Justin Draper had decided that he could not live without a 12-foot-skeleton, so when a Home Depot sales associate told him there was a skeleton due to arrive at a store 70 miles away, that it was perhaps the last Giant Home Depot Skeleton in all Ohio, and that it would be sold to the first comer, it wasn’t so much a question of whether Draper would make the drive, but whether he’d beat all the other people who had decided that they, too, needed, with all their hearts, to own a 12-foot skeleton.

He peeled out of his driveway in Kenton, Ohio, the Benny Hill theme “Yakety Sax” playing in his head, and didn’t stop for gas even when his fuel light came on 30 miles from his destination in Piqua, Ohio. Somehow, he made it.

“My seat belt came off as soon as I hit the parking lot,” Draper says. “I opened the door and I was running inside.”

He beat the other customers by minutes.

A mere $319.93 later, Draper was inducted into the cult of the Giant Home Depot Skeleton, the coveted Halloween decoration that, in a truly frightening season of a truly haunted year, has become so much more: an Internet meme, a status marker, a coping mechanism, a memento mori. A reminder that whimsical indulgences are still permitted, and still funny, no matter how morbid American life has become.

As the pandemic threw Halloween into limbo, Home Depot’s “12 ft. Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes,” as the product is officially called (the eyes move!), emerged as a blessed curiosity in a sea of grim news. On social media, people professed a love of the skeleton that ran the gamut from delighted confusion to faux lust. (One Twitter writer spoke of “the sexual tension between my bank account and the 12’ tall Home Depot skeleton.” “Can’t stop thinking ’bout him,” wrote another.)

Home Depot sold out of the skeletons quickly — they declined to say how many they manufactured — but scarcity has only deepened the resolve of would-be buyers. Jane Pfister, 39, a Canadian living in Turgi, Switzerland, paid $775 to have hers shipped to Europe via DHL (“Worth every penny”). Travis Steiner, 28, of Reading, Pa., bought multiple skeletons for his own display and then, seeing the prices they were commanding on eBay, decided to profit on his investment. “I am absolutely blown away that it sold for $1,400,” he said. The buyer “was ecstatic,” he added.

Shannon Osborne’s skeleton caught the eye of a customer at the pumpkin patch she operates in Pennsylvania. The customer “offered us $4,000” on the spot, says Osborne, 44. “He took out his checkbook.” (She loves the skeleton so much, she turned him down. “My husband looked at me, and I was like, Don’t you dare.”)

The Tickle Me Elmo-grade fever over the skeletons made all the more absurd by the fact that there’s nothing practical, economical or convenient about owning a bone statue measuring nearly a whole story.

Draper had solved his problem of not owning a gigantic skeleton. Approximately 30 seconds after purchasing it, he realized he had a new problem: “How am I going to get this thing home?

The giant skeleton comes in a 4-by-4-foot giant box. Draper drives a small Chrysler sedan. Home Depot employees helped him unbox the bones and fit them into his car.

“The head was in the child seat in the back,” he says. The spinal cord and ribs rode up front with him. Everything else — tibia, fibula, humerus, femur, etc. — was crammed wherever it would fit. “My trunk was full of body parts,” Draper says.

He wasn’t the only one to make a pilgrimage. Larry Olness, 64, of Sartell, Minn., drove 26 hours to Orlando to purchase his set of tall bones from one of the few stores that still had them in stock. Marie Washburn Parisi, 46, cried in the aisle of her local Home Depot when she learned that its last skeleton had been sold; she later managed to nab a floor model from another store, making her (she believes) “literally the last person in Connecticut” to get one.

Michelle and Steve Ferrone had been thrilled to score a big skelly in mid-September. Michelle, who has a late-October birthday and has always reveled in skeleton decorations, was especially tickled.

“When we stood him up, it was almost like she was a little kid, giggling,” says her husband. The couple’s neighbors in Middletown, Md., felt similarly. They came over to pose for photos in between Herman’s legs. (That’s what they named him. Herman.) People driving past the house would honk in approval.

Until one morning: horror.

“I looked outside and he was gone,” Michelle says, “and I just gasped.”

His remains were discovered by a neighbor, who “sent a picture of his body in Middletown Park,” without a head or arms, Steve says. “There were kids in the neighborhood that were crying.”

Those who manage to protect their large skeletal sons from kidnappers and vandals can reap social rewards.

“Within the community of people that decorate, it’s a big flex,” says Morgan Adams, 25, of Victoria, British Columbia. (She has two.)

Melissa Svenby, 49, of Colorado Springs, spent more than $1,000 on three bone boys for her yard attraction, called 2609 Dead Man’s Curve.

“I didn’t really think about a price, honestly,” she says. “It’s about investing in something that brings us a lot of happiness.”

Donna Kerr, 54, bought 10. You can do the economic math.

“It was completely impulsive to buy 10 of them, because they’re not cheap,” says Kerr, correctly. When they were delivered, the boxes “took up half of a tractor trailer . . . I was like, ‘Oh my god, what did I just do?’ ”

The Silver Spring real estate agent has always gone big for Halloween. She hosted a “haunted garden” at her home until complaints from her neighbors about crowds prompted county officials to shut it down. But Kerr’s skeleton bulk-buy was not only an investment in her happiness but also her real estate business: One of Kerr’s property listings recently went viral after she used one of them in a home staging, showing off the unit’s lofty living room.

“It really showcases how tall that ceiling is,” she says.

At home, one of the skeletons in her yard has been dressed as the pop star “SkElton John.” Everyone seems to have a punny name for their adopted skeleton-child: Boney Danza. Marrowlyn Monroe. Jeff Leboneski. Scary Potter. Paul Bone-yan. Albert Spine-stein.

In Nashville, Olive Moore, 32, and her roommates have started an Instagram account for “Agent Skelly,” named after paranormal detective Agent Scully from “The X-Files.” Skelly has been outfitted with several accessories this month, including a Black Lives Matter flag and a giant plastic fly on his head, like the one that landed on Vice President Pence during the vice-presidential debate. (The fly “was $15 and it was absolutely worth it,” Moore says).

Mike Yazumbek, 31, who builds professional haunted-house attractions for his company in Tinley Park, Ill., rigged his skeleton up with a mechanical jaw and a recorded voice that says phrases like “Welcome to the graveyard” and “No one leaves here alive.” He began selling $255 kits that would enable owners to make theirs come alive, too. He says it’s helped keep his business afloat.

Jennifer Corcoran, 42, of Nashville, started a Facebook group called “12’ Skeleton Halloween Club” for owners to swap photos and ask questions that only fellow owners can answer, such as, “Can some one measure their skeletons foot as mine did not come with any feet and I need to 3-D print them.” One group member hawked T-shirts that read “Don’t be jelly of my 12’ skelly” and “Big Boned.”

Some proud skeleton parents have seen blowback. Osborne, who runs the Sharon, Pa., pumpkin patch, says that after she erected her skeleton (“John Deere-ly Departed, we named him after our tractor”) in the front yard, one of her neighbors took issue with the display. “She started looking at my customers and saying, ‘Don’t you find this offensive?’ ” Osborne says. None of them did. The neighbor claimed that the skeleton was an eyesore, and that it scared her children. Then things escalated. “She was just like, ‘I believe you guys worship the devil.’ ”

It only furthered Osborne’s resolve. She plans to repurpose her skeleton decorations for Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. “He’s going to be up until he rots.”

And remember Herman, Steve and Michelle Ferrone’s skeleton, which their neighbor found dismembered in a park near their Maryland home? Well. A police officer helped them drag his massive torso back to their yard. Neighbors launched a Facebook campaign to try to find his head and arms, but they never turned up.

A manager at their local Home Depot intervened, Michelle says, passing word of the bone-napping to the bosses at corporate. “They worked it out with the manufacturer of the skeleton,” she says, “and they expedited a head and the arms.”

And that’s the story of how what began as a goofy seasonal item produced by a hardware-store chain has become a national mascot — an arguably benevolent example of consumerism run amok.

Macabre as it is, a 12-foot skeleton can get under people’s skin in the best way. Raven Burton, 27, of Newport, Ark., loves watching kids interact with Bone-ard (like Bernard, in a Southern drawl), her skelly.

“We can still find things to make us happy,” she says. “And that’s what makes us human.”