"Normal" people think about Halloween for perhaps a week or two a year. I wear my "abnormality" like a badge of honor. Whenever I'm asked - as I often am - why I have such a fascination with Halloween, it's usually asked by someone who doesn't care for the holiday at all. I tend to give simplistic answers because I've learned over time that those who ask the question don't really want to get into an involved discussion. What they really want to do is voice their disdain and/or let me know that I'm some sort of emotionally arrested adolescent.
I had one of these types of conversations this past December. I truly had not tried to dissect the question or my stock answers before. This time though, I began to wonder. Rather than try to psychoanalyze myself, I decided to try to recount past experiences to get a handle on my "childish" obsession. What follows are memories of past Halloweens, fuzzy though they may be.
My first recollection of Halloween was as a small four year old growing up in Columbus, Ohio. The year was 1962. In retrospect, it amazes me that during the time when the country was hunkered down in the throes of the Cold War and the just passed but oh so fresh Cuban Missile Crisis, that we as a community came together for such frivolous diversions. Nevertheless, we did. I wore one of the ubiquitous Ben Cooper costumes that year. I'm sure it was innocent enough and there were no psychological undertones intended, but how ironic was it that I was a skeleton at a time when thoughts of death and destruction were still at the forefront of our collective national consciousness?
As each year passed, I wore store-bought costumes less and homemade ones more. My mom had a standard black cape pattern that turned out to be multi-functional. Between the arms and body were scalloped "wings." With this costume, I could be a bat...or Dracula...or some weird creature of my own concoction.
One year I was a Kansas Jayhawk (trust me - it's too difficult to explain). Another year I was a baseball player with a glow-in-the-dark mustache. Not that I'd ever seen a mustache glow in the dark, mind you. It seemed like a good idea at the time. The makeup I used was likely among the first glow-in-the-dark products sold for the mass market. It was a tube of a somewhat foul smelling cream make-up. I couldn't describe the scent if I tried, but I'd know it if I smelled it again, I assure you.
In those days, I could cover four to six blocks easily in one trick-or-treat frenzied evening. Despite the burgeoning urban legends of tampered apples and the like, I managed to survive nicely, thank you.
Sometime around the age of ten, I took up model kit building. While I chose WWII aircraft, my best friend had the coolest of the cool kits - the Aurora Monsters. The one that always gave me the creeps was The Forgotten Prisoner of Castlemare. My buddy also had the guillotine kit. Where I would probably have glued the condemned's head to his body, my friend rigged it so when the blade fell, the head dropped into the basket. To this day, I'm not sure if the kit was meant to operate that way, or if my friend just had a twisted sense of humor. Perhaps if he situated some clay sculptured women knitting away while the execution took place, I'd have my answer...
Something else my friend owned were a couple of titles from a juvenile fictional mystery series called Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. I'd borrow the books and read and re-read them quite often. The two I never forgot were The Secret of Terror Castle, and The Mystery of the Green Ghost. In some small way, I suppose I was secretly disappointed that Terror Castle wasn't really haunted, nor was there a supernatural explanation for the Green Ghost after all. The books were great fun anyway; the story about Terror Castle was particularly interesting because it involved not a haunted house, but a house that someone had rigged to appear to be haunted. Perhaps this is one of my early inspirations.
We moved when I was twelve years old. The new neighborhood was O.K., but trick-or-treating was different. Perhaps it was my age...I don't know. The first latex rubber mask I purchased was a simple white skull, which I wore with a top hat and somewhat nice clothes. I thought I was really being cool and different. We had a neighbor a few doors down who really got into Halloween. They had tombstones and a bubbling witch's cauldron - the works. Now that was cool and different.
The year I turned thirteen was probably my last hurrah for trick-or-treating. This time, I talked my brother, a younger sister, and a couple of friends into visiting a nearby cemetery after dark. We managed to climb the fence without making too much noise. Armed with a solitary dim flashlight, we braved the cemetery for about ten minutes (I may be stretching that a bit) before beating a hasty retreat for more familiar - and comfortable - surroundings.
The next year, I made my first attempt at a haunted house. I borrowed my brother's Dracula poster and taped it to the front door. I had a skull candle lit in the foyer. Lastly, my brother and I rigged up a crude flying ghost. A pedestrian effort to be sure, but I was hooked anyway.
The first "mega-haunt" I ever experienced was at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri when I was sixteen years old. I remember a few parts, but not most. They did the projected ghost on a wig form bit while you stood in queue. They had a fun house section with water running uphill and an upside-down room. Here too, they had the first dark ride I ever experienced called Fire In The Hole. It was a runaway mine car concept with a sudden drop at the end that almost put my lunch in my lap. The ride still exists, but I've no idea if it has been substantially altered or improved.
I visited Disney World for the first time in 1977. Suffice to say, I did not miss the Haunted Mansion, nor did I fail to be thrilled with the experience. My wife and I went to Orlando for our honeymoon. Naturally, we visited Disney World. Naturally, I was just as amazed and mystified with the Haunted Mansion as before.
It was sometime between 1979 and 1981 when I saw my first Jaycees haunt. I remember taking my sisters-in-law who would have been in junior high (very high scream potential) at the time. The Jaycees did a great job, even if all I recall was the lab scene. It was the first time I'd ever seen a Jacob's Ladder in use.
I pulled my first "official" haunted house stints in 1982 and 1983 with the local Jaycees chapter. In '82, we put together a haunt in an old courthouse that dated to the 1800s. We caused a minor sensation that year when we suspended a dummy in a second floor window that appeared to be hanging. It was backlit by a strobe and in its own eerie way really was a bit disturbing. Several cars pulled into the parking lot to see what was going on. We got a lot of free publicity, short-lived though it was. A Sheriff's deputy happened to pull in also and in very short order, we were told in no uncertain terms not to pull any more stunts like that again.
Each person involved with the haunt had an assigned task or tasks. Mine was to create one of the sets. I went with a wax museum motif which on the surface was fairly benign. At the last few moments, I appeared from nowhere in full Grim Reaper regalia, wielding a chainsaw. I'll never forget the poor mother who had been dragged through the haunt by her teenage daughters. I had no idea how frightened she was until I almost tripped over her because she had fallen to the floor in sheer fright. She got out alive - I just don't know how dry...
In 1983, the haunt was held in a school that the Board of Education had closed due to declining enrollment. Because of the very positive results of my wax museum from the previous year, I was given the honor of creating the final scene. This time, I was the crazed janitor in the boiler room. The room had been built with a few steps to walk down and on the opposite side, a few stairs to climb up to reach the door to the outside. With help, I built a bridge that spanned the width of the room for the victims...err...customers to cross. Beyond the crazed janitor concept, I had no idea what my scare would consist of. Fortunately, an air compressor was already there and in working order. That made for a wonderful startling sound effect. Next, the bridge was high enough for me to crouch under, and with a five pound hammer, I could create a teeth-rattling, bone-jarring vibration of the bridge which made more than a few people flinch or jump. If all else failed, I could jump from my hiding place and climb the side of the bridge in a flash, arms flailing, guttural growls and all. Of course, that was some fourteen years, forty pounds, and thousands of aching muscles ago when my body could tolerate such abuse.
From 1984 through 1991, my Halloween activities consisted of decorating the front yard for the trick-or-treaters. Without the very creative input of the types of folks who frequent the halloween-l mailing list, I'm afraid my efforts were not up to my current standards. I did, however, find that tiki torches make an excellent mood setter; that I could come up with some humorous epitaphs; that I could make a lot out of little; that my neighbors and their families not only enjoyed my antics, but came to appreciate them as well. I had started to make a name for myself!
1992 marked the beginning of my haunts for more public audiences. I had become very active in the PTA at my children's school since before the first brick had been laid. When we held our first meeting, the Principal held a brainstorming session for the PTA to encourage creative thinking and dialogue amongst the members. One of my first suggestions was the idea of a Family Fun night centered around the Halloween season and from the first year, that's exactly what we've done. My measure of success/failure is a topic for a future article or articles.
So I would say my interest in Halloween is deep seated with no epiphanies to mark my way. I've always enjoyed it and likely always will. I make no apologies, no excuses - nor do I need to since I'm preaching to the choir here. If you'd like to share your Halloween memories, this is the place to do it. How did you get started? Do you have any particularly humorous or poignant moments to share? I know I'd like to hear about them and I'm sure others would too. So get writing!
Copyright © 1997 by Cool Ghouls. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced in part or in whole by any means without express written permission of the author.
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