Nightmare on 19th Street: The hauntrepreneurial spirit of Cody Meacham

Family and friends have always lurked closed behind at St. Pete's Radley House.

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click to enlarge SCAREMASTER: Cody Meacham inside the latest incarnation of his home-grown haunt. -  - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
SCAREMASTER: Cody Meacham inside the latest incarnation of his home-grown haunt.

The Radley House: Dr. Radley’s Nightmare Machine
3900 19th St. N., St. Petersburg. 
Thurs.-Sun., 7:30–11 p.m., through Nov 2. 
$5 donation.

The house was not haunted.


Instead of ghosts and monsters, it was full of family and friends.

Cody Meacham, 26, stood in the center of it all. Despite having worked over seven hours at his day job at Home Shopping Network, his blue eyes flashed with excitement as he described the tactics and triggers he’d be using to scare the thousands of people who in a few days would line up in front of his family home — where, every Halloween season for eight years, The Radley House has risen.

Meacham was a student at St. Petersburg’s Northeast High School when, inspired by Disney’s The Haunted Mansion, he staged his first home-grown haunt with his parents’ permission.

“It started in the house, really small. He would put things in the front living room window and people would just look in,” remembers his mother, Debbie Meacham, with pride. “Then he added special effects and everybody kept saying it was really good and that he needed to make it bigger.”

Then Meacham attended Universal Orlando’s Halloween Horror Nights (HHN) for the first time, an experience that would change everything.

“My first haunted house was PsychoScareapy at HHN in 2006. I walked in and I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is exactly what I want to do!" he says, gesturing with his colorfully tattooed arm. “I came home and had to do something. So I set up my yard and windows, then built a greenhouse for people to walk through.”

Eight years later, The Radley House has grown into a freestanding structure, featuring 10 different scenes built by hand, run by donations and volunteers, and enjoyed by thousands.

“Every year we push the limits as far as we can go. The fans keep us going. We get such a great response every year that we end up making back the huge debt that we have created for ourselves,” Meacham reveals. “I put a lot of faith into the fans because I don’t have the money to do it but I find a way, and they help us right back. We had around 7,000 people attend last year, some waiting over an hour on a busy Saturday night.”

How does Debbie feel about the massive structure on her lawn and the crowds it attracts?

“We kind of get iffy about it sometimes because we have to carry groceries through the haunted house and it is kind of hard getting in and out of there,” she says, smiling. “But we would miss it if we didn’t have it. I feed the scare actors and check on everybody, and we will go outside and help with the line of people.”

Paul Rose, 26, who has known Meacham since their days at Meadowlawn Middle School, was a scare actor from the very beginning.

“I’ve always attached myself to it because I love Cody’s artistic point of view. No matter where I am in the country, I will make arrangements to be here and do at least two weekends,” says Rose, before disappearing under the headpiece of his creature costume.

This year’s house is called Dr. Radley’s Nightmare Machine, continuing Meacham’s exploration of the cursed Radley family.

“Our story centers around Dr. Radley, a sleep therapist who has suffered his whole life from nightmares,” explains Meacham, standing next to a giant owl sarcophagus in Radley's office. “He has made it his goal to find answers to why nightmares happen. As his own dreams get more vivid, there is always this one creature that haunts him, making him more desperate, and more extreme with his patients and experiments.”

Meacham has also brought back the greenhouse from his very first haunt to show off one of Dr. Radley’s patients, an unfortunate experimental subject.

click to enlarge SUCH A FUN GUY: The scares just keep mushrooming in the Radley House, whose features include this fertile cadaver. - todd bates
todd bates
SUCH A FUN GUY: The scares just keep mushrooming in the Radley House, whose features include this fertile cadaver.

“Dr. Radley planted one of his patients and grew fungus from him because mushrooms have the same cellular makeup as the human brain,” says Meacham. The macabre set piece by costume designer Dakota Whittington is an homage to Hannibal, Meacham’s favorite TV show.

Ricky Brigante, owner of entertainment site Outside the Magic and producer of The Radley House, is helping Meacham take his dreams to the next level by doing everything from handling promotion to designing the audio and lighting.

“Though I’ve known Cody for many years, I first visited the Radley Haunted House in 2013 and was instantly blown away," he says. "I’ve been wanting to create a haunted house of my own for a long time, and partnering with Cody seemed like the perfect way to get do it.”

With Meacham’s artistry and passion, not to mention his generous friends and fans, it's only a matter of time before he moves on to bigger opportunities. Besides, a new venue would really help his mom with those groceries — and who wouldn’t want that? 

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