West Tisbury: Almost Halloween, and costume party

— MV Times

It’s almost Halloween. The air smells like fall, that mix of dry and dust and rotting leaves. My memories of childhood Halloweens have me kicking piles of leaves in the air as I walked along East Ridge or Main Street in the dark night. Trick-or-treating was less about candy than about carving pumpkins and being outside on our own after dark, once we got a bit older. It was always a magic time.

When I moved here, it was fun to have our friends’ children come to the house, to decorate in anticipation. I loved watching the children grow every year. Now we are welcoming the children of those long-ago children. Making a special treat, lighting the walkway to our porch, maybe we will even carve a pumpkin or two this year. So far, there are little pumpkins along the porch rail and windowsills. Bill Haynes gave me a great idea for a giant spider yesterday.

Mike and I were at the Haynes’ last week, and the dinner table conversation turned to Halloweens past. Betty and Bill had some good stories I want to share here.

For several years in the early- to mid-1970s, the Haynes house on State Road turned into a spooky haunted house every Halloween. An old Greek Revival, it has lots of little rooms and two staircases, perfect for setting up one scary display after another. Janice and Bruce Haynes and their friends were all young kids back then.

Bill had acquired a recorder with a speaker on it that he hid in a tree. He would sit in the upstairs front bedroom when trick-or-treaters came to the door. Soon a disembodied voice would ask the children, “Are you afraid of spiders?” and a big, scary spider would drop down and dangle above their heads. There were lots of screams.

Eventually, the kids were invited inside, up the front stairs, into rooms that featured unexpected surprises. One year it was a real coffin, borrowed from the local funeral home, placed in the attic, surrounded by wailing mourners. Harry Athearn, made up like a corpse, would pop out periodically, booing, and frightening everyone. It didn’t stop there.

As the kids descended the back stairs into the kitchen, an unattached head came out from underneath the open leaves of the dining room table. It was a giant Dale McClure. Debby Athearn, dressed as a witch, sat at one end of the table looking into a crystal ball. She invited children to take an apple from a bowl. When they reached for the apple, up popped Dale’s head, shrouded in mist from fortuitously-placed dry ice. More screams ensued.

Besides Debby and Harry Athearn and Dale and Marion McClure, participants included Charlie and Teena Parton, Norman Lobb, Mike and Karen Colaneri, Pierce and Bernice Kirby, Alma and Ed Sylvia, and John Cotterill. Charlie was always a diabolical doctor.

Another year, the dining room was shrouded in red light and eerie mist, evoking a trip into Hell, then outside to a cemetery, where unexpected creatures appeared and frightened everyone.

After a few years and a lot of time and work, Betty decided they needed a venue that was NOT HER HOUSE. Since many of the friends involved belonged to the fire department, they decided to take it over, and moved to the Grange, still the Ag Hall then. So they did. Instead of losing our husbands just in August getting ready for the Ag Fair, now they disappeared for the whole month of October, too.

But they loved it. For a group of creative guys with many skills, the larger, open space encouraged ever more complicated tableaux and engineering. One year, a 20- by 30-foot swamp was filled with live eels. Branches and swishing, leafy plants picked out with fluorescent paint grabbed at one’s legs and glowed a creepy green under a black light.

Another year, Norman Lobb dressed up as a madman. He would rattle the bars of his cell and yell at passersby, then pull the bars apart, pretending to escape. My husband still happily reminisces about the head he sent flying on wires through the darkness toward the unsuspecting as they approached. The highlight of another Halloween was having arranged an entry with three doors at the beginning of the hall. “Pick one,” visitors were told. They did, and were directed through different routes and sets of exhibits.

It was a West Tisbury event, although other fire departments came on to help. The Haunted House drew visitors from across the Island, and became a much-anticipated event. We were smaller, and less regulated by insurance and fire and capacity codes. Once the new Ag Hall was built, it became home to the town’s annual Halloween party, a tamer affair hosted by Parks & Rec. It will be held there this Halloween night from 6 to 8 pm. There will be games, snacks, and hayrides. Come in costumes.

The library also hosts a Halloween party for kids and families. Most everyone dresses up. Weather permitting, the party will be outside on the porch off the Children’s Room. Cider and doughnut holes, games, crafts, and hayrides: The party is Saturday, Oct. 29, 1 to 3 pm.

Election season is upon us. Saturday, Oct. 29, is the last day to register to vote before the Nov. 8 election. Tara Whiting-Wells will be at the Public Safety Building from 9 am to 5 pm. You may also vote early on that day. Early voting continues on weekdays, 8 to 11 am, through Nov. 4 at the PSB.

Ghost Island is decorated for Rusty’s favorite holiday. Stop by to see what he’s come up with this year.