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Oct. 6, 2022

Day 35: Halloween on Ambush Home Haunt in Churchville, NY

Day 35: Halloween on Ambush Home Haunt in Churchville, NY

Halloween on Ambush in Churchville, NY, was featured on Good Morning America and even the Newest Book from Ripley's Believe It or Not. Last year, the home haunt display featured two full-size pirate ships with show effects. Today, we’ll chat with...

Halloween on Ambush in Churchville, NY, was featured on Good Morning America and even the Newest Book from Ripley's Believe It or Not. Last year, the home haunt display featured two full-size pirate ships with show effects. Today, we’ll chat with creator Tony DeMatteo about this year’s plans and some of his challenges. Read more:


Tony DeMatteo: My name is Tony DeMatteo, based out of Chili NY, which is West of Rochester. We do a pretty massive Halloween display that we've been doing for the past, I want to say five or six years. The past four years have been Pirates of the Caribbean. We became, at least locally famous, when we made some really big pirate ships in the front yard and that's what people are drawn to. 

Philip Hernandez: Can you give us a sense of the scale? 

Tony DeMatteo: These are full ships there, about 15 feet wide, they're up to 50 feet long. The main masts are made out of eight-inch PVC, they're 25 feet in the air, they're supported by 12-foot 4X4s which were sunk 36 inches into the ground, and they have cannons, they have fire blasters, they have three main masts and there's a section inside where you can actually walk in there and come up to the second level.

Tony DeMatteo: We don't allow our guests to go in, it's more of a stand-and-watch type display just because there's a lot that goes into that, and it has to be built a different way to have people walk through it. So, this is more built like a set, but they are full scale, as far as much as I can fit in my yard anyways, right? Made out of old barn wood, which is what really gives him a look of authenticity. 

Philip Hernandez: Can you tell us a little bit about the progression over the years, because I know you didn't start with two giant ships. 

Tony DeMatteo: Yeah, I always wanted to try to top myself, or at least change themes. We haven't had such luck changing themes lately because of the popularity of the pirates, but we started with one ship, it was kind of like 1/2 of a ship coming out of my house, one mast. People were really receptive of that, they loved it, I don't think a lot of people had seen something of that scale. So, the next year we did a 65-foot ship across the entire front yard, three masts, and it was just absolutely massive. Then last year we did two, because what do you do when you can't do just one ship anymore? You do two ships.

Tony DeMatteo: That actually gained quite a bit of attention worldwide, because nobody has done that, apparently. But broke my back, and probably took years off my life, and now I'm itching to change themes a little bit, but there's a lot of push to just continue doing it. Plus, it's cheaper to continue it because I have all the props, I know how to do it, I save all the wood, and things are premade from the previous year even though most of it comes apart. 

Tony DeMatteo: So, we thought, what could we possibly do to keep this entertaining and still do it as a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, but also having fun? So, this year's theme is Port Royal. There's a history behind Port Royal. It's a pirate trading town, so we have a ship docked at Port Royal, there's a big shrine of gold, gems, and where all the valuables are stored. We have a Fort which is kind of like a castle protecting Port Royal, and there's going to be some cannons firing out of there, and some cannons firing out of the ship, and there's going to be quite a battle scene happening. So, it'll be fun. 

Philip Hernandez: You mentioned at the beginning that this isn't a display that people walk on, but it's a show. So, there are show elements happening, do you have any more of a narrative this year with the Port going on? 

Tony DeMatteo: A little bit. So, you're right, everything I've built so far, it's not like a haunted house. People stay at the edge of the yard and then the road we block off part of the street and that's where you stand and you watch it, and most of that is because of safety. So, these ships are big and everything, but tied all into them are just thousands and thousands of feet of electrical extension cords and everything because there are lights everywhere, there are fire blasters that are shooting out fire, there are fog machines shooting out fog, and there are CO2 blasters in there. So, there's a lot going on. All of that is synced to a soundtrack that I put together. 

Tony DeMatteo: So, I use Light-O-Rama to control everything, and the soundtrack is actually something I make myself. I've come up with it by just pulling audio and sound effects and music from all the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I use GarageBand, I put everything together, chop it up, make like a storyline, and add extra sound effects. Bring that into Light-O-Rama, program everything the way I want it, and then hopefully make the dream come true when I start to actually build this. 

Tony DeMatteo: So, my display is killing me because not only do you have to build this massive thing, there is 6 to 8 months of behind-the-scenes stuff that has to happen beforehand, and then once it's built I have to get it all out there and make it look good. So, there's a lot to it. 

Philip Hernandez: There are a lot of things you're doing that are just really taking it to the next level here. Why do you think that's important and what are you hoping the guests will experience? 

Tony DeMatteo: To be completely honest, I'm not sure if it's important or not. It's more my imagination and me just having fun out here, right? That's what it really comes down to. But, at the same time, I get a lot of feedback from people that say this is like Disney-level quality. This is like something you might see at Universal Studios. I love comments like that, right? So, that drives me to do even more. There are people that stand out there, they follow the story along, and they understand that things are programmed to happen at certain times. So, I get a lot of feedback from people and that's really what drives me to continue it. Really, what it comes down to is, it's just my imagination, I just want to do something different. I want to keep myself entertained, really, is what it comes down to. 

Philip Hernandez: Are you getting community support to help with the expenses, or it's supported in other ways? 

Tony DeMatteo: There's lots of community support. At the most basic level, it's support from my own neighborhood because I do have an HOA. Yes. I've never had a problem with it. I think my neighbors are 100% on board. The fact that we do this year after year to raise money for a good cause, I don't make any money in this, and we ask for donations, but they don't go to me. So, there's that level of it. Then the next level of support is what I get from my town because the Highway Department helps me out with traffic control. The Sheriff's Department is there, they have sheriffs scheduled the nights when I'm going to be busiest. The town, my actual town supervisor is on board, so there's that. 

Tony DeMatteo: Then the next level of support comes from the sponsors that we get. Now, this is the first year that we've done sponsors. Every year we have something we're raising money for, right? Last year was a Children's Hospital, locally, we raised $6000. That was great. It was amazing, and we donated up to 3,000 pounds of food to our local food pantry.

Tony DeMatteo: This year we partnered with the Dream Factory, and they help critically, and chronically ill children do the things that they might not be able to do because of their illness. So, through them, we were able to get 32 local business sponsors now who have donated money to Dream Factory directly, doesn't go to me, but they do it in support of what we're doing over here. 

Tony DeMatteo: The Dream Factory, in turn, was able to help me pay for some of the expenses because, up until this year, I'm basically going broke every year. This is something I'm doing for fun that's gotten out of control, but the dream Factory helped pay for some of the really important expenses this year. Then everything I'm raising through my website goes directly to them. So, they're making out in the deal. That's a great thing for them because. They're 100% volunteer based. 

Philip Hernandez: And when are you in operation this year? 

Tony DeMatteo: We're not going to be inviting people down here to see the full, lights, special effects, music show until the 20th of October. We narrowed it down a little bit to just the two last weekends of October. 

Philip Hernandez: I have a last question for you. I want to see if you can project in the future three years. Tell me, what would make you satisfied 3 years from now? 

Tony DeMatteo: It's a little hard to say. We almost didn't do anything this year because of money, but luckily, Dream Factory helped us out with that. So, we pushed forward, and we have a display that's even bigger than last year, somehow. Personally, I feel like we should slow down a little bit. How much bigger can I really go? 

Tony DeMatteo: Let me put it this way, I was featured in that, Ripley's Believe It or Not book, the new one that just came out, and that was an incredible honor. I feel, OK, what else could I really accomplish? We've done a lot for a lot of people, and I've shown what I can do, and people enjoy it. What's next? If I could get, say, Johnny Depp to come out, OK, then I can retire. Maybe that's it. I don't know. 

Philip Hernandez: What about the possibility of moving it somewhere else, into a different location? 

Tony DeMatteo: I've thought about that, because you know what, it would be amazing if I could put this up somewhere and leave it up. Wouldn't that be amazing? I think about that a lot. I'm 100% with you, and I'm going to change my answer a little bit because I talked about Johnny Depp and that's a joke to me, but maybe. In the future, if I could put this display up somewhere, maybe even indoors because that would be outstanding, but somewhere where it doesn't have to be taken down. For the sanity of my neighbors, yes, I take it down like a week after Halloween.

Tony DeMatteo: If I could put it somewhere where it could stay up and then every year could just get better and better, we'd have no problems with parking maybe, and maybe we could have more food vendors coming, and then all of a sudden, it's like this massive thing. I just keep making it better and better every year because it stays up, that would be... Three years from now, if I could do that, that's my goal. 


Tony DeMatteoProfile Photo

Tony DeMatteo

Creator of Halloween on Ambush Lane

Tony DeMatteo is a Halloween enthusiast and the visionary behind the elaborate decorations seen on Ambush Lane. His Halloween displays started small and have been increasing in size and production value. His objective each Halloween season is to provide a fun, family-friendly experience that will benefit the community through food or monetary donations to those in need.