“This is a little strange, I am sure,” began the letter Jessi Zahm, of Newberg, Oregon, found on her doorstep this September, “but we live up the street from you and we drive by your house daily.”
Zahm had a secret admirer — or rather, one of her Halloween decorations did.
“My daughter who is 3 started a new daycare which has been a struggle,” the letter continued. “We have a new routine after I pick her up, we grab dairy queen and then she asks to go see the big skeleton to tell it about her day… Seeing how happy it makes my daughter who was in tears hours earlier […] makes driving around the block 6 times to move for all the cars worth it.”
The skeleton the note referred to, of course, is the $299 “12 ft Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes™️ LCD Eyes,”(opens in a new tab) a bestselling and highly sought-after decoration from Home Depot’s seasonal department.
The prop holds a special place in Zahm’s own heart. She goes all-out for Halloween and got her first of two skeletons in September after pining over it for years — a conquest that involved waking up early before work and waiting outside her local Home Depot the day it set out Halloween decorations for the season, she told Mashable in an email. (She now refers to it as “John Skellerman.”) But the letter came as a surprise.
“We got misty-eyed,” Zahm said. “We never thought someone would love him as much as we do.”
Zahm’s experience encapsulates a collective and persistent infatuation with the Home Depot skeleton, which originally debuted to rabid fanfare in the fall of 2020. It was the gaunt face that launched a thousand memes and a driving force behind the retailer’s “most successful Halloween” to date that year, Home Depot’s Chief Operating Officer Ted Decker said in an interview with CNBC, despite a significant dip in holiday spending and participation at the time.
The skeleton might have easily been a pandemic fluke — nothing more than a silly distraction or a temporary salve to societal upheaval. As anyone who bought a Peloton at the peak of its popularity can tell you, people’s minds were operating on a different plane in 2020.
Yet even years later, as Zahm could attest, securing a Home Depot skeleton when it gets a rare “Limit 1 per order” drop in 2022 requires luck, timing, and maybe knowing a guy who knows a guy. This year’s June and July online restocks both saw the skeleton sell out rapidly, with the former contributing to the highest quarterly earnings in Home Depot history. And aside from a few random reappearances, it’s been MIA ever since — scroll through the comments section on its product page for a taste of many wannabe buyers’ woes.
Scammers and resellers have gotten in on the action, too, targeting the skeleton as if it were a next-generation gaming console or a limited-edition sneaker. Listings on resale platforms like Facebook Marketplace and eBay ask hundreds of dollars over retail price.
I set like 10 alarms because I was like, ‘What if he sells out?’
Consumer response to the skeleton has been so immense that Home Depot decided to add more giant Halloween decorations to its lineup, according to Senior Merchant of Decorative Holiday Lance Allen, who affectionately calls the prop “Skelly.” (For the record, Allen said the skeleton uses whatever pronouns buyers deem fit. A gender-fluid icon.) First was the 2021 release of a 12-foot Inferno Pumpkin Skeleton(opens in a new tab), a “spicy,” corpsey cousin for the classic model priced at $379. This year’s additions included a 15-foot Towering Phantom(opens in a new tab), a 12-foot Hovering Witch(opens in a new tab), and a 9.5-foot Immortal Werewolf(opens in a new tab), which went for $299 to $399 apiece.
Like any good viral sensation, the original Home Depot skeleton also spawned copycats at other stores. Lowe’s, Walmart(opens in a new tab), Best Buy(opens in a new tab), Costco, and JOANN Fabrics have all sought to ride the Big Skeleton wave in 2022. A suspiciously decent knockoff on Amazon(opens in a new tab) was sold out at the time of publication, having been listed between $325.95 to $1,999.99. (To quote one customer’s five-star review: “He is big!!!!”)
In a way, the Home Depot skeleton was destined to be a hit. Its 60 pounds of beige high-density polyethylene stand at an imposing 12 feet — technically 11.7, if you go by the specifications on its online listing. Its two blue-green animated LifeEyes call to mind a certain Miley Cyrus meme while slow-blinking into space, as if it were trying to bond with onlookers. It’s weatherproof. It’s semi-posable. It takes two human adults approximately one hour to assemble. It could hypothetically go through airport security. It’s massive. Its potency as a meme is undeniable.
“I think ‘too absurd to fail’ is a great way to put it,” said Anthony DiMieri, a New York City-based writer, director, and producer. Self-described as “way too online,” he turned horny tweets about the Home Depot skeleton into “My New Boyfriend,” a 2021 short film satirizing the modern dating scene that stars our tall king as a love interest. (It would have come out sooner, but all the Home Depot skeletons DiMieri could find on eBay in 2020 were marked up four times retail price.) The mere phrase “12-foot skeleton from Home Depot” is comedy gold in its specificity and strangeness, he explained.
Scarcity as a self-fulfilling prophecy has also contributed to the skeleton’s runaway success, compounded by the fact that its price hasn’t increased in its three years on the market — even after Home Depot started including a plug-in power adapter in 2021. Concerns that the skeleton would get more expensive this year because of record-high inflation motivated Lindsey Wilcox, of Warner Robins, Georgia, to finally coordinate a purchase with her boyfriend and best friend; they wound up financing it with a Klarna payment plan.
“I was really nervous about it,” Wilcox told Mashable. “I set like 10 alarms because I was like, ‘What if he sells out?'” The upper half of her skeleton has a permanent home as part of the TV stand, now the focal point of her apartment.
But something about the skeleton’s staying power continues to confound. The number of viral products that have faded into obscurity as soon as the next big thing trends is incalculable — something new should have usurped its throne by now. (The jacked werewolf tried its best; Home Depot had it on clearance at the time of publication.) Yet the skeleton has returned with gusto in the summers and falls since its inception, like a marigold bloom, indoctrinating new generations of skele-sciples. It’s almost as if this supersized symbol of death has taken on a life of its own.
Most of my reporting on this story was driven by a journalistic need for answers to the whys and hows of this viral trend, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t disclose a deeply personal quest to confront a lifelong phobia.
Growing up, I remember ordering my three younger sisters to say “SK” in place of “skeleton” because the word alone scared me. The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, and FernGully: The Last Rainforest were all banned from family movie nights because of skeleton cameos. I can’t touch anything that has a skeleton on it, whether it’s a T-shirt or the cover of an anatomy book. I have spent the past three decades trying to ignore the fact that there is one under my own skin right now — you don’t need to remind me. (Please do not remind me.)
In mid-September 2022, after I’d had several lovely conversations with 12-foot skeleton owners from around the country, a tweet alerted me to the fact that my local Home Depot in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood had one on display. I felt a moral obligation to see this thing after everything I’d heard and read. (My colleagues at Mashable have covered restocks, dupes, and the Inferno Pumpkin launch.) At the very least, I could use the trip as an excuse to grab a hot dog after work.
After I stepped off the parking garage’s industrial elevator and rounded a pallet of blue windshield washer fluid, there it was — in the center of the floor, smack dab between the escalators leading to and from the appliance and paint departments, with a homemade sign attached to its wrist that said, “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH SKELETON.”
I wish I could call our encounter a personal reckoning, a watershed moment of clarity, or a healing round of exposure therapy. Faint feelings of familiarity and “wow, so this is the guy!” were percolating somewhere. But mostly I was just freaked out. I did not feel well in its presence, much less a desire to make physical contact. It was simply too big, too spooky, too skeleton-y.
Getting close enough for a decent photo I could send to the family group chat was physically distressing — “is that the 12 foot sk,” one sister texted back — but it did draw my eye to the small price tag next to the sign. In the interest of due diligence, I approached a nearby apron-clad associate to ask whether it was in stock.
“No,” he answered sheepishly.
How long had it been sold out?
“About three weeks now.”
Two pretty b̶e̶s̶t̶ f̶r̶i̶e̶n̶d̶s̶ enemies.
Credit: Haley Henschel / Mashable
A star is born
Every legend needs an origin story, and one side of the skeleton’s goes largely untold. Despite being widely known as the Home Depot skeleton, it was actually developed in tandem with a tiny seasonal product design and consultancy business called Seasonal Visions International, which operates out of Berkeley and San Diego, Calif. A sister company called SVI Global Ltd. manufactures its products in China and sells them to retailers around the world.
Not that anyone would glean that from a Google search. SVI doesn’t maintain any socials aside from a dormant Facebook page, and the closest it has to a website is a wiki within the Spirit Halloween Fandom community. The only traces of it on the Home Depot website are found within the Questions & Answers section of its products’ listings, where “SVI Product Expert” responds to customer concerns.
This secrecy is intentional, according to a person deeply familiar with SVI who spoke to Mashable under the condition of anonymity: The company doesn’t want to steal the spotlight from its retail partners. Other SVI-made decorations include Home Depot’s new phantom, floating witch, and werewolf, as well as Best Buy’s 8-foot Towering Skeleton with “Digieyes” (the non-trademarked version of LifeEyes). For its part, Home Depot told Mashable that SVI “has been a fantastic partner — they’re true innovators in holiday products and décor.”
As the store’s Senior Merchant of Decorative Holiday, Allen is often touted as the skeleton’s creator, having been inspired by a giant torso that appeared at trade shows and haunted houses in 2019. The prop was the result of trying to “bring customers innovation and quality that has never been available in a retail setting” while “[pushing] the limits with our engineer and manufacturing capabilities,” Allen told Mashable in a statement.
Home Depot skeletons await their new homes in an unspecified factory.
Credit: Courtesy of The Home Depot
Jazzing up an otherwise static decoration with moving, dilating LCD eyes was one way to accomplish that. But why 12 feet, specifically?
“The height of a [10-foot] basketball hoop seemed impressive, but we knew our team could do better,” said Allen. “We decided on 12 feet because the image of two grown men standing on top of each other’s heads seemed like it would be a showstopper!”
As cool as the skeleton seemed, the onset of the COVID pandemic in early 2020 had SVI worried about a Halloween season for the first time in its 19-year history, our source said. Would anyone be in the mood to celebrate? You don’t have to be an economist to recognize the fact that extravagant decorations of the morbid and macabre were a hard sell at the time, especially in an economy upended by supply chain crises and a sharp decline in consumer spending. No one was hoarding an emergency fund for a $300 giant skeleton.
But people were, in fact, in the mood. SVI had never experienced such an enormous public response to one of its products before, which our source partially credited to word of mouth and a mention in the popular true crime podcast My Favorite Murder. Some people within the company kept scrapbooks.
Home Depot itself had a hunch the skeleton would be popular with its customers after it took off online that summer, said Allen, but no one there fully understood the magnitude of its stardom until it went on display in stores in August, when it “exploded overnight.” Allen didn’t explicitly confirm whether the skeleton was originally intended to be a one-time deal for 2020, but did note that Home Depot “wanted to ensure we continued to bring that excitement to our customers” after many missed out on its introduction. (The SVI source said its scarcity in 2020 and 2021 was the direct result of supply chain snags, which simmered down in time for the first 2022 restock.)
The skeleton opened many doors for SVI, which swiftly became a name among the Halloween decorating community. But none of its other products have had a bony grip on consumers quite like the original 12-footer.
If there’s an official fan club for the Home Depot skeleton, it lives on Facebook. Groups dedicated to the decoration have ballooned and multiplied over the past two years, in many cases amassing tens of thousands of members each. Conservative estimates for across-the-board totals would be well over the 100,000 mark.
These Facebook groups have become epicenters for all factions of the fandom, from hardcore Halloween people who decorate year-round to casuals who are just trying to have the spookiest yard on their block. They’re gathering spaces where someone can revel in the triumph of finally buying a skeleton after a months- or yearslong hunt. They’re virtual highlight reels for showing off displays, runways for outfit inspiration, and creative outlets for sharing modifications. (Metallic spray paints, skull-to-phalange glitter, and rustic wood stains were huge for SS22.) They’re sounding boards for punny name ideas. They’re fountains of wisdom on how to secure it properly, prevent it from getting stolen, or persuade a spouse to buy another. They’re sources of empathy when hardships and natural disasters force a premature disassembly. They’re war rooms for swapping tips on how to win over neighbors and homeowners associations.
The Home Depot skeleton has found itself in an infinite number of locations, outfits, and poses as a result of these Facebook groups, morphing into some sort of cross between Flat Stanley and a Midwestern porch goose. One does not simply own this thing; it joins your family. It gives you a story to tell at parties. To know the Home Depot skeleton is to love it — or at least feel a compulsion to talk about it.
“We are aware of the many fun groups and communities online and are so excited that The Home Depot fans have come together to celebrate our original giant, Skelly,” said Allen. “We hope their enthusiasm will continue to extend to Skelly’s friends and fellow giants.”
Jennifer Penelope Corcoran, of Nashville, Tenn., is the mastermind behind 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club, a hub for “owners, soon-to-be owners, and admirers of the 12-foot skeleton to share pics, tips, and ideas.” (Yes, they’ve made T-shirts.) She created the group on Sept. 5, 2020, having just bought a skeleton during a restock and seen people post about it in other holiday decorating forums. But she wasn’t sure whether it would gain any traction.
Cut to the group’s current membership count of over 50,000 people, the largest in the genre, which grows daily.
“It’s completely happened by accident,” said Corcoran, whose display now includes two Home Depot skeletons nicknamed Ray and Frankie Blue Eyes, an Inferno Pumpkin variant, the 12-foot witch, the 15-foot phantom, the 9.5-foot werewolf, a giant snake, various skeletal animals, some Haunted Mansion-inspired cutouts, and a 20-foot inflatable cat from Amazon she calls Princess Meow Meow. (As far as a theme goes, “it’s really more lack of willpower than anything else,” Corcoran joked.)
Jennifer Corcoran had a neighbor make custom “Dumb and Dumber” tuxedos for her two Home Depot skeletons in 2021.
Credit: Courtesy of Jennifer Corcoran
Corcoran told Mashable she found Home Depot’s Allen on Facebook to invite him to the group shortly after its inception, only to discover he was already a member. A 2021 media preview was the start of her team’s close working relationship with the retailer, which keeps close tabs on the community and flags upcoming restocks — intel it relays to members as “Code Orange” alerts as soon as drops go live.
“We’ll email them about stuff all the time and they get back to us right away,” said Corcoran of Home Depot, which invited her and Randy Motes, a co-admin from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, back for its in-person Halloween and holiday showcase in 2022. “They enjoy it, they enjoy seeing everybody’s displays and the things people are doing with it…They’re definitely fun to work with.”
SVI is also embedded within 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club, though it tries to maintain a low profile. Corcoran described their relationship as a symbiotic one: Her team can put group members in touch with SVI for troubleshooting and replacement parts; in turn, SVI gets to see how customers are interacting with their products. Sometimes they’ll send YouTube videos with setup tips and tricks, she added. “They want customers to be happy, too.”
Serving as middlemen between these companies and consumers is just one facet of running 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club for Corcoran and her dedicated squad of 19 other admins and moderators; the rest involves a thoughtful balance of customer service, informal PR, and community-building. Post approval stays on to kill leaks, deter spam, and make sure members resell extras at cost. Threads are watched closely to ensure conversations stay civil and on-topic. Co-admin Motes tries to personally refresh the group’s cover photo on a daily basis to showcase as many group members’ skeletons as possible — though “I know I miss hundreds,” he told Mashable. Each member of the team spends an average of 10 to 40 hours a week tending to the group, said Corcoran.
All this over a seasonal prop from a home improvement store? It’s easy to see the appeal of Facebook groups dedicated to shared, hyper-specific interests at a time when online connections were lifelines. But most members of 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club would probably tell you it’s evolved into something more.
The group parlayed its sense of community into a nationwide fundraising campaign during the 2021 Halloween season, raising over $150,000 for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Members rallied behind a family in Austin, Texas, whose Home Depot skeleton was stolen in broad daylight, offering to chip in for a replacement and even donate their own skeletons before Home Depot stepped in with a free spare. A crew of local members was en route to set it up when I last spoke with Corcoran.
For her and countless others, the skeleton has also translated to meaningful real-life connections. Corcoran recalled a day she heard a group member in search of Home Depot’s new 8-foot pumpkin stack(opens in a new tab) was 40 minutes away from her local store, so she booked it over and held it on her car for him until he arrived.
“It ended up being like eight of us that all ended up showing up down there,” she said. “You get to meet people in your community you didn’t even know about.” Maybe the real Home Depot skeleton is the friends we make along the way.
Perhaps close-knit, well-connected communities like these are why Maddi had so much trouble reselling a skeleton. An East Coast resident who spends a lot of time on social media for work, she purchased one at her local Home Depot this summer after seeing a promo for the retailer’s July restock on Twitter, hoping its virality would double her money in a fast sale. (Mashable is not including her last name to protect her identity.)
Alas, no dice: Maddi’s listings on Mercari, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace have been met with haggling and hostility from strangers, so the skeleton has been sitting unopened in her parents’ shed ever since.
“People are surprisingly rude,” she said. “They’re offering me less than I originally paid for it. Or they just say, ‘Ha ha ha, you’re never gonna sell this thing.’ Or like, ‘I can go to Home Depot, buy one for $300, and bring it home. I don’t need yours.’ And I’m like, well, it’s sold out at Home Depot, so I don’t know what you expect to do with that.”
Love thy neighbor, hate their skeleton
The journey of Home Depot skeleton ownership is not necessarily one for the faint of heart, despite its broad appeal. Enough complaints from HOAs or neighbors can be grounds for disassembly, which is every Home Depot skeleton owners’ worst nightmare after vandalism or theft. (I personally would not love seeing a 12-foot skeleton outside my window every day, for what it’s worth.) But sometimes a little backlash can work in an owner’s favor.
If I get that reaction and I get that smile, then I did my day.
Bridgett Nicolace, of Columbia, South Carolina, told Mashable she often gets people knocking on her door asking to take pictures with her skeleton Billy Bob Bones. “Triple B” stays on her front lawn year-round and has a rotating closet of costumes for different seasons and holidays; Nicolace paid “five or six hundred dollars” to have him shipped from Pennsylvania last fall and makes all of his outfits herself. (She can name his T-shirt size on Amazon — 3XL — off the top of her head.)
Nicolace was surprised when she opened her mailbox one day in March to find an anonymous note demanding that her “trashy” skeleton be taken down, threatening court action “or whatever needs to be done to have it removed” — something she found funny as a former trial attorney. She decided to post a video about it on TikTok, where it’s been viewed over 1.9 million times. One of several follow-up videos featured Triple B posing with a meta sign that read, “My mom is a lawyer.”
“When I did that video on TikTok and it blew up unexpectedly, a lot of people offered to buy additional items for Triple B,” Nicolace said. She decided against making a public Amazon Wish List, citing a discomfort with asking strangers for “handouts,” but would love to someday get another Home Depot skeleton — maybe when Triple B’s wardrobe gets too full.
Richard Miley, of Watkinsville, Georgia, who purchased his first Home Depot skeleton in April, bedecked “Bone Marley” in a festive oversized Hawaiian shirt and lights for a house party this past summer. As night fell that evening, he heard a banging coming from the house next door: His neighbor had nailed a 10- to 11-foot cross to a shed facing the skeleton. That kicked off “a little war,” he said.
Miley has since amassed an army of three classic Home Depot skeletons, one Inferno Pumpkin skeleton, a 12-foot mummy from Lowe’s, a 7.6-foot Baphomet animatronic from Spirit Halloween, two giant skulls, and seven five-foot skeletons, which he expands regularly and plans on displaying year-round. He recently installed a 30-foot flagpole, which a 12-foot skeleton named Pamela Skel-Lee “dances” around as her standard-sized counterparts gawk from folding chairs, jaws agape. He’s hoping to buy at least three or four more classic 12-foot skeletons, which will get placed around his backyard pool and wrapped with string lights.
“I got at least two grand into it right now. I’m not done yet,” said Miley, citing lack of HOA oversight and a best friend who’s an attorney. “I think it’s well worth it.”
For Miley, this is more than just a petty opportunity to stick it to a hater. (To his credit, their back-and-forth has helped his family’s 2022 St. Jude fundraiser eclipse its $4,500 goal.) It’s also more than just great advertising for Miley’s restaurant; everyone in town knows him as the guy with the cool yard that pissed off his neighbors. It’s both a personal creative release and a perpetual source of delight for his friends and family — specifically his wife Ashley, a nurse practitioner who works in a COVID intensive care unit.
“If I get that reaction and I get that smile, then I did my day,” Miley said.
Until death do us part?
Three years of selling out and amassing a passionate fanbase have posed an important question: Will the Home Depot skeleton bubble ever burst?
The issue was recently raised within 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club, prompting discourse among members over whether the prop is still cool or too commonplace. Co-admin Motes brushed off concerns, likening the skeleton to a Christmas tree: “It’s how you decorate it, how you display it,” he told Mashable, adding that he still spots very few skeletons “out in the wild” in his own neighborhood. Seeing people around the country post pictures of it in a Facebook group dedicated to that specific purpose creates a false sense of oversaturation, he explained. “I feel they should just keep coming every year.”
Randy Motes’ 2022 display features a 12-foot, six-inch plywood skeleton (left), which he made himself in 2020 after the Home Depot version sold out. SVI sent him a set of LifeEyes for it, he said.
Credit: Mashable Composite / Courtesy of Randy Motes
Indeed, all of the Home Depot skeleton owners we spoke with are continuing to find new ways to one-up themselves. Miley said he sources decorating ideas from 12 Ft Skeleton Halloween Club on a regular basis, spending a couple hundred dollars each time “just to make it happen because I want the picture.” Nicolace is thinking about dressing Triple B in a capotain and doublet for Thanksgiving. Wilcox will buy a black Santa hat for her skeleton to wear at Christmas. And for her part, letter recipient Jessi Zahm is helping John Skellerman build a rapport with his 3-year-old secret admirer through gift exchanges and weekly personalized notes. A giant replica of her favorite Dairy Queen treat — a Stars & Stripes Starkiss Bar — is currently affixed to his left hand.
For Erin Bain, of Indianapolis, Indiana, the Home Depot skeleton’s presence will remain long after hers gets disassembled for the season: She got a tattoo of it on her calf this fall. “I might have the first one — it may not be the last,” she said. Coincidentally, Bain’s artist Garrett Hudson, of Fountain Square Tattoo, also happens to own a Home Depot skeleton.
Bain road-tripped to Ohio to buy her Home Depot skeleton, which is now immortalized on her calf.
Credit: Courtesy of Erin Bain / Tattoo by Garrett Hudson of Fountain Square Tattoo
Even if the hype (or ink) fades, it’s easy to see the Home Depot skeleton living on as a seasonal meme, morphing into a harbinger of spooky season — like Caitlin “Christian Girl Autumn” Covington, minus the great hair. Extremely online filmmaker DiMieri said he’s seen enough tweets about the skeleton’s merits as a love interest in 2022 that he’s set on making a sequel to “My New Boyfriend” with a proposal and wedding scenes, pending enough funding. (Your move, Home Depot.)
It’s hard not to root for the skeleton’s continued success or existence in the zeitgeist, even as someone who isn’t particularly enamored with the osteologic. It’s hard to be repulsed by something born out of private desires to create moments of levity. It’s hard to fault anyone for squeezing so much communal joy out of a $300 Halloween decoration from a hardware corporation in a post-lockdown world that can be so antagonistic and isolating. There are far worse causes to rally around.
I still won’t go within six feet of the Home Depot skeleton if I can help it, to be crystal clear. But the next time we cross paths, I might not be as terrified, knowing I’m in on what feels like a glorious inside joke.