The summer after I turned 11 was a difficult one, to be sure. My parents were in the process of being divorced, and I was still getting over having bullied pretty badly at school the previous year (I ended up being homeschooled for sixth grade). I get the impression my Mom wanted to do something special for me. I was becoming pretty interested in the old Universal Monster movies around this time, and one, The Phantom of the Opera with the great Lon Chaney, Sr., had a particular grip on my imagination.After seeing it that summer, my Mom suggested building a pipe organ for Halloween that year. I agreed it was a cool idea, but I quickly forgot about. It was my Mom who brought the idea back to the foreground in October. We set about painting old cardboard tubes to look the pipes on an organ. Using a desk as the base, we added planks of wood painted to look like keys, sheet music, cobwebs, and a skull. We burned a CD of pipe organ music taken from the soundtrack of the Lloyd-Webber musical. We hung a plastic tarp to create a backdrop in the garage, dressing it up with cobwebs, furniture, dead plants, “dead bodies” (actually just clothes stuffed as newspaper), and lit it with a strobe light. Next thing you know, we had the Phantom’s lair in our garage. When Halloween Night rolled around, I dressed in black and wore my Dad’s college graduation robes as a “cloak”. For a disfigurement, my Mom covered my cheeks with honey and oatmeal before painting it with skin-colored greasepaint to create diseased flesh. I wore a white plastic mask from the craft store; I spent half the night pounding away on the keys of the organ in time to the music, illuminated by flashes of the strobe. The other half, I went trick-or-treating for the last time.
My haunting career has expanded since then. I did two more haunts in that same garage, “Frankenstein’s Lab” and “Granny’s Parlor” in 2007 and 2008, respectively. Then the haunt travelled to Western PA, where my family still runs it, now under the name of October Hollow. As I write this, I am also preparing to hand out candy, in costume, of course, to the ToTs who travel past my apartment. Not an elaborate set up, to be sure; just me in a mask with some Midnight Syndicate playing in the background, but there is still a certain kind of magic in it. Ultimately though, it always comes back to that first haunt, back in 2006, put on by a 11-year-old kid, standing under a nearly full moon, with a cold breeze causing my cloak to swirl around me and leaves to flutter past my boots. And with it all, the feeling that, on this night, anything could happen. That magic was real.
Happy Halloween, Specters