For most couples, the American Dream is to own a house with a nice lawn, picket fence, and a nice car in their two-car garage. But for Charles and Sandra McKee, their dream was to own a home at 1313 Mockingbird Lane—a home with dragons guarding the lawn, bats on the roof, and a graveyard in their front yard. Their dream, in short, was to build an out-sized replica of the Munster Mansion.
The Munster Mansion, of course, refers to the home owned by the fictional Herman and Lily Munster in the television series The Munsters, which aired from 1964-1966. The house was notable for its extreme Gothic characteristics and its retractable stairs, under which the Munster’s pet dragon, Spot, lived.
On television, the Munster Mansion was set outside of Los Angeles, California. In real life, the McKees built their dream home in Waxahachie, Texas, a town about two and a half hours north of Huntsville.
Despite the small-town setting, the home is a larger-than-scale, 5,800 square-foot replica of the Munster’s television domicile. It was completed in 2002, the vision of the Munster-loving McKees. Together, they watched all 70 of the show’s episodes, taking detailed notes of the home’s interior and exterior design.
Their note taking worked. The gothic mansion is a dead ringer for the Munster home, down to the lifeless and leafless tree in the front yard and Koach, the family’s carriage-like automobile, in the driveway. But it is the interior that offers the most striking sense of verisimilitude. The staircase includes the famous hydraulic hatch; the electric chair and trap door rest comfortably in the living room; and there’s the kitchen, where Eddie “wolfed” down “tasty owl’s eggs and vulture livers”; and then there’s the secret passageway behind the revolving bookcase on the second floor.
The show’s furniture, appliances, and décor are replicated throughout the house. Cobwebs hang from the same chandeliers, lamps, and fixtures. The cracks in the wall are the same size and shape as those on the television series, and the house is adorned with various original props from the show. Indeed, the McKees watched the show “over and over” to learn details such as how many steps it takes to get from the front door to the famous stairway.
To passersby, the house is a real curiosity. But to the McKees, the house is a real home. They live there—amidst the cobwebs, torture devices, and brewing broth—365 days a year. Raven, the bird in the cuckoo clock, really talks. Spot, the dragon beneath the stairs, really roars. When the McKees venture outside, they stroll through a (presumably) mock graveyard, and for a family outing, Koach is available. “You just adjust,” McKee noted. “It sounds weird, but it’s kind of normal for me.”
Indeed, the atmosphere is so television-realistic that the McKee’s younger grandchildren believe that Charles and Sandra are, in fact, The Munsters. It’s a different kind of home.
Being different, the house makes a lot of people curious, which leads to a lot of tourist sorts making their way to the McKee’s home. This, it seems, is one of the drawbacks to having an aggressively interesting house. While the McKees are comfortable with tourists taking photographs from outside the gates, the most curious individuals occasionally seek to get a more intimate view. The interior of the home, however, is not open to the public—at least not for most of the year.
For two days each October, however, the McKees offer a tour of the home along with festivities on the grounds. There are midway games on the north lawn; a fire breather on the west lawn; and a live band, a fortune teller, and a face painter amidst the tombstones to the south. This year, Pat Priest, who played Marilyn Munster in the television show, also made an appearance.
She’s one of three cast members to stop by over the years. Al Lewis, who played Grandpa in the series, visited in 2002. While visiting, he burned a hole in his tuxedo with his cigar. The tuxedo now hangs in the memorabilia room.
That was the first year of the open house, and they hadn’t quite worked out all of the kinks yet. They served alcohol at the party, and they didn’t have tour-guide volunteers to watch over things. They realized they needed to change those policies when they found a couple in the coffin phone booth—doing things that weren’t allowed on television in the 1960s. Since then, they’ve implemented a no-alcohol policy and they now have tour guides and security of sorts.
There is a fee ($20 for adults; $12 for children) for all this fun, but the proceeds go to charity. This year the McKees designated the Ellis County SPCA as the official charity. The tours raised more than $13,000, no doubt making Spot’s and Raven’s stray counterparts very happy.
The tourists seemed happy, too, even with a three-hour wait to get in. For them, it’s a chance to have fun, satisfy their curiosity, and be a part of television history.
For the McKees, it’s an adventure and a privilege. “I get,” noted Ms. McKee, “to live with something I grew up enjoying.” For them, it’s just a normal part of the American Dream—at least, as they told one reporter, as “normal as you can get with an electric chair in the front room.”