Kindred Spirits

When the entire family dresses up for Halloween, the results are frightful -- and fun.

Focus On Halloween

October 26, 2003|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff

Maybe you know the type -- families who seem perfectly normal for 364 days each year. Could be your next-door neighbors. They mow the lawn. Take out the trash. Wave from the driveway.

But in late October, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, something happens, something downright scary.

One night, you see these moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandchildren, and they're dressed up like ghosts and witches and wolves and aliens in drag.

Oh, my.

Why does this happen? What explains this annual phenomenon of entire families donning costumes and haunting the neighborhood? What could cause grown-ups to embrace Halloween with the enthusiasm of a 7-year-old?

As Edgar Allan Poe might say, there's probably a story in that. So we asked three trick-or-treating families to explain their choices in Oct. 31st evening attire.

The Frightful Family

When you're in the costume business, it only makes sense that Halloween is going to be celebrated with a certain sartorial enthusiasm.

Tita Rutledge, aka the Black Widow this Halloween, owns Rutledge Costume in Northeast Baltimore. Her boyfriend of three years, Billy Thomson, has learned how seriously the occasion is treated. "I drag him into all these things," says Rutledge, 48, of Druid Hill.

This year, he's a gravedigger. His daughter Katie, 11, is a witch, and twin 6-year-old sons, Will and Christopher, are Frankenstein and Dracula, respectively.

On Halloween, they'll be joined by a "ghostly" addition -- family friend Ruby Newby, 7 -- and they expect to visit their favorite haunts, Patterson Park and Fells Point.

"People like dressing up," says Rutledge. "It's a release in these hard times."

Apples Falling Near the Tree

There's no reason to be afraid that Noelle Zeltzman will throw an apple at you like those fellow trees in The Wizard of Oz.

"They're too much trouble to put back on," says Zeltzman, a grandmother of five and artist who lives across from Patterson Park.

Zeltzman's four children are grown (the youngest is 24), but at least half of them are still fond of Halloween costumes (and she expects the rest to join them when they have their own kids). Diana Newby, a daughter-in-law, is the Harvest Goddess with a basket of fruit this year. Grandson Arial Star, 18, is trying out life as a cross-dressing alien complete with feather boa.

Their attitude is that what's fun for the kids can be fun for adults. It was an unusual sight 40 years ago when Zeltzman was raising her children. These days, it's just another Friday night in East Baltimore.

"I can't remember a year when we didn't do this in my whole life," says Zeltzman, who declined to reveal her age but suggested that "with an 18-year-old grandson, you can do the math."

"If you have to go out with kids anyway and they're dressed up, you might as well dress up, too."

The Wolves and the Riding Hoods

Halloween has always been a party for the Isberts -- half the kids were born in late October.

Eldest son Gunnar, 11, was born the 29th; youngest son Strom, 5, was born the 23rd. And parents Beppi and Stephen Isbert were dressing up for Halloween since before either of them was born.

"We dress up even when it's not Halloween," says Beppi, 35, an artist. "We met at a dance club because we both were wearing unusual outfits."

This year, Beppi and daughter Kira, 3, de- cided to step out as Little Red Riding Hoods. The rest of the family, including 8-year-old Ivana, is going out as wolves.

The Isberts say their neighbors in Remington have grown accustomed to their dress-up ways. Some years they all coordinate to fit a theme but not always.

"The neighbors are all pretty much used to us being, you know, ourselves," Beppi says.

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