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Annabelle Fitswell
Graveyard Tombstone
Hours of work
About 20 or so

I wanted to create a Tombstone that would both look good during the day as well as at night. I also wanted a back story and for this one:

"It is the tragic story of a young girl seduced by the son of the evil Count...

Anabelle was young, beautiful and wanted to attend the countries university. While there she is seduced by a boy who's father was not only ruthless but sadistic and he did not approve of the young commoner Anabelle and so sentenced her to the guillotine. She was only 19. Her soul never rested at peace..."

With the back story in place I set about creating a tombstone that could withstand our harsh weather. Here in New Orleans we get ferocious thunder storms, with heavy rain and strong winds and gusts. So I built it to shed water and be stable enough to not topple in strong winds. The tombstone is also a "Jump Scare" in the Disney Haunted Mansion sense. On the outside is the old grave marker with flowers just sprouting up to comfort the departed but inside is the mechanical system that jumps and scares when someone comes too close. I was pleased with the dichotomy of exterior sereneness and interior turmoil. It is built with plywood covered with foam insulation and treated with layers of Drylok paint for strength and water protection. The compartment that houses the electronics (Controller inspired by ButtonBanger.com) in completely enclosed and water tight.

Once I had the back story figured out I made a crude sketch of the foundation for the prop.

My math was a bit rusty but I got there in the end. I sloped the top of the electronics box to shed water when it rained. It rains a lot and hard here every year and I wanted the prop to be able to hold up in heavy rain.

The guts of the project is the controller system controlling the pneumatic system, audio system and lighting system. For the controller I used an Arduino Uno R3 with the 4 solenoid shield and programed the show using the very ingenious software created by Buttonbanger.com.

The pneumatic actuator I made of PVC with a floor flange attachment and HDPE pipe. Knowing there would be air gaps in the system I did not need a complex pneumatic solenoid just a simple 2 way solenoid.

I used a brass adapter for the airline intake and the upper sections of the system are HDPE pipe so the system will not be brittle and can take the air loads. I used both 1" and 1/2" pipe for the build. The actuator is constructed with a 3/8" bolt and nut with 3 washers (loosely snug) to create the piston. I hammered the nut into the 1/2" pipe with the bolt attached. It was quite snug in the pipe and with a little glue became to anchor to the piston. The top of the 1" pipe is caped with a standard 1" PVC cap and a hole drilled through it to allow just enough freedom for the 1/2" pipe to move. The piston is in two pieces, the lower internal piston and the exterior extension for the prop head. The 1" coupler between the lower piston and upper extension prevents the piston from bottoming out leaving the bottom of the piston above the air intake valve. I added a 1" ring of foam pipe insulation just below the coupler to dampen the blow when air pressure is removed.

The controller runs two solenoids for LED lights (her eyes) and the pneumatic solenoid valve. It also controls the MP3 player and a SSR relay to control AC devices, in my case a strobe light.

I used a small power distribution bar to plug in the power for the controller and mini amplifier I got off the internet for $20.00. The power bar plugs into a short extension wire I cut and wired into a male plug adapter mounted in a junction box on the back door of the controller compartment.
This allowed me to install a "Master" power switch inside the exterior water cover and have the plug aligned in the housing to just plug the extension cord in to the grounded male adapter prongs in the housing.

The air line snakes through a small 1/4" vent at the top of the door which is under the sloped top of the controller compartment.

I mounted a standard plastic skull that I added 2 red LED's for eyes and ran the wires down into the controller. Then I added the wig for added shock value as the hair flies all over the place when she jumps.

To keep the skull aligned with the front of the tombstone I drilled a small hole through the pipe and glued in a small steel bar that I cut to allow 3/4" clearance on each side of the interior walls. Then I added 1"x2" as guides for the steel bar. Finally to keep the piston from slamming into the stop cap I added a length of string to stop the skull at the appropriate height. (both are shown here)

Once that was done I added 1" foam (they don't carry the 2" here) for the base and then layered up from there.

I wanted to flush out the back story some more so I added a torso and neck at the top of the stone and her head in a basket at the base. First I got a cheap basket at the Home store and coated it with Drylok. Once that was done I mounted the motion sensor (PIR) in a small plastic container with a 3/4" pvc portal for the PIR to see through. This protected the PIR from moisture. The speaker is a water proof type and is mounted behind the "RIP" plaque.

Then I took a Styrofoam female head from a Michaels craft store and cut off the base and then coated it with multiple layers of Drylok paint. Then I used straw (also from Michaels) and glued it onto the head. once it was fairly secure I dipped the straw hair into watered down Drylok and placed it into the Drylok'ed basket. I once I got the effect I wanted I let it set then coated it with undiluted Drylok to stiffen it up to get a stone look.

To finish it off I followed VanOaks and Hollywood Haunters methods of hardening and aging the prop. The last touch I decided on was to add flowers growing from the basket to soften the feel and add some sympathy to Annabelle, at least before she rises...

I hope you enjoy this prop as much as I did making it.


Hollywood Haunters (hollywoodhaunters.com), Buttonbanger.com, Van Oaks Props
Arduino Controller, audio and pneumatic solenoid jump scare triggered by a PIR sensor.