Terror on Tillson brings thousands to Romeo

Haunted houses

The small town of Romeo is home to Michigan's scariest street.

Every October, 2 1/2 blocks of Tillson Street are transformed, with elaborate Halloween decorations on nearly every one of the historic Victorian homes, which date to the Civil War era.

"I get blamed for it, let's put it that way," says Vicki Lee, 61, who's lived on Tillson for 36 years.

Lee's birthday falls on Halloween, and she says her mother always "used to do something extra" on the holiday. When her three sons were young, Lee began decorating for Halloween, and started a tradition that's grown to include the entire street and which draws about 2,000 trick-or-treaters every Oct. 31.

She estimates that 80,000 visitors come to Tillson Street each year in the weeks leading up to Halloween. Spectators from as far away as Germany and Japan have found their way to Romeo to see the haunted neighborhood street.

"It's free. It's a family night. It's safe," she says of the appeal of what's now known as "Terror on Tillson."

Lee's daughter-in-law Danielle says: "She was the good witch who started it."

Gravestones with the names of football teams beat by the Romeo Bulldogs — and the dates of the wins — decorate Lee's front yard. The Bulldogs were Michigan's 2015 Division 1 state champions.

The Bulldogs' biggest rival is Eisenhower High School, across 25 Mile, Lee says. "They always call us 'The Farmers.'"

Despite the elaborate nature of the decorations on Tillson Street — this year's installations include a yard full of corpse brides and a fully equipped zombie hockey match — the neighbors don't go broke buying Halloween decorations. "They build it," Lee says.

Neighbors prepare informally for the festivities, planning over beers on each other's porches. Terror on Tillson requires patience, Lee says, when pre-Halloween traffic reaches gridlock proportions.

Eleven years ago, Lee's late husband, William "Buzz" Lee, began raising funds for a scholarship for vocational students. Since his passing, she's made Terror on Tillson into an endeavor that's not just spooky, but altruistic. T-shirt sales now support scholarships, pay-to-play sports fees in Romeo schools, the Byting Bulldogs robotics team, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Food drives have been held in the past to coincide with Terror on Tillson, as well as a special trick or treat for the nonprofit Kids Kicking Cancer, held prior to Halloween so that juvenile cancer patients with weakened immune systems can enjoy the holiday.

Lee describes the experience of receiving a note from a Kids Kicking Cancer patient after they visited Tillson Street.

"You get a note the next year, and no one wants open it — and it's a thank you, and they're doing great."

A neighbor of Lee's recently had surgery, so she and other Tillson Street residents are gathering to put up his Halloween decorations.

"We're all friends," she says of her neighbors.

For more information, visit terrorontillson.com.