Deep within the depths of Massapequa Park rises a dark force each and every Halloween: the Cemetery of Lost Souls. An ode to horror and fright so intense that it can be barely contained by the mere mortal mind, this ghoulish phenomenon is known far and wide, but its true story isn’t quite as sinister as appearances may first suggest.
Located at 350 Broadway in Massapequa Park, the Cemetery of Lost Souls is actually the home of the Pernice family, who have lived there for the last 10 years. During the rest of the year it is a normal, unassuming dwelling much like any of the other houses situated upon their block. But come the approach of All-Hallow’s Eve, the domicile undergoes a horrific transformation into one of the most elaborately-decorated haunted houses on all of Long Island.
Christopher Pernice has always been a huge fan of Halloween and haunted houses. Growing up, he said that there was one house that always put on a great show for the neighborhood kids, and that memory has always stuck with him.
“The owner of the house would bring kids in and tell them all a spooky story,” he said. “Then he had his friends who were posing as statues pounce and they would all run out screaming. I remember that to this day, and I want to give the kids in my neighborhood something like that to remember.”
Since 2010 when they first started, the Pernice household certainly attracts their fair share of attention each Halloween. The lawn is littered with animatronics, a fog machine, lights, projectors, gore, twisted interactive life-sized dioramas and costumed maniacs, all accompanied with a frightful soundtrack blaring out of concealed speakers. Thankfully, Christopher noted, his neighbors are an accommodating bunch, even going so far as to approve his request to have the block shut off from motor vehicle traffic on Halloween due to the crowds of hundreds his house attracts each year.
Christopher’s wife, Joanne, noted that the idea of turning their home into an (under)world-class haunt for Halloween came when they had taken their son Anthony around to look at other houses that were done up for the season.
“Anthony loves the theater. He was all into the decorations, and asked if we could decorate our house for Halloween,” she said. “So, we started, and every year we would add a little bit, and it really escalated when we found out about LIHomeHaunts.com and their list of the best haunts on Long Island.”
LIHomeHaunts.com was started by some fans of the Halloween season that would go about the island each year, rating the best of the best homes. In their book, the more blood, mist and props on your front lawn, the better. To Christopher, the gauntlet had been cast down, and he contacted LIHomeHaunts, who rated him at the bottom of their list in 2011.
“They told me that I needed to step up, so we started researching everything else we could find,” he said. “My wife and sons got involved, and every year we would add a little more, and eventually we went from being at the bottom of the list to the very top.”
Naturally, with the expansion of the Cemetery of Lost Souls came greater and greater numbers of curious onlookers. Soon, the Pernice home was attracting hundreds of people every year, and the family decided to use their increasing notoriety for good instead of evil, Anthony said.
“I wanted to get more awareness for what we do, and I thought it would be a great idea to get a charity involved so we could donate it to people in need,” he said. “So we’ve held fundraisers for multiple sclerosis, autism and breast cancer research. For breast cancer we actually raised $3,500. We have a collection bucket where people can donate money, and people can donate on our website as well.”
This year, the Cemetery of Lost Souls will be benefitting the Long Island High School for the Arts (LIHSA), a BOCES program and the only public high school for art on Long Island. Joanne noted that the school’s students will be getting involved in the frightful fun this Halloween as well, with a zombie flash mob, dancers in the cemetery, sword fights and more.
In the off-season, all of the animatronic puppets, lights, fog machines and everything else has got to go somewhere, and Joanne noted that there is only one place in their homestead where everything can go.
“Everywhere,” she said. “The side yard looks like something out of Sanford and Son…everything is tied down on wooden pallets and covered with tarps. The things that can’t get wet are stored, very Tetris-like, in the basement or the shed.”
Unfortunately, for fans of the macabre, the Pernice family may be taking next year off due to their son Anthony’s departure for college. Besides, they said they could use a break from the exceedingly difficult annual task of setting everything up. However, the future is wide open, Christopher said, and it’s certainly possible that the Cemetery of Lost Souls may rise from its grave once again in the near future.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “We’re not committing to not doing it because we always say that every year, but it’s a lot of fun and we always love doing it.”
While always open for viewers, the Cemetery of Lost Souls’ big nights—where they have a “scare team” of haunters to interact with attendees—are Oct. 24, 30 and 31, with the block closed to traffic on Halloween itself. To find out more, visit www.lostsoulsLI.com .