The 12-foot-tall skeleton that towers over the Miamisburg yard of Cyndi White and Jason Thurman is a Halloween decoration, but the couple have left him in the yard and dress him up for all the holidays.
The gigantic figure, which the couple has named “Frank,” has been up for almost a year and is part of a growing trend of giant, year-round decorations in people’s yards.
That trend has led some to question what people can and cannot put on their private property, whether it be a giant skeleton or, as is the case at a Piqua home, a 10-foot-tall decorated werewolf.
“I feel like it’s your yard, you should be able to put whatever you want, as long as it’s not obscene or causing problems,” White said. “My skeleton doesn’t cause any problem. ... He’s been Christmas Frank and Valentine’s Frank and he’s now Summer Frank. He fell over right before Easter, so he didn’t get to be the Easter Bunny this year.”
White said neighbors and city residents welcome “Frank” because he brings them joy.
“We put him on our Facebook chat page for the city, and he has 1,100 likes in 24 hours with hundreds of comments of how everyone loves Frank,” she said. “They can’t wait to see what he’s dressed up like next.
“He doesn’t distract anybody. I mean, people pull over and take pictures of him and tell us ‘Great job,’ but it’s not causing an issue.”
Miamisburg City Planner Andrew Rodney said that, to his knowledge, there is nothing specific in Ohio law that pertains to yard decorations on private property.
“Locally, the city does not specifically regulate yard decorations unless they contain a vulgar or obscene message, or they create a hazard within or adjacent to the public right-of-way,” Rodney said. “There is also no limitation on holiday decorations provided they do not contain a commercial message.
“Residents generally have the freedom to decorate their yard or home as they wish.”
Rodney cautioned that some neighborhoods have homeowners association covenants and restrictions that may prevent some forms of “personal expression,” but those regulations are enforced by the HOA and not the city.
Residents may feel the decorations of a neighbor are “distasteful” or “tacky,” but that is “simply not something that is, or can be, regulated by a local government,” he said.
Piqua resident Mary Simmons has a nearly 10-foot tall werewolf standing in her front yard.
She calls him “Phil” and, by now, Phil is known to a lot of people. He is on Facebook (Phil the Wolf 500) and other social media, with reports featuring him posted from locations as far as the United Kingdom. Star Trek star George Takei even paid tribute to Phil earlier this week, tweeting “Lycan or not, it’s there to stay.”
The Piqua city code compliance staff informed the owner earlier this month that a complaint was received and suggested the “neighborly thing” to do would be to remove the display, said Brittany Pelter, city public relations/special events coordinator.
“The owner stated she would not be removing the display,” said Chris Schmiesing, Piqua’s community and economic development director. “The code official explained there is no code violation prompting enforcement action and it is the owner’s prerogative as to whether the display remains.”
City code enforcement would be needed if a decorative item “was a public safety concern,” Schmiesing said.
Simmons wrote on Facebook that she is dressing Phil for various holidays, and plans to continue to do so. This week he was holding an American flag and wearing a flag-themed shirt (Flag Day just passed, and Independence Day is around the corner).
White said she doesn’t see a reason why anyone would get worked up over a decoration that is supposed to joyful.
“Nobody tells anybody to take down their pink flamingo yard decorations or their Christmas lights that have been on their house for seven months, so why is a skeleton or a werewolf any different than that?” she said.
To date, Miamisburg property maintenance inspectors have not had direct interaction with White or Thurman over their yard decoration, Rodney said.
“Upon receiving a complaint, our inspectors investigated the complaint to determine if a violation was present,” he said. “Having not directly observed any vulgar or obscene messages, nor any danger to the public right-of-way, the matter was closed without further action.”