How Plainfield couple made ‘floating Max:’ Local physics professors weigh in

Dave Appel, the prop’s co-creator, shares his secret.

Hundreds of visitors came out to Dave Appel’s "Stranger Things"-themed Halloween display. The Plainfield Halloween display featuring a levitating Max from the Netflix show "Stranger Things" went viral on social media. Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, in Plainfield.

Dave and Aubrey Appels’ “Stranger Things” has created buzz online and sent thousands of devotees of the show and Halloween to their home.

“I have not seen it in person, but I really want to,” said Susan Renner, a physics professor at the University of St. Francis in Joliet. “It looks amazing online.”

Andrew Morrison, a physics professor at Joliet Junior College, hasn’t seen it yet either. But he and Renner didn’t mind speculating on how the prop worked.

Renner said the easiest and most practical way to levitate the prop would be string or wire. Yet she mused on other possibilities, too, such as electromagnets.

“It would be fun to get it to go up and down instead of just hovering in the air,” Renner said. “But my guess is that people would notice that walking up and have other issues, such as things collecting. But it would be cool.”

Drones could work as could air deflectors, she said.

“Or just any fans in there blowing air down and pushing it up,” Renner said. “But you’d notice that right away. And it would blow all the decorations around.”

Morrison was definite in his assessment.

“Fishing line,” Morrison said.

Morrison said the fishing line is running up the telephone pole, which is in line with the house and attached to the house or garage. It’s visible in a video Dave and Aubrey posted on their horror props TikTok page.

“It’s fairly clever,” Morrison said. “The fishing line is thin enough that you can’t really see it. It’s just a good illusion. I don’t think there’s any mystery to it.”

Morrison said the Appels most likely used pool noodles to stuff the legs and possibly the jacket of the prop. It wouldn’t take many pool noodles, and those noodles, which are foam, would make the prop lightweight and properly suspended.

But that hypothesis came with a caveat.

“I wonder if it’s breezy how much it moves,” Morrison said.

Morrison said he’s watched several of the Appels’ videos. He doesn’t feel the couple is using the prop as a publicity stunt. Dave previously said his goal is to start his own haunted house and make people smile.

“My impression, at least, is that they are tying to encouraging people to build their own Halloween props and they want other people to see similar things,” Morrison said.

That’s why Dave Appel readily shared how he made Max float.

“Fishing wire,” he said.

Furthermore, Morrison was correct about half of the stuffing material.

“Pool noodles – and Jewel bags,” Dave Appel said.

The prop was put into place with a pulley system. It looks heavy, but it’s actually quite light – just four and a half pounds.

“We’ve increased her weight to handle strong winds,” Dave Appel said. “They’re predicting storms for Wednesday, so we’ll take her down for sure.”

Renner said speculations on how “floating Max” was executed mirrors the work of scientists and physics professors, such as herself: observe the mystery and find the solution.

“And you never know,” Renner said, giving a nod to “Stranger Things,” the TV show. “Maybe the upside down is Plainfield.”

Public viewing hours are limited to the weekend. Hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday through Halloween.

Police officers will be posted through the weekend during the times the display is open for viewing.