How To Make Halloween Jars

Halloween Jars Are Great!

These are great for Halloween
These are great for Halloween

Halloween Draweth Near!

With Halloween right around the corner again, (granted I start counting down the days in May) it is time again to transform that ragged old shack into a glorious haunted house. OK, so maybe I went to far with that statement. We will turn that cheerful home into a frightening haunted abode worthy of any ghostly ghoul. How does that sound? Of course the biggest issue with decorating a home for the Halloween season is cost. Decorations and props seem to go up in price drastically every single year with no signs of slowing down. I help run several haunted houses in my area for various charitable causes and I can tell you that the cost of props has put a damper on what we can do more times than I would care to remember.

This year I am helping run a haunted house at my fire department as well has hosting my own zombie outbreak at the library I operate so I know first hand the sting of buying supplies and decorations. It is almost always my job to find cost efficient ways of creating a working haunted house with out putting the organization in the hole. Normally I work with a shoestring budget or what I call a gum wrapper budget, one that is hard to stretch. It is never an easy endeavor but I take great pride when a haunted house comes together.

The haunted house at my fire station is one I have always enjoyed being able to say I am a part of it. So much so that one entire room of the haunted attraction is mine to control as I see fit. Due to the old wooden coffin that sets in the corner of this room we have dubbed it "coffin hall", and I assure you I have decorated coffin hall for under 100 bucks for years now. Every year I have freedom over who works in coffin hall and how we handle scaring. It is my own little personal scare haven I guess. A few years back a fellow haunter who is usually positioned in the room right next to coffin hall had a wonderful idea to transform his room into a mad scientist lab. She came to me with the desire to create the look on a really tight budget. The main feature she was most pumped about was a spooky shelf of books.


The mad scientist lab is a staple of haunted houses, but few go all out on it.
The mad scientist lab is a staple of haunted houses, but few go all out on it.

An Idea Is Born

I knew I would need dusty old hardback books. You know the kind that look like Aunt Agnus kept them in the attic for decades tucked away like fond memories. While looking for such books in the discarded box at the library it occurred to me that books were not the only thing I could use to make this shelf look like it belonged in a mad scientist setting. I started thinking of Elvira and Zacharly. They were hosts of horror movies for many years and they always seems to be surrounded by these attractive yet macabre little specimen jars filled with creatures and body parts. (I have to be honest, Elvira was one of my childhood celebrity crushes)

Suddenly that little zombie hamster that spins my wheel of thought sprang up from his midnight slumber and started working that well at full speed. I could easily design and make some of these specimen, or Halloween jars for next to nothing in cost. And that is exactly what I did. Now I must tell you that what lies ahead is a how to that worked for me. It was what I did to complete my project. This does not mean you have to follow my steps word for word or do exactly what I did. Feel free to explore other options and find what works for you. Use what I have left here for you as a guideline or blueprint to help you start your very own collection of Halloween jars. I will tell you the Dollar Stores will become your very best friend on this journey. So shall we get started.

Shopping List

  1. Jars with lids
  2. Bleach or clear dish washing liquid
  3. A roll of cheap twine
  4. Some candles
  5. Tea Bags
  6. Glue sticks
  7. Food coloring
  8. Grow toys
  9. Optional Highlighters

Let's Get Started: The stuff

  1. Mason jars with lids work very well for this but I have found that going to yard sales and flea markets is a great way to get inexpensive jars that will allow you to give your lab setting some more variety and make it more authentic. Any time you do a haunted house you want to strive for authenticity. Remember the jar is the foundation of the entire project.
  2. Bleach or clear anti-bacterial dish washing liquid is the next item on our shopping list. I prefer to use the dish washing liquid as it is a little less harsh to the skin as bleach. The bleach or dish washing liquid serves to keep the water from gumming up from pollutants and grime. It keeps our jar clear and visible
  3. A roll of twine is our next item to procure. Twine is used to help create an old timey looking seal on the lid of our jars as well as to hold something in the jar if need be. I find the cheaper and more rugged the twine looks the better it will be for this type of project.
  4. Candles are next on our list. Any color will do as long as it is dark. Candles are used to create the wax seal we will place around the edge of the lids as well as to create dripping settings on our shelf. Once again go cheap!
  5. Grab some tea bags next. This may have you scratching your head but tea bags are going to help us age the labels we make for our jars just a little later on. This is just another way to add some authentic age to the jars and give them a more appropriate feel for the haunted hot spot you place them in.
  6. Head over to the school supplies isle and grab a few glue sticks. Glue sticks are great for adhering our makeshift labels to our finished jars.
  7. Now get yourself green, yellow, and red food coloring. Some people may want to leave the water clear but I find making it look green like a freaky science lab or yellow like embalming fluid adds to the scare and gives the jars a little more by way of realism.Use your imagination and play with color schemes until you reach the desired look you want.
  8. Highlighters are optional but if you know you will be using black lights these are great to make the jars glow under the light.
  9. Lastly a printer. We have to print our labels out for the jars. I will provide some great resources here later on for you as far as labels go.
  10. Grow toys are the last item we need. These little toys can be found almost anywhere. Basically you have a small toy that when placed in water grows to a remarkable size. You can find animals, body parts, and God knows what else. The two we want to focus on are in fact animal and body part.

Step One: Prep the liquid

The first step is to get the liquid in our jar ready. Of course water is the primary liquid we will use but water alone leaves a lot of room for contamination. This is where our bleach or dish washing liquid comes in. Use a teaspoon of one or the other to allow the water to last longer with less likelihood of contamination and bacteria.

Next we have to decide what we want the water to look like. Maybe a mad scientistgreen? Perhaps you are going for a more realistic approach and you opted for more yellows to give it that morgue look. Some people even use all red to simulate the item is floating in blood. The look of the water is up to you. It just depends on your preference and vision for that particular prop. remember that you can use green with some and yellow with others, never feel obligated to go the same route with every jar you design.

Myself I like the creepy green tinge that you can get with a lot of green and a little bit of yellow. It gives it an almost unreal look but just real enough to be scary. Another aspect that seems very popular is to drop the ink cartridge from a highlighter into the water and let it sit for a few minutes. After about three to five minutes pop the ink out and place your jar in front of a black light. The jar will glow. I have done this a few times to achieve a glow effect. I really don't like the highlighter trick as much as using older style lighting to give it a more real look.

How you position your monster may be what makes or breaks your jar.
How you position your monster may be what makes or breaks your jar.

Step Two: The monster in the jar

Now we must choose our test subject for the jar we just prepared. I will use my favorite grow toy as the example for this project. The grow toy octopus. The octopus is great because in certain lighting it will not resemble an octopus at all but more or less take on the guise of a newly discovered creature. I like to position the toy where the facial features can be seen. Allow the tentacles to grow around each other and press against the jar. This will be a great effect.

When placing the monster in the jar always remember to do so in a way that is visually pleasing to the spectator. One thing you need to be warned of is most grow toys have writing on one side of the toy. Try to make this writing as least likely to be seen as possible. It could make or break your jar.

How to age paper.

How you choose to mark your jar can take away from the authenticity or give it a life of it's own.
How you choose to mark your jar can take away from the authenticity or give it a life of it's own.

Step Three: Authenticating your jar

This is by far the most important aspect of this project. We have to make the jars look real or the visitors to our haunted abode will simply ignore them or find them silly or trivial. The first step is to age the jar. Let's begin with the lid. Take the lid of the jar and begin wrapping the twine around the lid. This will make it appear to be an older jar and give it some real texture and age. You can use hot glue, elmers glue, or any kind of adhesive to hold the twine to the lid but I like to use wax. Simply melt a candleover the twine and let the wax harden. This creates a really effective aging method on the lid of the jar. You may even want to let a little of the wax drip down the side of the jar for a spill effect.

Now we need to focus on a label. The first step is to find a label that is blank. You can look online for these labels or simply just type a small block of text. It just depends on the look you are going for in the project. I like to use the square block of text more so than fancier labels to give it that old school mad scientist lab look. Kind of like the label may have been done on a type writer as opposed to computer. Just do what feels nice for you.

When creating the label don't call the specimen an octopus in a jar. That is not scary at all. Give it a weird name like octosis dementis, or something along those lines to separate the fact it is an octopus. Also write a brief message under the name of the creature. Perhaps "found in the lower brain of a animated corpse after head was removed"? Anything along those lines will work. Remember you want people to assume this jar is real and giving it somewhat of a back story will play that off really well.

Now we need to print our finished label off and get it ready to go through it's very own aging process. This is where our tea comes into play. Go ahead an prepare a bowl of warm water. Now soak a tea bag in the water for a few minutes, until the water has that rusty look to it. Take your crisp freshly cut out label and wrinkle it up like a paper wad in biology class, oh come on we all know you did it! After a good wadding unfold the wad and soak the label in the rusty water solution we made earlier. Let it sit for several minutes. During this delay you can read a few Edgar Allen Poe poems or maybe play an arousing game of where did the monster hide my socks that disappeared in the dryer, (I hate that game)

After removing our newly aged label we need to let it dry. Air drying works but I find a nice hair dryer does the trick just the same. Once we have a dried label go ahead and use a glue stick to affix it onto our jar. You now have a completed Halloween specimen jar that will be a valuable asset to your haunted house year after year.

Other Resources

As I mentioned earlier in this text the line of grow toys is almost endless so the possibilities of great jars is equally as endless. I have used the octopus, a sting ray, a starfish and even at one point a snake cut up in odd pieces. The body parts are just as good. I have made use of the brain, foot, and hand pieces but would imagine the heart, lungs and even bones could serve just as usefull. Find the ones you feel will reflect your haunted house vision the most and run with them. remember the first step is to be happywith what you have created.

I have also found that some toy insects work well for this type of project. I have used plastic caterpillars in a tube of fake blood as zombie worms, or even used a crudely painted rubber butterfly as a dangerous blood sucking moth. You just have to let the creative juices flow and you can come up with an endless list of potential specimen jars for your lab. I wish you the best and happy haunting.

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