Stump the Haunter

Stump the Haunter! Post a comment to the witch in residence, me, with a haunting challenge of a prop you would like to build or theme you would like to explore. I will respond on this blog with my thoughts on how to build it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Irish Eyes Smile in March

While I usually discourse on Halloween, I have been noticing the many amazing displays that celebrate the wearing of the green and bring out the Celtic in all of us.
Maybe it is the cold snowy March driving people to visions of rainbows or the stress of tax time that has people thinking green, but this year has been a particularly active one for St. Patty’s Day decorators.

Here are some highlights:
We start our tour of St. Patrick’s Day décor with this reveling mailbox holder.  I can’t put a finger on why this out-of-place-in-NJ sea cow holding a mailbox amuses me.  However, when its stewards dress it for holidays it is taken to the next level and I cannot help but smile.  The only thing that could make this more engaging is an accompanying flock of yard geese in complimentary attire.

manatee mail box decorated for St. Patrick's Day
photo by: R.D. Brookes
Bear with me; I am sliding toward the sublime.

Cruising through the neighborhoods of Hunterdon County I spotted a number of other honorable mentions.  These include the house for all holidays on Sandhill with green plywood cutouts of Shamrocks and Leprechauns on the lawn (a future column in this blog will feature this lawn’s Halloween extravaganza).

Another sight, and inspiration for this blog, was found in Frenchtown where a cast iron kettle hanging from a tripod—the kind that will soon have spring flowers growing in it-has been adorned to look like a pot of gold.

Mitchell's Cafe Sign

However, the grand dame of St. Patrick’s Day displays is found indoors and comes from a Grand Dame.  Mitchell’s Café in Lambertville is a distinguished place located at 11 ½ Church Street.  It has been a bar since the 1860’s and came to be in the hands of the Bishop family about 100 years after its opening.  Mitchell’s is a timeless space that could transport you to an Irish public house any night of the year, but March is a special time when the Leprechauns are let out to play by the barkeep, Carol Bishop. 

bar at Mitchell's Cafe

The impressive display of eclectic decorations run the gamut from Byers' Choice dolls to wreaths filled with Shamrocks.  It is enough to make all eyes smile, Irish or not.  Here are some favorites.
light up snowman wearing promotional St. Patty's Day Necklace
Frosty bedecked with beads

Byers' Choice Dolls behind the bar
Byers' Choice Dolls

What could improve such a scene? Just one thing a Guinness Stout poured into the perfect glass by Carol Bishop.

St. Patrick's Day wreath
One of a number of wreaths

wagon wheel Saint Patrick's Day

If Mitchell’s Café sounds enticing you can learn more about it from, dear friend, Chris Poh at the Pub Talk blog:

Mitchell’s is also home to one of the longest running Irish Sessions in the U.S. check out the American Public House Review article here:

tribute to fallen members of the Bishop family
A moving tribute

It is time to bid you adieu so that I might attend to the visions of bunnies hopping in my head. Until next time, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Erin go Bragh!

green hat and orchid
Wearing the green

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Laughing Our Pumpkins Off

The skits after "Weekend Update" on  Saturday Night Live can either be utterly forget-able or legendary.  A year ago, who would have thought that "The Haunted Elevator" sketch would have been the latter.  For those with early bedtimes or a lack of television, I will elaborate.

A couple of haunt-goers board the 100 Floors of Frights ride anticipating the scare of a lifetime.  The couple are seated in an elevator with an operator who has no shortage of haunting puns.  As the doors of the elevator open to different floors the couple are assailed by different scary characters like a suicidal bride and a demonic chef.  Then the door opens on Tom Hanks (the evening's host) wearing one of those three-piece, jack-o-lantern-print suits that emerged on the market some years back.  Tom declares his name to be David Pumpkins and says that he will, "Scare the hell out of you!"  He and the two b-boy skeletons bust out into a spastic, urban, dance routine at the end of which David asks, "Any questions?"  The couple are stunned not with terror, but with the lameness of the routine.

As the skit progresses the elevator door opens multiple times, sometimes revealing horror scenes but other times revealing more David S. Pumpkins themed entertainment.  When the couple complains to the elevator operator about the preponderance of scenes involving the pumpkin-suit-clad man and his dancing skeletons he remarks, "It is 100 floors of frights, they are not all going to be winners."  Finally the door opens on just the b-boy skeletons who wish the couple a Happy Halloween.  The couple appear annoyed momentarily until the booming voice behind them of David Pumpkins asks, "Any questions?"  Then they are rightly scared witless.

The skit went viral and those suits--the hybrid professional wear and Halloween costume that had been languishing in the back of costume shops-went flying off the shelves.  A mythology sprang-up and the response to the character has been so strong that Loren Michaels has executive produced an animated special to air on NBC at 11:30 PM on Saturday, October 28, 2017.  More on that can be found at

So why discourse on a Saturday Night Live skit?  In actuality, I wanted to write this post last year.  The first chapter in my book, 10 Cheap Tricks to Haunt Your Halloween, covers ideas like using humor in your haunt and having your spectators experience a range of emotions.  The haunt portrayed in this sketch uses both these ideas.  This seemingly goofy scene of skeletons who can't dance and a man in a silly suit that has no connection to anything is what gets the biggest scream in the end.  At one point the elevator operator remarks, "The scariest thing to the mind is the unknown."  I could not agree more, it is in our imagination that fear originates and it is the unknown that leaves the most to the imagination.  Furthermore, when we let our guard down that is when we are most susceptible to the unexpected and that is when we are most vulnerable to a sudden fright.  Laughter causes us to let our guard down; if you really want to scare someone get them to laugh first.  Then take them by surprise.

Nine million plus YouTube views cannot be wrong.

As always, please haunt responsibly.

Any Questions?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Oh Sweet Terror!

Not only is this the season of mocking our fears, but it is also the season of candy. Sure sweet treats are important to a lot of holidays, but, given our modern celebration's ties to beggars night, they are the superstars of Halloween. It is no surprise, then, that candy stores are some of the first places to decorate for the season.

Here's a no brainer, Lambertville's La Chocolate Box, has its window filled with vintage-look cat and pumpkin-head figures.  They also have black branches woven with a black bulb light string to create a spooky thicket against the glass while black vines and bats lead to the ceiling where a dark canopy awaits.

Minette's Candies in Frenchtown, has kept it seasonal with hay bales and artificial squashes including Rouge Vif D' Etampes pumpkins--the preference of Cinderella's fairy Godmother.  It is look that can work from September through November with a little tweaking.  Here the scene takes an eerie bend with the addition of a black light tree and crows.  Amazing how one simple addition makes the difference between fall and Halloween.

The Goody Bag & Basket Company in New Hope, PA has never been a shrinking violet when it comes to the macabre.  Here they show off a split personality with a warm orange window and a sinister green window. The former with autumnal decorations and Jelly Bellies. The latter features everybody's favorite green, electrified, Victorian monster and old favorites like Pop Rocks, wax fangs and licorice pipes.  I like the juxtaposition of the two seasonal windows.

Where do I find brilliance?  All these windows make great use of vertical elements, the vines in Lambertville, the tree in Frenchtown and Frankenstein with green lights in New Hope, that move the eye both up and down to take in the entire scene rather than keeping the elements at normal eye-level.  Although it is difficult to see in the pictures they also suspended things from their respective ceilings which is great way to get more elements into your scene and make it more robust.  Additionally, everybody was well merchandised with smaller thematic items.

Don't let these frightful windows scare you off, take a trip downtown and see how your own Main Street is celebrating this season. While you are there you may want to pick up some sweet indulgences for yourself, how much is between you and your dentist.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Fright in Frenchtown

tributary of the Delaware River

I recently found myself in Frenchtown, NJ and before I knew it I was taking stroll through the town. While being one of the more sedate Delaware river towns, Frenchtown offers sublime vistas, historic architecture and small town charm. Moreover, like its urban sister to the south--Lambertville, it is picking up steam as a Halloween town.

Pictured below is a new display.  This exhibit features those very popular skeletons. I find the versatility of these guys amazing. Here the designer choose to use a rocking chair, possibly already on the porch. Also joining in the fun, man's best skeleton, skeletal dog. Notice how the designer gave these skeletons activities. The dog is chomping on a rubber chicken.

Our lesson here: allow your props to interact with each other.

man's best skeleton

Frenchtown also offers some natural inspiration for the holiday as well.  Check out the historic Frenchtown cemetery.

Nothing like Edwardian monuments to put you in the holiday spirit.
Haunt on!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Happy Fall 2017!

The leaves are turning, the crows are cawing and the sun is setting early. Fall has arrived and it is bringing with it the excitement of the Halloween season. We are just getting up and running for the holiday, but to get everybody in the mood here are some pix from a haunt I saw last fall.

 As you can see, the homeowner was not shy about their feelings for the holiday.  He or she touched on a lot of classic themes in this display.  These include: a cemetery, giant spider webs, a witch, and a ghoulish wedding ceremony (gives new meaning to "...until death do us part").

There are a number of things that add brilliance to this display.  For starters, the designer was not afraid to accessorize the props.  Just because a prop was made a certain way, doesn't mean you can't add to it.  Check out the witch silhouette, a lantern has been hung from one hand, a broom placed in the other and a fire pit and kettle have been placed before her.  Other standouts include the blood and crow on the tombstone and the ghost in the cage.
Another great idea, a significant amount of this display is in light colors like white and gray.  Light colors will make it easier to see this yard haunt at night and to "paint" it with colored lights.  I would recommend a weather-resistant color wheel to give the scene movement and to keep it changing throughout the night.

This is the first time I have seen a burnt-tree made for a yard haunt. Kudos to them for bringing something new to the table.

 The home owners have also managed to use the various levels of the house's facade to their fullest extent.  It is always a good idea to be upwardly mobile in your haunt.

And finally, who can resist a skeleton with a little attitude.  Haunt-on bone-head!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Season's Greetings from 10 Cheap Tricks

Hi Folks,

While I have not had time to write a book for winter holidays yet, here is Cheap Trick for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or  any time you need a gift for a wine lover.

Download the PDF instructions

Watch the Video Instructions

Please craft responsibly.

Happy Holidays!


Friday, October 21, 2016

A Walk in Lambertville

Let's face it, on any fair-weather day or evening, Lambertville, NJ is a great urban hike.  Lambertville is home to numerous historic homes and buildings that have been meticulously restored and adaptively reused.  It also contains numerous bars, restaurants and inns overlooking the gentle flow of the Delaware River.

However, when October rolls around, Lambertville takes on an additional persona.  It becomes a Halloween city.  Private residences are bedecked with ghouls and goblins then bathed in black light in celebration of the spooky holiday.

Earlier this month I took a walk through the streets of Lambertville while many of the standout exhibits were being assembled by their creators.  Below are some examples of brilliance that I found in a few short blocks.

First up: this resident took the typical sheet ghost to the next level by creating a faceless specter.  What a cool way to imagine a ghost.  He or she also made sure the ghost was accessorized with skeletal hands clutching chains and a lantern.

This Frankenstein-green house has made the most of its structure by using the door to display a mural of the body of the revived monster.  The head is above the door; presumably trick-or-treaters will enter through the belly of the beast.

This Victorian inn has gone skeletal.  These popular, poseable, plastic skeletons have been making the rounds—not surprising considering they are weather proof and light weight.  I find brilliance here because the designer dismantled one of the skeletons and used the upper and lower sections separately for comedic effect.

Some other standouts include: a haunt based on Van Gogh’s (or is it Van Ghost’s) Starry Night (not pictured)—I would have never even thought of that as a theme; and a pirate ship on a deck (not pictured)—which is an excellent exploration of theme.

Of course, no tour of Lambertville in October would be complete without a stop at the home of Dolores Dragan on North Union Street.  This spectacular black light installation grows annually.  It was even filmed for TLC’s Four Houses in 2012.  This celebrated home does not need me to gush over its genius, but this haunt is the complete package and well worth the trip.

If you have an evening free between now and Halloween: don comfortable walking shoes, grab a flashlight, park on the edge of town, and to spend an hour or two enjoying the sights.  While you are there make a night out of it by trying one the restaurants, coffee shops or public houses. 

For more information about fun activities in Lambertville and along the Delaware River check out:

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