Deck the halls for horror Display: Halloween has become almost as popular as Christmas for elaborate decorations inside and outside houses.

October 16, 1997|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Mr. Pumpkinhead -- a scarecrow with a large toothy smile spreading across his orange, jack-o'-lantern face -- relaxes in front of the Baltimore County house, one paper-stuffed leg crossed over the other.

Casper and Casper's twin brother -- both wooden ghosts -- look at Mr. Pumpkinhead while a fist-sized spider weaves a large web across the porch overhead and a 3-foot-tall Dracula leers at traffic from his homemade coffin.

Such is the October drama on the front lawn of Lisa and John Hall on South Street in Relay.

The Halls are members of the growing legion of area families no longer content to mark Halloween with a few lopsided jack-o-lanterns carved by the children the night before Oct. 31, that expend the kind of decorating energy on the holiday that used to be seen only at Christmas.

"I just wanted to show everything off," said Lisa Hall, 36. "I'm proud of it. I built it all myself and got excited and put everything up two weeks early."

Halloween ranks behind only Christmas in the amount of holiday sales for mass retailers, according to the International Mass Retail Association, which represents discount department stores, home centers and warehouse clubs.

And while people buy more candy during Halloween than any other holiday -- an estimated $950 million worth this year -- the fastest-growing category of sales is in home decorating, said Cathy Callegari, the association's spokeswoman, though she could not give exact figures.

"People seem to be spending more time with their families, and they seem to decorate more," Callegari said. "There are no strings attached to Halloween."

Local retailers agree, saying they've noticed an upturn in sales earlier than usual.

At the Target Greatland in Columbia, sales of Halloween items were strong as far back as early September, up slightly from last year, said Joe Patch, assistant manager.

At the Glenwood Gardens in western Howard County, sales of the company's 250 pounds of pumpkins are running well ahead of last October. Mums, corn stalks, bulbs and fall flowers are also moving at a fast clip.

"I have no idea why everybody is decorating so early," said Sean P. Meagher, the manager. "With the bad August we had, most people haven't picked their pumpkins yet. Ours are still green."

Residents offer a variety of hypotheses about the decorating frenzy. Maybe it's the stores putting their displays up so early. Maybe it's a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses race of sorts, with everyone trying to outdo the neighbor's black cats and giant pumpkins. Maybe it's because the Orioles were in the playoffs and people are orange and black crazed.

"I don't know why my mom decorated so early, I really don't," said Kristin King, 17, whose Oakland Road home in Arbutus in Baltimore County has the Vision of Death standing guard by the front door.

Her shrubs are also covered in cobwebs and Frankenstein and Dracula figurines glare from the windows.

"I know that there are only two times you can decorate during the year: Christmas and Halloween," King said. "And it's fun."

While some feel the ghosts and goblins have emerged earlier than ever this year, others say they're decorating no earlier than in the past.

In Glenwood, the LaHayne family has created a graveyard of grayish headstones, with epitaphs scrawled in a child's hand. One reads: "Stephen Humphrey; died by horse running over him."

Down the family's long driveway, placard ghosts peek behind bushes and screaming jack-o'-lantern windsocks hang from trees.

"We do this every year," said Rob LaHayne, 13. "We might put up some spider webs. We haven't even really started inside the house yet."

Joan LaHayne, 39, said she didn't start early this year, that she always begins around Oct. 1.

"We always start around that time," LaHayne said. "It's a monthlong process, you know."

Inside, the family has displayed pumpkins created by three LaHaynes children -- they're expecting the fourth to be finished before Halloween.

A few miles away, the Kay family has put up a scarecrow and a wreath.

The family plans to scatter seven haystacks around the yard and put a scarecrow on one of them with pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns everywhere.

"This is absolutely my favorite time of year," Nancy Kay said while watching her 2-year-old daughters run around her yard. "They had to control me from [decorating] earlier."

Down the street, Ann Kuczarski, 36, says she was hoping to keep her decorating budget under $100, but clearly that's going to be tough.

The family has put up jack-o'-lantern windsocks, a scarecrow and a few tiny pumpkins, but wants to add another scarecrow to keep the current one, dubbed Mrs. Haynest, company.

Ann said 5-year-old Billy pushed the family to begin decorating Oct. 1., even though she would rather start a few days before trick-or-treating begins.

"It's better than Christmas because you get candy," said Billy, who has been running around the house as a vampire lately.

In Glenelg, Virginia Sellner, 50, placed the family's 4-foot-tall witch, Jenny, on their front stoop, and added a few pumpkins for effect. She plans to plant some mums and get some gourds for inside.

"I feel subdued this year," Sellner said. "I went shopping in Pennsylvania last weekend and they had all kinds of decorations. I feel late."

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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