Halloween Inspiration

February 18th, 2009 by John Wolfe

I have a fascination with inspiration and a ravenous appetite to learn what motivates people. If someone is willing to share their insights into what constantly propels them forward in a chosen endeavor, I’m all ears. Some would say I’m all ears (and nose) anyway, but that’s a different matter entirely. :D Seriously though, for the purpose of this post, I’m extremely curious about when and where Halloween became more than a fleeting interest for you. Can you recall one single event or moment in which Halloween simply clicked and you were hooked? Or, was it more of a gradual, creep-up-on you type of thing?

If you’ve read the About page, you already have a rough idea of the when and where it was for me. Honestly, I can’t recall a time in my life when I wasn’t fascinated by one of the many subjects that fall under the umbrella of Halloween. As a child, I was constantly drawing monsters and horrific looking creatures. From age five on, my books of choice, during reading time with my parents, were almost always about ghosts and the paranormal. Curious George didn’t stand a chance, unless The Man in the Yellow Hat happened to drag out a Ouija board.

Even in the middle of summer, I would beg my parents to buy hot plastic masks and costumes for me at local yard sales. Then, I’d parade around in the costumes for the rest of the day; sweat profusely pouring off my face.

What can I say, I was an even weirder kid than I am an adult. ;)

However, if I could narrow all of that down to one single moment, in which Halloween completely cast a spell on me, it would have to have been the trip to my first professional haunted house. I was only four years old, but I can still remember seeing television commercials promoting the haunt. Though my parents knew better, I hounded them relentlessly until my dad finally gave in and agreed to take me.

When “haunted house night” finally rolled around, I quickly devoured my dinner of sloppy joe sandwiches, so I’d be ready to go when dad got home from work. This night was even bigger to me than Ralphie’s dream of owning a Red Ryder BB gun.

From the moment the greeter, dressed as Frankenstein, placed the two of us in the erect, entrance coffin and closed the lid, I knew I was in over my four year old head. After being spun around several times, the coffin lid swung open, revealing the pitch black innards of the haunt.

Within a matter of seconds, we were charged by a moaning actor and the rest was history. I screamed so loud, I’m sure Frankenstein’s ear drums were pierced through the coffin barrier. Dad whisked me up and quickly carried me through the remainder of the haunt. All the while, I was catching peek-a-boo glimpses in-between the tears and fingers covering my eyes.

As strange as it sounds, the combination of fear and fascination with the haunt, the coffin, the smells, the lighting, the actors and the anticipation of the unexpected, all collectively provided my first inspirational Halloween moment. In the midst of my breakdown, I honestly remember thinking how great it would be to get involved in haunting when I “grow up.”

If you have a moment, I would love to hear about your initial encounter with Halloween inspiration.

22 Responses to “Halloween Inspiration”

  1. Andrea Says:

    I don’t think I’ve belly flopped in to the Halloween pool just yet but I do find it fascinating how far some people go to celebrate.

  2. Mr. Macabre Says:

    It’s curious that I like Halloween because I was a grade A scaredy cat as a kid. Every little bump or noise in the house would leave me in terror, I can even remember crying because I didn’t want to go on the Haunted Mansion ride in Disneyworld because I was so scared. But we would make ‘haunted houses’ in the living room with sheets draped over chairs to crawl through.
    I can always remember being drawn to Halloween, it was a magical time for me, it was the 60′s and 70′s and we all went to family friend’s house to eat chili put on our costumes and go trick or treating in their neighborhood (we lived in the sticks, very few houses around). However, in the 80′s and 90′s, my folks became ridgid religious fundamentalists which meant that I was really on my own with Halloween and I was pretty lucky to sneak in a pumpkin or a paper skeleton on the door. Halloween was the devil’s birthday and a celebration of evil and sin.
    I moved out in the mid 90′s and started decorating my house for Halloween with ideas from this fantastic new development called the Internet. I do remember one day thinking, “this is my life, I can celebrate it like I want to”, which is when I decided to incorporate Halloween into my everyday life. I decided to incorporate macabre elements in decor with a whimsical twist that made me happy to look at.
    I don’t think that there was a pivotal moment but there was a moment of understanding that I will choose to do and be what I want that makes me and hopefully others happy.

  3. Dawn Says:

    As a child, both of my parents birthdays and mine as well fell in October, so that was a magical month to begin with…. then on Halloween, my Dad used to love playing scary music from a “boom box” in a hidden spot on the Front Porch, and hiding in the bushes to scare Trick or Treaters. We never decorated a bit… and he probably had on a White Chevy Truck tshirt while he was scaring people (in other words – no costume a’tall!) but it was just fun enough to look forward to Halloween and October in general.

    Then, I married a Christmas-hating, Halloween Fanatic. He is also a computer engineer with a love of all things robotic, animatronic, etc. I’m pretty crafty. Put the two together, and even though sometimes our plans are grander than our output, we live for the month of October. :)

    Great question… I can’t wait to look back and see what others say as well!

  4. John Wolfe Says:

    Andrea,

    No worries – if you hang around most of us (the online Halloween community) much longer, you’ll be diving in head first in no time. :D Thanks for your message.

  5. John Wolfe Says:

    Mr. Macabre,

    I love the fact Halloween is so much a part of your freedom to choose to be and do what you want. That’s exactly how it should be. Essentially, Halloween sounds a lot like your personal Independence Day.

    You took me down memory/nostalgia lane as you described your Halloween experience of getting together with family and friends, eating chili and going trick-or-treating. As a child, Halloween was never a big family event because it was always just my mom, dad and me. We were a military family, so we spent the majority of holidays away from our extended family.

    However, thanks to my obsession with October 31st, Halloween became a big family event in my early twenties (during the mid to late 90′s). My grandparents would come by, along with my aunt, uncle and their children – and, we, too, would eat chili. :) After supper, everyone would take their positions in the yard haunt, while my mom and grandma manned the door, giving out candy.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences!

  6. John Wolfe Says:

    Dawn,

    That’s great that all three of you share October birthdays. Someone I used to be great friends with had an October 4th birthday. My grandma’s dad’s birthday was also October 4th. I’m so into fall, as a kid, I always used to wish my birthday was in October.

    I can just picture your dad running around scaring the kids while wearing a Chevy t-shirt – priceless! :D The effort is absolutely what counts. I’m impressed by the fact he got into it as much as he did. That kind of spirit and enthusiasm seems to be a thing of the past. Nowadays, if they’re lucky, kids get a Milky Way or a Tootsie Roll chucked in their bag all while standing under a standard porch light which contains one of those screw-in, wannabe “black light” light bulbs.

    Kudos to your husband for bringing you completely over to the creative, crafty Halloween dark side. 8) You guys are awesome!

    Thank you for sharing.

  7. Goldie Says:

    October 4, 2008 = my one and only nephew was born…..freaky date, something is up with that and when I read your comment back about those dates, my morning coffee sprayed all over my desk ;-) Thanks John :-) Also this was a great idea for SOS, a blog entry and community participation. I’ve enjoyed reading over the stories of others and learning even more about you. 4 years old and in a haunted house like that! Wow John, kudos to you and your dad for being so protective of you and carrying you through the rest while you just peaked around. I bet your scream sounded alot like T’s top notch scream….lol, I swear she could break glass with that pitch!

    Sadly, I don’t really have A Halloween moment that triggered my love of the holiday. As you often type, for me, it was ALL ABOUT the ambiance of Halloween which would/does start around September for me, even if it is 100 degrees outside. I LOVE the feeling of fall!! Cooler weather, pumpkin pie everything starts caressing the store shelves, the nights start to get darker sooner, people and places started decorating their homes with pumpkins, ghost and witches and my Mom would always make her insanely yummy pumpkin bread. In fact that bread was so moist, I won first prize in a school contest with her bread and the teachers kept calling it a cake. Priceless moment in time. If I was missing the holiday through out the year, as a child, I would pull out my Halloween book I checked out at the library. Just opening the pages, seeing the illustrations, reading the stories would send me into time and suddenly I was back in Halloween mode.

    This was a really awesome idea babe and a nice change of pace. I hope you can surprise us all again sometime soon with ideas and entries such as this one. Great job John, I adore all of your work both here and at Windofthesoul.

    Much Love, Goldie~*~

  8. Ashley Says:

    Its funny, my interest started almost identical to your own. I was a bit older, maybe 8 or 10 but my father and step mother took my step sister and I to a haunt in Houston that was insanely expensive…first sign it was probably too much for us, and it was clearly meant for adults only. However, we went in and were terrified to the point of immobility and had to be taken back out the front. Couldnt even make it through the rest, I think I would have peed my pants. It was the most terrifying experience of my life, no doubt. I’m sure I’m traumatized. This sole experience has led me to try and traumatize other young children. Of course I am nowhere near the level of my first haunted house but I’m doing my best.

  9. John Wolfe Says:

    Goldie,

    Now that you mention it, I think I remember you telling me he was born on the 4th. It definitely clicked with me back then, but I probably forgot to mention the coincidental October 4th birthdays of people in my life – though, neither one of them are currently a part of it. I actually only knew my great-grandfather from photos.

    Your reference to the ambiance is now my biggest thrill as well with Halloween. Everything you mentioned puts me in the spirit, except 100 degree temps… lol. Honestly, the heat is a big part of Halloween for me too. It’s usually well into the 90′s (in late summer) while I’m working on props in the garage. I wear a headband from time to time to keep the sweat out of my eyes. When you wear glasses and have both hands full of glue/mache mix, it’s a little tricky to towel off.

    There are many things which used to trigger the special feelings associated with fall for me. While I still find those same things to be capable of eliciting that magical feeling today, there are many new ones which do it as well. You can’t take a yard haunt and a Halloween website to the extent I have and not develop a new Halloween/fall “fetish” or two along the way. :)

    You’ll have to give me the name of that book again. I’d like to look for it on ABE Books or maybe even e-bay. Glad you’re enjoying the content. From time to time, I really want to have more interactive posts here as well. I love having everyone participate and hearing about their experiences!

  10. John Wolfe Says:

    Ashley,

    It’s interesting your love affair with Halloween came from being scared out of your mind too. The haunt my dad and I went to (coming from my four year old recall) was pretty fancy and upscale; a good indicator it was primarily directed at a teenage and adult audience. Like you, I probably would have gone right back out the entrance, but the entrance was the coffin, so we pretty much had to keep going. By the time I started screaming, I think they had already turned the coffin around, preparing to load it with a couple more people. Even though I was scared out of my wits on one hand, there was the other part of me that still wanted to see what was coming up around each corner. That’s why I peeped through my fingers. Looking back, I can say I’m happy they turned the coffin around on us or else I may not have become the Halloween nut currently typing this response. :)

    Thank you so much for sharing! May your haunt grow to eventually rival the guys that scared the heck out of you!

  11. Andrea Says:

    I think you may be right, John. :)

  12. ShellHawk Says:

    I’m not sure I had that Halloween “aha” moment. Like Michael Myers, it seemed to stalk me for awhile before creeping up on me to sink in the knife!

    I have a very vague memory of my parents taking us to a really over the top home Halloween show. All I remember of it to this day is a Tyrannosaurus Rex popping up from behind the house and staring at us screaming people from above the roof. I think I was four or maybe five, at the oldest. It could have been the absolute worst prop ever, but my memory makes it a pretty cool experience, in spite of the terror.

    Most of all, I remember carving pumpkins with my dad every year, the night before Halloween. I started to get into costumes when I hit Jr. High school age, and all of us went to town on our costumes. (Not like the TOTs I’ve been having to deal with recently, and their half-assed excuses for costumes. Grrr!)

  13. Goldie Says:

    GREAT reply John, thank you babe!

    The book is called: A Holiday Book Halloween By: Lillie Patterson and Illustrations by Gil Miret — Garrard Publishing Comany in Champaign, Illionois — copyright date is 1963 — though the actual stories and writing sounds more like from the 1930′s. I LOVE old books. Oh and the book has 10 chapters

    1 – It’s Halloween
    2 – How it All Began
    3 – The Apples of Pomona and the Eve of All Hallows
    4 – Ghosts, Ghosts, Ghosts
    5 – Witches and Black Cats
    6 – Wee Folk
    7 – Halloween Customs from Many Lands (that one is cool!)
    8 – Magic Tests, Chants, Charms
    9 – Halloween Comes to America (another interesting section)
    10-Halloween with a Heart

    I hope this helps your quest. If you can’t find it let me know, I would happily and gladly donate this book to you John, happily so!

  14. John Wolfe Says:

    Andrea,

    The fact you’re even thinking of Halloween in February means the transformation’s already under way. ;)

  15. John Wolfe Says:

    ShellHawk,

    Funny how our mind works at such a young age and what stands out in our memory bank. The fact you do remember things from age 4 is powerful. It’s interesting because I have very large recall capabilities of events around that age (and even earlier). I wonder if creative minded people tend to have stronger recall on events from their childhood?

    Since you didn’t get into dressing up until junior high, that must mean you missed out on all the plastic “bag” costumes during your youth. :)

    Usually, all the little ones dress up around here when trick-or-treating. It’s primarily mid and high school kids who barely black out their eye sockets, throw a sweatshirt on and carry around a Wal-Mart bag for receiving candy.

    Pumpkin carving with your dad has got to be a great memory. Those are definitely the ones we don’t forget – they’re the keepers. I remember doing the same with my grandfather before we started spending almost every Halloween away from home (with the military). I was always mesmerized by the way he could draw such intense faces on the pumpkins prior to carving them.

    Thank you for sharing, ShellHawk. You helped me remember something I hadn’t thought of in years.

  16. John Wolfe Says:

    Goldie,

    Thanks for the title and the chapters. This will definitely help. I’m a big fan of older Halloween, ghost and just generally creepy books. I have an old Charles Addams book that I treasure! Not that the 1960′s are super old, but books from that time frame have such a great quality about them – not to mention that great musty smell.

    Please, I want you to keep it. I know how much it means to you. I’m sure I can locate a copy online.

    Thanks again.

  17. ShellHawk Says:

    I actually did have some of those plastic costumes. I have only the vaguest memories of those plastic masks, and I couldn’t tell you what I went as. I’ve actually asked my dad to see if he can find any pictures from those times. I think one year I might have been Casper…
    I think I remember junior high because I could really choose what I wanted to be for Halloween, and I could wear my Renaissance Faire costume or whatever, and not have a store bought thing. It was important that I duplicate as closely as I could whatever it was, and that holds over to today. My sweetie is going to be Dr. Horrible (from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) this year, and I’ve already bought and returned the lab coat because it didn’t fit… The hunt is on!

  18. John Wolfe Says:

    ShellHawk,

    Yeah, the photos help bring it all rushing back for me too. I can remember wearing those plastic costumes, but if it weren’t for the pictures, I probably would have forgotten who the characters were. We have shots of me as a clown (man, I don’ know what I was thinking that year…lol) and the Incredible Hulk. The Hulk was huge on prime-time television when I wore that one.

    I can understand about junior high. It seems, those of us that are destined to become Halloween fanatics really step our game up around age 12 and 13 when it comes to creating our costumes. I started going all out on dressing up around that age and within another couple of years, I transferred that energy over to making home haunts.

    Wow, you’re definitely prepared in advance for costumes this year! Good luck in getting the right lab coat. I spend so much time maintaining the yard haunt on Halloween night that a costume gets in my way, so I don’t really dress up anymore.

  19. halloween spirit Says:

    Interesting post . . . and interesting comments.

    For me, there wasn’t a specific moment or memory that triggered my love of Halloween. I’ve loved it all my life and celebrated it in one way or another (except perhaps for a few brief high school years).

    As a child, I loved dressing up (usually in those flimsy plastic costumes that required several layers of warmth underneath) and going trick-or-treating with my cousins and later, my friends. We lived out in the sticks, which meant walking for hours for maybe a couple of dozen treats. But it didn’t matter. That long walk on a dark frosty night, encountering others along the way and comparing notes (and treats) was all part of the enjoyment of that wonderful night.

    Mr. Macabre’s first comment on this post struck a chord with me. I too was a scaredy-cat as a child (still am in many ways) and in my more reflective moments I think that by embracing all facets of Halloween, from ghost stories to yard haunts to jack-o-lanterns, it was perhaps a way to take control of those childhood terrors, transform them on my own terms, and make the fear fun.

    In my twenties, it was all about Halloween parties and later, when I bought a house, haunting it for Halloween just seemed like a natural extension of my lifelong love of the season. Because it isn’t just about Halloween night for me. I love the darker colder autumn evenings, the visits to pumpkin patches and apple orchards. I love reading about the history of Halloween and vintage art and decorations. I love participating in the ghost walks and historic haunted house and graveyard tours that are prevalent at that time of year. I love watching It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown year after year.

    Is it October yet :)

  20. John Wolfe Says:

    Great reply, Halloween Spirit. Thanks! Similar to Goldie’s response, yours elicits so much of what I like to call the ambiance or visceral feel of Halloween. As I read your reply, I could sense those memories welling up inside of me. I have some similar experiences to yours as a child, but that haunted house at age four is what really pushed me over the edge. :D

    Since my dad was military and we moved every two to three years, I never really developed much of a friendship bond that could be carried over from Halloween to Halloween, so many of my fond memories tend to be less social and more about my own personal exploration of the holiday.

    After reading your message, I did have to double check the calendar, alas it’s still February. ;)

    Thanks again!

  21. HalloweenLvrNo1 Says:

    I completely agree with you about the fact that “grade A scaredy cats” get into Halloween. Case and point: me. I think that when the scare factor is highest, the urge to scare is highest because you feel that you should supply in some way that same feeling, and it’s awesome when people like you, me, and everyone else on this site go through such great measures to provide that feeling.

    As for my first initiation to the Halloween obsession that anyone who doesn’t have it will never understand, I think mine was when I first logged into Halloween.com Forums. Since then, I’ve found so much stuff on Halloween on the internet, and because everyone else gives me “THE Look”, when I start talking about Halloween, the internet is really my only source for any advice, and I think it’s great that Forum sites like Halloween.com have so much freedom and so many great people. I love going on those year round, and because I’m only 14, I can honestly say that I will love this holiday for the rest of my life. I will do anything I can to be the most creative person on the street, which isn’t that hard because I live in a town full of Orthodox Jews, but there are a lot of eager kids that don’t see any harm in it, and if and when they come out, I feel that same urge that many-all of you feel on that night of all shadows to go all out with decorations, add a few human actors, and scare the hell out of them.

  22. John Wolfe Says:

    HalloweenLvrNo1,

    Without a doubt, you’re absolutely right about people who are afraid of their own shadows turning into major Halloween enthusiasts! Growing up, I was always encouraging my uncle or grandfather to scare me. They used to make me go down a dark hallway at age 5 and would wait for me to come out the other side. As I edged closer to the end of the hall, one of them (usually my uncle) would jump out and scare the hell out of me.

    Forums are definitely a huge factor in introducing people to how extreme many of us go when it comes to not only decorating, but living Halloween 365 days per year. The first time I found anything Halloween related online was in 1997. It was a how-to for making a pneumatic Trash Can Trauma prop! Man, that takes me back. I can’t remember the site now.

    At age fourteen, you’re following in the footsteps of so many of us. Awesome job!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences and for commenting.