Cutting back on the holidays has been a much-discussed theme during the recent financial crunch. But here in Western New York, Halloween is one holiday -- by the looks of the seemingly growing numbers of scary decorated houses -- that's haunting us more than ever. Especially so this year, as spine-tingling Halloween wickedly falls on festive Friday, just four days from today.
"It's amazing," comments Anni Gruenauer, of Lockport, who's doing her part with her husband, putting out no less than eight fog machines in their creepy netherworld that attracts viewers from different cities.
"Yes, Halloween is a lot of work," she adds. "But it's also a lot of laughs. I wouldn't have it any other way."
In Clarence, Maureen Roeser's family set up about a dozen fright-inspiring scenes with ghosts galore, gargoyles and a graveyard mummy, complete with eerie "wind," calliope music and cackling witches.
"My dad always did this, and now it's passed on to me," says Roeser, who had to adjust her decor three times before noon in Sunday's howling, horrendous perfect-for-Halloween wind. "I like the people stopping by, and my kids have so much fun." Next to her ghastly creations she puts a donation box for Moving Miracles.
Within the Village of Williamsville, Morrison Gare -- brother of Sabres hockey legend Danny Gare -- has hung a full-sized lifelike, or should we say, deathlike dangling skeleton in his tree. And no, it's not a remnant of a Boston Bruins player.
While festooning the house with electric lights used to be reserved perhaps just for Christmas and New Year's Eve, dusky streets are glowing months ahead of autumnal celebrations -- even though lights are pumpkin-orange.
It's one holiday in diverse Buffalo that everyone can participate in. And increasing numbers of adults are finding out that Halloween is not just for kids, as they put out black cats, ghouls and jack-o'-lanterns on their lawns and go to multiple costume parties. Also, thrifty home-made decorations evoking the spirit world can be just as scary as store-bought on the night that the dead are supposed to walk the earth, and we face down, or shall we say mask down, our fears and mortality. All you need is a trick to make it a treat.
"I've got more stuff for our cemetery than some cemeteries have," boasts Gruenauer's husband, known to many Western New Yorkers as magician Mike Baron. "Characters, lights, fog, music, electric chair -- we got it all." And the couple doesn't mind giving out treats to more than 500 screaming kids in four hours' time, fashioning their dark performance art.
As a matter of fact, "We're decking out our house again bigger and better each year," Baron promises. "Word is spreading about it, because people are driving into our development just to see it.
"We'll have a dozen live characters this year, including five witches in our 'witches hollow scene.' That was a big hit last year with the little ones, so we expanded it.
"The older kids love the electric chair where they sit and vibrate with strobe lights and a surprise blast of air. There's Alistar-the-talking-skeleton, who speaks to all the kids, monsters, ghosts, mummies and more. Also the haunted well, in the middle of the cemetery, talks and scares the kids. We only set up for Oct. 31. I'm afraid to leave that much stuff out there."
Like the mad scientist's lab, torture chamber and headless horseman.
Gruenauer hones her Mr. Hyde Halloween chops, assisting her husband at the Great Pumpkin Farm Fall Festival's "magic castle" in Clarence. Then the Baron puts his sleight of hand to work at his own home for Halloween night, Gruenauer says, for "all things spooky." Boo!
Not far away the elaborately decorated Clarence home of kindergarten teacher Gary Server and his wife, Mary -- also known as "Scary Gary and Bloody Mary" -- returns this year as a Women and Children's Hospital fundraiser, for young children's programs, at 6105 Fairlane Drive. Tours feature robotic and talking displays each night from 6 to 9 through Halloween.
"It takes two months to build," Server reveals.
"We just love doing it. We like to see kids and families spend time together, at the same time help other people."
Lucky kids able to make the trip to Rochester on Sunday afternoon saw the George Eastman House mansion transformed into a Halloween haunted house, on its third floor, normally closed to the public.
Costumed characters posted in mysterious nooks and crannies of the mansion gave out candy and trinkets. There, the vampires were friendly, with music played on the late George Eastman's pipe organ. It just jump-started more horror at the Dryden Theatre for "beggar's night" and Halloween with 8 p.m. screenings of, respectively, John Carpenter's "Halloween" and George A. Romero's "Land of the Dead."