Home decorators make Hampden lively ghost town

JACQUES KELLY

October 30, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

There appears to be no resident of Hampden who doesn't believe in Halloween.

Half the streets in the old neighborhood and in its newer neighbor, Medfield, are bedecked in orange and black. It's neighbor against neighbor in an informal decorating contest. Porches and lawns are festooned with sticky cobwebs, straw-stuffed scarecrows, inflated black cats and rubber tarantulas.

"It's all in the spirit of fun. I don't want anybody to think it's morbid in any way," says Sandy O'Rear, in whose 34th Street front yard you can see the feet and arms of what appears to be a baby who's been buried alive. Above the feet and arms is a plastic tombstone. O'Rear also covers her hedges with white cotton cobwebs and hangs plastic skeletons from a fruit tree.

The O'Rear family takes seriously its observance of Halloween. Its battery-powered door knocker has a voice that calls out, "Welcome! Beware!" A plastic door mat, fitted with a small electrical unit, resounds with "Trick or treat."

Just across the street, O'Rear's sister and brother-in-law, Darlene and Robert Hosier, have built a haunted castle on their front porch. Their small yard is filled with plastic goblins. Each window has a Halloween candle.

The neighborhoods that run along the eastern side of the Jones Falls Valley are legendary for the candlepower of their Christmas decorations. But a few years ago, as variety shops began selling strings of electric Halloween lights -- generally sets of illuminated plastic ghost heads or skulls -- residents started trimming their porches in observance of the ghoulish holiday. Soon it spread to front yards and trees. Whole blocks now emit a nocturnal electric orange glow in the last weeks of October.

"I think it shows a lot of community spirit. It's great for the children," says Grace Breighner, whose New System Bakery window on West 36th Street sports a massive plastic pumpkin out of which Casper the Ghost pops every 10 seconds.

"It's been in the window for the last 50 years," she says.

The Village Flower Mart, also on 36th Street, offers a spray of dead roses and other dried flowers for the "Ghoul of My Dreams."

Part of today's Halloween decorating frenzy is connected with ,, the popularity of two films, "Halloween" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and their sequels. Hampden has an Elm Avenue, which sports a few electric pumpkins and black cats, but residents of the block haven't gone out of their way to capitalize on the film's popularity.

On Chestnut Avenue, a block east, has one of the neighborhood's most creative Halloween gags. One home has a cemetery-like stone in its front yard. The concrete slab bears the legend, "Witch -- Born 1313 -- Died 2021 -- Help!" A few doors down, another neighbor has used a bedsheet to transform a spherical lawn ornament into a ghost.

Abutting the Hampden neighborhood is Medfield, a community of homes built just before and after World War II. Most of its quiet streets straddle Falls Road south of Cold Spring Lane. Brilliant yellow and red maple trees line its spotlessly clean streets, but at this time of year, there's competition from Halloween decorations. Lavender inflated bats fly from porch awnings. Aluminum-foil spider webs hang in front windows. Every third house seems to have an orange plastic pumpkin on its porch light.

Almost every block in Hampden and Medfield seems to have a scarecrow seated on a front porch, . These inanimate farm hands are dressed in flannel shirts and puffy pants. The heads are made of discarded nylon stockings. The mouths, noses and eyes are constructed from felt; the insides are stuffed with straw. Some residents say they imported the idea for these fellows from the Carroll County Farm Museum.

Another home has a "Happy Haunts Cemetery." The tombstones read Dracula, Phantom, Freddie, Werewolf, Mummy, Beetle Juice and Frankenstein.

Watch for the ghost at the corner of Boo Boulevard and Witch Way, an intersection that on Sunday reverts to Medfield and Clydesdale avenues.

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