Some people just know how to get their spook on.
A vampire used to lurk over John DeProspero’s house in First Ward every Halloween. It flourished its cape when people walked by—terrifying. But then he and his wife had their roof replaced, and she banished the bloodsucker.
That hasn’t stopped DeProspero from having his creepy-season fun.
Of all of the holidays, Halloween enjoys the greatest range of decorating possibilities—everything from sweet to scary to stomach-turning. A person’s approach to All Hallows’ Eve says a lot about their sense of humor. It’s also practical: It helps the neighborhood kids prioritize their trick-or-treat stops on the big night.
Ask around for Halloween inspiration and, along with lots of creative and energetic decorators all over town, you’ll eventually find your way to two particular front porch frightmakers.
Bloodchiller in Brookhaven
When George DeWeese and his wife finally settled down in about 1990, in Woodburn at the time, he remembered how much he’d liked Halloween as a kid. He started carving pumpkins every year and building up his stock of decorations. A short period in Westover after that didn’t work out as well—the street was too busy, and kids didn’t come around for treats. But then the DeWeeses bought a house in Brookhaven. “It was like, ‘Alright, it’s on again!’” DeWeese laughs. “This neighborhood is full of kids and they all come by as I start putting things out.”
Over-the-top tableaus are one of DeWeese’s specialties: a flashing-eyed figure in suit and tie emerging from the ground in a graveyard, or Linda Blair, from The Exorcist, bouncing off the side of a car covered with creepy crawlies. He changes his display up a little every year, putting bits out starting in early October. But come Halloween night, he unleashes his full collection. It takes a stout-hearted trick-or-treater to get past the leaping spider, the ghost rising from its coffin, and the snarling half-demon writhing upside down at the garage door, only to pass under a spider web onto an eerily lit and shadowed front porch—a whole motion-activated light, sound, and animation spectacle. Still, more than 200 made it to the front door last year.
Halloween isn’t just about the scary things, DeWeese says. It’s also the funny ones. “It’s the opportunity to bring back that childhood naivety, that wonder.” It’s also not just for the kids. “I love it when the parents dress up and walk. We wave them up so they can get a little something for Halloween, too.”
All Over Town
A walk around the block in any neighborhood is enough to get you in the mood for Halloween.
1 Fresh soil, skeletons, tombstones, and spiderwebs keep this Suncrest home in the Halloween spirit. 2 & 3 We’re not sure the inhabitants of this house were reached in time to save them. 4 The homeowner made these crafty creepies from plastic bags and Mod Podge. 5 Is it really a good idea to walk on a Ouija board? 6 Clusters of lit pumpkin smiles add Halloween cheer to a formal entry. 7 The hand-carved jack-o’-lantern always takes the prize for sinister charm.
John DeProspero comes off as a regular guy, but don’t be fooled—the man has a gleefully twisted imagination. This marks his “30-and-a-halfth” year of decking his family’s First Ward house and yard out for Halloween. He counts 1987 as only half because “it was just a skeleton and a spider web.”
Since then, it’s metastasized into a yard full of grotesqueries. A crazed female mannequin in pajamas wears a T-shirt that reads “Mommy’s Little Hellspawn,” and a fetus—are those horns?—threatens to bust through her midsection. On the table in front of her, a staring head bobs in a jar of bubbling fluid. A body in a coroner’s bag wriggles where it hangs in a tree, and a skeletal, green-faced ghoul slouches in an electric chair. Zzzzt! DeProspero loves to startle visitors. A drum of toxic waste near the porch ejects air suddenly as a young trick-or-treater passes by, and a head explodes up through the lid.
DeProspero creates his own animations. In one that’s been retired, the wriggling legs of a man trapped under a lawnmower were driven by a windshield wiper motor. It’s all a lot of work, but he gets a kick out of it. “I love the kids. They have such fun,” he says. “My grandkids—they’re 14 and 10—don’t even go trick-or-treating anymore because they want to stay home and run the equipment and scare the kids.”
The long-running Madigan Avenue Halloween House draws gawkers from as far away as Grafton. In 2017, it welcomed more than 600 trick-or-treaters. It’s up just two weekends a year, ending on Halloween.
photographed by Carla Witt Ford and Pam Kasey