Morris Costumes was one of the first retail businesses ever to specialize in Halloween products when they first opened more than 50 years ago, and they have since grown to become the largest wholesale distributor of Halloween products in the world, so we were beyond excited to talk to Scott Morris, son of founders Philip and Amy Morris, about his parents’ early Ghost Shows, how one of their gorilla costumes helped Bigfoot become an icon, his family’s unique place in Halloween history, and much more.
Scott says his dad, Philip Morris, was a natural born entertainer, creating and performing his own shows since the age of 8. He and Scott’s mom, Amy, would travel around performing “Ghost Shows” starting in the 1940s and through much of the 1950s. “He and my mom left home when they were 18 to go on the road doing shows,” he said, during our conversation in Philip Morris’ office at the massive 300,000-square-foot Morris Costumes corporate headquarters and warehouse in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“Back then, he would do a stage show between horror flicks,” Scott recalls of his dad’s Ghost Shows. “He was big into illusions, so he had a magic illusion show, there was a horror flick before and a horror flick afterwards, and between the two horror flicks, he would do this illusions show, and there was a horror scene. Before anybody came in, we’d black out any visible light that would come into the theater, whether they were exit signs whether they were windows or a door that somebody could open and let light in.
“During these horror scenes, the lightning trailers would be on the screen, thunder would be coming down, my dad would be up with a blank gun shooting it off. Mummy would come out, King Kong would be coming out on the stage. Then all the sudden the lights would go out and they’d come back up, and they’d be talking about the snakes coming down the aisles, the rats crawling up the back of your seats and crawling down over your shoulder and down to your laps, and how the girls would get wrapped around these spiders, and all this stuff going on.
“Then all the sudden the whole place would just go black. And you talk about pandemonium, it was absolutely crazy. He actually had a gash underneath his eye of where someone had thrown a bottle and he had gotten cut at one of the shows.
“The biggest one that I remember was the one in Huntington, West Virginia, called the Keith Albee Theatre. We played till midnight and they’d line up for blocks. I must have been 11 years old when I was doing the show. And they’d fill up the 2,500-seat theater. It was just amazing.”
A young Scott would often work in these shows alongside his parents. “Usually I was one of the ones that was out back taking the light over the phosphorescent different items they’d bring on stage, in other words burning them up so they would be seen on stage,” he said. “Every now and then I’d be one of the characters, one of the little mummies or whatever. It was crazy. That or I was always working the concession stand. I love the business side of things, which is one of the reasons that the business has grown to where it is today.”
Many of the costumes they made for these Ghost Shows would eventually be rented to friends, family, and neighbors around Halloween time, and before long, they were also selling them, eventually leading Philip and Amy to open a small retail store.
As one of the first Halloween specialty shops in the country, Scott recalls, “I remember we were the first ones to make spider webs. We actually had the local Boy Scout groups actually packaging the spider webs up in their garages back in the day. Now you’ve got machines that do it and it’s all automated and a whole process, but back then, you really didn’t even have that opportunity.
“We were the first ones to have the Batman license back in the early days, the Ben Cooper days of Halloween. Then we got into temporary Halloween, where you see all the popup stores across the country now, and then ecommerce came along over the years, and business just kind of naturally grew. My mom’s 85 years old and still runs our store. She drives 30 miles a day, she comes in and she has so much fun with the customers. Everybody that comes in the store, everybody knows her. She’s great.”
In 1967, one of their lifelike gorilla costumes was used in a video that would become the most famous Bigfoot “sighting” of all time.
Almost by accident, after a mask maker from Arizona fatefully asked Philip if he’d be interested in selling some of his masks, Morris officially entered the wholesale business in 1972, and 50 years later, they are respected as the largest distributor of Halloween products in the world. In 1990, they were a forerunner of the seasonal popup Halloween stores, launching Halloween Express, which continues to operate approximately at 65 locations each year. Their warehouse is home to more than 28,000 Halloween products on any given day, all year.
Many were surprised in 2021 when it was announced that Morris Costumes was selling their ecommerce and wholesale arms of the business to Oriental Trading Company, but Scott assures us that the Morris name and brand that people have come to love is in the best hands to ensure that it continues well into the future for many more Octobers.
You can watch our full exclusive interview with Scott Morris below, and then scroll down to watch our behind-the-scenes walkthroughs of Morris Costumes’ warehouse and home office, as well as the flagship retail store in Charlotte, North Carolina, and our photos gallery with highlights from the entire experience.
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