun things going on.” 

Ian Garriott paints one of his animatronic clowns

Indeed, the annual display was just what the doctor ordered last year. When a lot of people were throwing in the towel on COVID-Halloween, the Garriotts (who become the “Scarriotts” for the month of October) doubled down. Ian had the display set by Oct. 1, and every weekend throughout the month, he turned them on and created the atmosphere usually reserved for the big night. They had crowds of 50 to 100 each day. They plan to do it again this year. 

“We had so many people come up and say, ‘Thank God you guys are doing this,’” Ian recalls, “‘because this was something that was normal in an abnormal year.’”

This story is from the October 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.