Every day is Halloween for West Tisbury farmer Rusty Gordon. Even in mid-summer, spooky cobwebs adorn his Ghost Island Farm shop, a disembodied hand appears among the kale, a Dracula mask hangs on the wall; a rubber tarantula lurks among the peppers.
No surprise that Rusty carts his produce in a hearse, and his eye-catching logo features the Vineyard’s outline, turned upside down with a ghost head on top.
When October arrives, the haunting heats up. Skeletons come out of the closet, a zombie child with vacant eyes wanders, an alligator crawls through the lettuce field. Here a severed foot, there a white head with blinking red eyes. A spindly tree root turns out to be a furry-legged spider, ready to pounce.
And every year, construction gets underway on a spectacular Halloween display, and people start guessing …
“Halloween was big where I grew up,” recalled Rusty of his childhood in Lowell, youngest of five siblings. “Everyone went trick-or-treating; the streets were full of people and kids.”
The family had intricate costumes, and watched horror movies together. One standout memory: the year his Dad made him a robot costume. Rusty still remembers the square boxes covered with foil, coat hanger arms, light bulbs: “It was so bulky to walk around in, but so much fun!”
Clearly he never forgot it, and this year, that memory was inspiration for this year’s Halloween centerpiece.
Rusty moved to the Vineyard in 1989, and began working with Andrew Woodruff at Whippoorwill Farm, bringing Halloween traditions and gear along. When he established his own Ghost Island business in 2012 at Nip ’n’ Tuck Farm, he finally had room for Halloween festivities.
After five years of watching Rusty transform the State Road flower field with zany installations, his cult following of horror fans and Halloween aficionados is always anxious to see what Rusty will do next.
In 2014 it was a flying saucer; next, a giant three-headed dragon. There was a huge jack-o’-lantern and a giant spider.
All eyes turn to the colorful zinnia patch by early October, as viewers search for hints.
“Hundreds of people ask me about it, actually they start asking right after Halloween what next year’s will be,” Rusty says.
“It’s a secret,” is his standard response.
Although Rusty was seen in the field with lumber and tarps, there was little indication of what the finished product would be.
Last week, when the brown 8-foot-square box was swathed in silver, sprouted long tentacle-like “arms” and a “head” with mysterious artifacts on top, the Big Robot Reveal was complete.
“He’s going to do lots of stuff,” promised Rusty with a mischievous grin. Every night the automaton will spout bubbles, spew steam, sparkle with projected light. Some suspect the silver apparition may rise up and trundle along State Road on Halloween, tricking, treating, and terrifying as he rolls along.
Rusty is grateful that the town of West Tisbury, landlord Fred Fisher III who owns the Nip ’n’ Tuck Farm property, and his customers and neighbors have been so supportive.
“It’s for the community and the town and the Island,” he said. “I want people on the Island to know this is happening, so they can take a drive out and see.”
Always delighted to welcome each year’s Charter School scarecrows, Rusty said he would love seeing other shops hop on the Halloween hay wagon and go all out for the spooky occasion.
After years of collecting and creating, Rusty’s Halloween horror trove bubbles over with unsavory artifacts. A tall black figure looms. There’s a barrel of babies, a bin of feet, a torso graphically eviscerated.
Touring the greenhouse where creepy props rest among sprouting greens, Rusty shared some diabolical tricks of his trade. Leave a plastic baby doll or severed limb in the compost all winter: “It makes them look old.”
Paint it brown, black, yellow, or just singe it a bit. Add some fake worms, spray fluffy foam for a ghastly, gutsy look. But his real go-to is that splash of red: “Everything always looks better when you put a little blood on it!”
“I have that kind of sense of humor, but I don’t mean anything by it,” he added reassuringly. “It’s just fun!”
For all the passion Mr. Gordon pours into Halloween, his enthusiasm and dedication for farming is equally strong.
Since beginning Ghost Island, Rusty and his longtime partner Sarah Crittenden have worked tirelessly to bring high-quality, cleanly grown produce to customers.
The CSA program that began with 50 members now boasts some 400. Members can buy anything the stand offers at 10 percent discount, pick flowers, visit the fields to admire future salads growing and burgers-to-be grazing nearby. There are Nip ’n’ Tuck meat, local eggs, and items from other Island producers, including apples, cheeses, yogurt, kimchi, honey, jelly, sea salt, and pie. The stand is open daily until Christmas, and even on winter weekends offers freshly harvested greens and root veggies.
Customers are greeted by name, and this former dairy has become a place for socializing just as when the late Fred Fisher Jr. held court over his raw milk and cream.
Next Tuesday, that friendly little shop welcomes visitors as the Haunted Farm Stand. Dramatic props will appear. Even the usually cheerful staffers will be costumed and foreboding.
“It’s Halloween for grown-ups,” said Rusty, definitely not for the faint of heart, nor the littlest trick-or-treaters.
When a visitor gasps, groans, or screams at a scary sight, it’s music to Rusty’s ears.