“Most people didn’t get past the characters to notice the house,” says Sandra McKee, a lifelong Texan, former lingerie store owner, great-grandmother, and Waxahachie resident. McKee is talking about the home at 1313 Mockingbird Lane in the fictional city of Mockingbird Heights in the sixties TV show The Munsters. “But I loved the house,” she continues. “You could flow from any room without turning around and going back. The flow was wonderful.”
She loved it so much that she decided to recreate it. Twenty years ago, McKee and her husband, Charles, built a Victorian-style home in Waxahachie and designed it to look just like the Munsters’ house. The McKees lived there until a few years ago. Now they live next door and open the mansion for private tours as well as for monthly murder mystery dinner parties catered by the Olive Garden. It’s not just a tribute to the original but a nearly exact duplicate. The electric chair is there. The rotating suit of arms is there. The dishes laid out on the dining table are the real dishes the cast ate from on the show. Spot, the Munsters’ pet fire-breathing dragon, lives under the stairs: “We did a cardboard mock-up,” McKee recalls. “Shipped it off to a guy up north. He did the fiberglass and the mechanism to make the mouth open. We can’t do fire out the nose, of course, because you’d burn down the house, but we used to have fog coming out.” She adds, “On tours, a lot of people have breathing problems, so we don’t do fog anymore.” Even the candelabras and beaded-fringe lampshades and cheesecloth cobwebs look just like the originals.
“I watched all seventy episodes,” McKee says, reminiscing about the origins of her project. “We’d freeze-frame a wall. Figure out what goes on that wall. Lily Munster was five feet four. I’m five two. I could see how many steps it took her to get to the staircase or the stove. And that’s how we determined where things were. I don’t mind researching things. I spent a lot of time researching. A lot of time watching the show. Eventually I could say the words before they said the words.”
Waxahachie, a city of more than 35,000 residents about thirty miles south of Dallas, might be the best spot in Texas for a Munster Mansion. A town with an Old West feel—some scenes of Bonnie and Clyde were shot there—it also has a spooky side. Not only is it home to Screams Halloween Theme Park, it’s rumored to be haunted. Local Cajun restaurant Catfish Plantation advertises its cast of ghosts (ask the owner about the levitating fry basket). Unexplained turning door handles and tales of an elevator-riding girl ghost draw tourists to the Rogers Hotel. There’s also a popular historical ghost tour.
But the Munster Mansion is less spooky than simply extraordinary. There’s something so impressive, almost subversive, about giving one’s life to something that no one else has likely even conceived of, something that many people wouldn’t understand. For years, the Munster Mansion was simply the McKees’ house. They opened it for tours and charity events a couple times a year. They’d dress up like Lily and Herman and have the show’s cast members over for visits, but they didn’t build the house with the intention of making money. Sandra McKee just … loved The Munsters. And Charles went along for the ride. “If it were up to him, we’d be living in the Starship Enterprise,” she says. “But it was up to me, so here we are in the Munster House.”
Once she’s given me the grand tour, McKee shows me the memorabilia room, crammed with photos and figurines. “My favorite piece in here is this tuxedo,” she says, touching the formal suit with red bowtie. “When Grandpa Munster [the late actor Al Lewis] came to our charity event, the town next to us donated this tuxedo for him to wear for the weekend. Well, Grandpa burned it right here with his cigar—yeah, I’ve got his cigar, too—so I bought the tuxedo from him, didn’t have it dry-cleaned or anything. It’s got his DNA all over it.”
The Munsters, which aired for only two seasons, was produced by the creators of Leave It to Beaver, and like Beaver, it depicted suburban life, albeit satirically. The Munsters were monsters, but they were otherwise a traditional, loving sixties family. The McKees, too, are typical, if you don’t count the coffin phone built into their wall. Charles is a plumber. Sandra adores her family so much that she doesn’t give tours on Halloween because she likes to take the kids trick-or-treating. “I had six grandchildren grow up here,” she tells me. “I told them, don’t run your toys in the cobwebs.” She smiles. “We had a lot of love in this house.”