For the month of October, Bucoda, a Washington town of just 562 residents, becomes “Boo-coda.” It's part of a Town Council-approved effort to turn Bucoda into a destination for Halloween enthusiasts, and it seems to be working.
Bucoda Mayor Alan Carr knows you have to go out of your way to find the tiny town just 30 minutes south of Olympia.
“We are off the beaten path,” he says. “You have to want to come to Bucoda.”
But for the month of October, the Thurston County town of just 562 residents becomes “Boo-coda,” a Town Council-approved effort to turn Bucoda into a destination for Halloween enthusiasts.
It seems to be working.
Michael Smith, aka “Michael the Mortician,” has been haunting since 1968. “Haunting” is how he describes driving in hearse processions, designing and acting in haunted houses and decorating his home for trick-or-treaters.
On Saturday, Oct. 13, Smith joined 16 other hearse owners as he drove his Sayer Scoville Centennial in Bucoda’s first ever hearse procession. The hearse is named Rosa, and Smith says it’s one of only 50 like it in the world.
Between hearses with skeletons on the hoods and smoke pouring out of open back doors, costumed derby contestants — who would be racing in the pine-box derby later on — guided painted pinewood caskets down Main Street, marching along to a somber funeral march performed by the Tenino Brass Band.
Wrapping up the procession was Shelly Smith, one of the minds behind the “Boo-coda Spook-Tacular.” Convincingly costumed as Thelma from “Scooby Doo,” Smith handed out candy alongside a van from Eastside Big Tom restaurant painted to look like the Mystery Machine.
With an hour to kill before the pine-box racers hit the starting line, the small crowd that had gathered along Main Street lingered, picking up stray candy that had been thrown from hearse windows, or headed to Bucoda’s lone bar, Joe’s Place.
Meanwhile, the hearses looped and parked along the street to put the finishing touches on their spooky displays. Smith arranged several foam tombstones announcing “Hearse Parking” around his vehicle.
“You’ll love this one,” he said, waving me over as he pulled out a large model of a Nintendo game controller that read “Game Over.” Smith promptly lay in arms-crossed funeral form beneath it.
Smith, 65, launched easily into stories from his 50 years of designing and acting in haunted houses, complete with advice for how to enjoy a haunted house.
“When you go to a haunted house, you have to remember to laugh,” he said. “You have to laugh at yourself for being scared, and, it sounds crazy, but at the actor[s] because they got you.”
As a haunted-house designer and actor, Smith had nothing but praise for Bucoda’s own “Scary-Nights Haunted House,” which is set up in an old gym in the town.
The idea for Bucoda’s haunted house began in 2009, when the Town Council begin exploring ideas to bring in revenue. Since then, according to Carr, “Scary Nights” has seen an 18 to 20 percent increase in visitors every year.
“Right now, we’re making more money off of the gym being open 13 days a year than we did renting the gym out,” Carr said.
The “Boo-coda” events were dreamed up as a way to draw in more visitors to the haunted house and more revenue to the town.
According to Carr, the haunted house had 222 visitors the night of the hearse procession and the pine-box derby, the largest number it has ever spooked in one night.
The pine-box derby was the hit of the daylight hours, with visitors and residents lining up along either side of Seventh Avenue to witness the close victory for the team from Joe’s Place.
At the awards ceremony, the mayor handed out trophies for “Dead Last,” “Best Costume” and “Scariest” team.
“I tell ya, they’re on moonshine!” Carr joked to the crowd as he handed over the first-place trophy to the Joe’s Place team. Later, during a phone interview, he laughed again as he admitted that he’d found out the team members, who were the bar manager’s brothers, don’t drink.
Still, after the derby, the winners and a large contingent of spectators made the short trip down the block to Joe’s Place, where a specials menu advertised a “57 Ways to Die Burger,” “Final Destination Fries” and a “666 Martini” for $6.66.
The rest of Saturday’s lineup promised a “Newlydead” game and a “tasteful” pinup contest (the word “tasteful” was emphasized several times). Every Saturday features a $5 pumpkin-pancake breakfast, but the rest of the Boo-coda events vary by the weekend. The first year included pumpkin-carving contests, a death-preparedness presentation, food vendors and free “Thriller” dance lessons (Bucoda is one of three official sites in Washington for the Thrill the World international event).
Next year, Carr hopes to include scary hayrides, regular food and crafts vendors and “who knows what else.”
So what’s this little town like for the rest of the year? According to the mayor it’s pretty quiet.
“We have to rest,” he says with a laugh.
If you go
Grab a drink at Joe’s Place (118 S. Main St., Bucoda) to get a sense of the local flavor.
For the brave and lactose-tolerant only: Get a bite and a “Boo-berry” milkshake (the official milkshake of the “Boo-coda Spook-Tacular”) at Eastside Big Tom (2023 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia), a quirky drive-thru with a cartoon-decorated outdoor patio. Because what’s scarier than a cereal-based milkshake delivered in a waxy Pepsi cup and a good-kind-of-bad burger complete with a not-so-secret-recipe dip affectionately known as “goop”?
“Scary-Nights Haunted House” tickets can be purchased online at scary-nights.com or in-person for $12/person ($20 VIP tickets let you skip the line). The haunted house opens at 7 p.m. through Wednesday, Oct. 31.
A complete listing of all “Boo-coda Spook-Tacular” events can be found at boo-coda.com.