It's not Halloween in Ridgewood without an a-maze-ing jaunt through a scary backyard puzzle on Sheridan Terrace.
The Stewart family — parents Greg and Nancy, son Tyler — have spent 26 years perfecting their 1,000-square-foot Halloween maze, and they aim each season for spookier levels of bewilderment.
"We started this when Tyler was 4 and asked for an obstacle course," Greg said. "I thought that sounded like something that would result in broken legs, so we did a maze for his birthday. The next year it was for Halloween. And we started inviting the neighborhood, because it is more fun if more than a few people go through it."
Mechanical ghouls greet visitors at the street and point the way to "the maze" in the backyard. Figuring a way through the 27-inch-wide pathway, with its one-way doors and mechanical spooks, takes about an hour for the adults, less for the kids.
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"I don't know why, but the kids seem to figure it out quicker," Greg said. "We make some of them into what we call 'sherpas,' and they go in to escort people out of the maze who get lost."
It is whispered that the plastic bones scattered on the ground around the maze are those of people who have "expired" trying to extricate themselves from its burlap channels.
"I tell the kids not to worry — two out of three make it out," Greg said.
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The motion-activated figures are outside 24/7, and Greg estimates they last about three years before they become "static" statues — a dreaded occurrence.
Nancy said that although the maze takes two days to put up and two days to decorate, it's the daily maintenance that involves work. A dropped eyeball here, a missing pinky bone there: the haunted upkeep adds up.
"We have to check each figure to make sure it's working, rearrange costumes," Nancy said. "It takes a while to turn everything on. We don't have a master switch."
Tyler has become the maze designer, varying its ins and outs each year so repeat visitors have a new challenge
"It's a puzzle," he said. "Some things work better than others, and there's not that much space."
At 30, Tyler is still bringing friends to the maze, which has also welcomed birthday parties, soccer teams and adults in costume.
The maze is roofless, built on an incline, and overseen by the Stewarts from their elevated deck. Equipped with spotlights and bullhorns, they can issue "do not run" commands or assure the lost that help is on the way.
There is no charge for the Stewart maze, and no request for charity donations. They only ask that visitors park close to the curb, leave their dogs at home or bring someone to watch them, and limit participants to "those who can read and walk."
"We can't do wheelchairs," Greg said. "And people who bring toddlers find it's too much to carry them for an hour."
The maze at 124 Sheridan Ave. is open from 4 to 9 p.m. weekdays, and noon to 9 p.m. weekends, closed in the event of rain. For more details and a video of the maze being set up, visit Facebook.com and search for Ridgewood Halloween Maze 2021.
Marsha Stoltz is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Ridgewood NJ: Halloween haunted maze on Sheridan Terrace