Every year around the first of October, John Kovarik’s Glen Carbon home is invaded by a giant arachnid.
This year, the Daddy Long Legs that has taken up residence on his sloping front lawn is bigger, better and not alone.
No exterminator needed.
“Well, it’s a constant evolution,” said John 61, of his annual creation. He came up with the idea after seeing a homemade Halloween spider in a yard on a trip to Wisconsin.
Never miss a local story.
“I thought, ‘Man, that’s pretty simple.’
The mash-up monster has grown from there.
“The first year it was basically 12 feet across. There were no eyeballs. ... Originally, I used a suitcase for his head. A Samsonite. Last year, the spider was 23 feet (diameter) and this year it’s 34. I wanted it to be 40. Plus, I decided to add a baby spider. The other one up by the trees is hard to see and that was more of an experiment.”
The retired steelworker has been building spiders for drivers on Illinois 159 (just north of Interstate 270) to admire for at least a decade, maybe more.
“It’s a 50-50 thing: Fifty feet away at 50 miles per hour, it looks great,” he said, laughing as somebody honked and he waved. “Stop and look close — not so much.”
12 Diameter in feet of John’s first spider
34 Diameter in feet of the largest spider
John is being modest. Pull in his dead-end street, Jean Ann, and you see not only how the jury-rigged spiders are constructed, but how creative the creator truly is.
A yard sale scavenger, he sees possible body parts wherever he goes.
Take the eight 6-foot-plus-tall legs on the big spider: Each leg is made of of four PVC sewer pipes with joints made from a bag of fittings (think elbows) he bought for $1.50. Pole barn self-tapping screws hold the legs and joints together, but they can be removed easily when it’s time to deconstruct. Holding each leg in place on the hilly landscape is a 2-by-4 shoved up the pipe closest to the ground. Rebar sunk in the ground is attached to that. This year, John used reflective red and black tape to disguise some of the wood supports — making it look like the spider is wearing knee-highs.
“That took two hours, but I like the way it looks.”
It’s a 50-50 thing: Fifty feet away at 50 miles per hour, it looks great. Stop and look close — not so much.
John Kovarik on the looks of his spiders
Body: Two empty 55-gallon plastic drums spray-painted black. “I used an air tank for the baby’s body.”
Mouth: “It’s a kid’s Transformer (toy). I don’t know what it does, but I got it at a yard sale. I thought it kind of looked like a nostril.”
Antennae: Flexible sump pump hose — another garage sale find.
Eyeballs: First you start with two Rubbermaid trash can lids, to which you attach two big plastic pretzel jars. Cut off the bottom of the jars facing outward and insert lights.
“They’re LED trailer lights,” said John, who got the idea while standing in Walmart’s automotive department.
On the little spider, lids from 5-gallon plastic icing buckets have baby bottles attached to them. “Inside are marker lights, like from the side of a trailer or your car.” The little guy’s mouth is a green plastic gutter scoop.
Extension cords, wires and batteries help light up the eyes at night.
And about those feet: Eight cast-off black roller blades. “They were cheap” and were used on the inaugural spider only to add weight, not movement. Still, seeing them on this monster-movie-size spider has you thinking it could glide right into traffic.
But, there’s no rolling this baby to get it anywhere.
John preassembles the spider legs in the driveway at the top of the hill by his garage. He lost his left leg above the knee in a 1984 motorcycle accident, so he looks for parts he can easily manipulate and move from one place to another. That means lightweight legs.
“I drag each down behind the golf cart. It takes about five hours to put it all together with the help of my nephew. We can probably disassemble it all in an hour.”
John and his wife, Deborah Doolin, have no children, but they enjoy Halloween and adding to the spirit.
“People seem to enjoy it,” John said. “Some will stop and take pictures.”
An unsigned letter he got in 2013 came from a family thanking him for building the spider and letting him know that seeing it is an annual event.
“Well, I don’t have any artistic ability in me,” he said of his creation. “It’s just dumb luck.”
If you want to see the spiders, you have until Oct. 31. By Nov. 1, all three will be back in hibernation.