Halloween in the Old Northeast

Here is Rebekah's latest article for the Old Northeast Journal, a small publication for the Old Northeast neighborhood in St. Petersburg, FL. Here she reminisces her family traditions for Halloween. Enjoy! xoxo

"This time of year always reminds me of painting in the garage, sweating on my hands and knees scowling over hues of lavender, greens, vermillion, orange rind, and any other visceral colors of the palette you can name. The Sundays, The Smiths or Tori Amos (really, any music that made me feel cathartic and moody) would play while I poured myself into a bucket of paint and smeared it against cardboard and plywood. Yes, I used to be a scenic painter. And it was always late August, early September that I would gear up for my annual family rite of an oversized Halloween display in front of our old house on 19th Ave.

Perhaps you know already, perhaps you don't and maybe you care and maybe you slightly remember us but we were the family that started the fad of performing for Halloween night. Now, there were grand displays throughout the ONE, ones that were long standing from when I was a kid trick-or-treating 25 some-odd (ahem) years ago. Remember the house on 17th and Poplar that used to keep a coffin out front and a strobe light? Then at random moments a massive bald man would explode from the coffin and chase poor terrified children off his yard. Or what about those awesome neighbors that would have the cotton candy machine out front? Now, that I will never forget! It was always worth the long line. Do you kids remember the lady that passed out pennies? Yep. She did.

When we first started “performing” it was usually my Dad hooking up a massive speaker system and hiding in the front room while spying on oncoming children looking for treats. He would greet them with a booming voice or a sneering hiss and creepy commentary. I think some of our neighbors would even look askance. One year we decided that we were all old enough, my parents having produced 4 of us, and we wanted to dress up as a family. We chose a 1960's Hippie theme and all took charge of our costumes. Round glasses donned, daisies in long haired wigs, tartans and bare feet we took to the streets and sang “If I Had a Hammer” all throughout the hood. It was glorious. Being together as a family and spreading cheer instead of fright really caught a lot of attention.

The next year we decided to go a little bigger. We themed the house “The Wizard of Oz” and built a cardboard Emerald City facade that covered the whole front entry. Inside when kids knocked to enter, was a floating face of Oz himself! Complete with theatrical lighting and glitter and even a poppy field out front made from tissue! That year it rained on my cardboard and my precious poppies causing them to wilt. No matter, the show must go on! Each of us dressed as the characters from the film, Dorothy and clan, Glinda and the Wicked Witch and reenacted scenes from the film in the front of our wilted city. My talented older sister won the hearts of small crowds with her wicked witch cackle as she stood on the roof and threatened all who dared come near then disappear by vanishing through the upstairs window. We actually started getting applause! This fueled our fire. Next year we would build a stage! With wood!

And build we did. We started building and designing in August. September it was paint/sweat time and October was for costume fittings. The late summer transition to fall of 1998 was themed Old Hollywood. Man, was I proud of that set. Man, did I use a lot of glitter. My Dad and I built a Hollywood sign to hang above our brilliant theatrical red stage complete with fake curtains and a hole in the floor so a leaf blower could be rigged to blow a vast amount of wind to ride up Marilyn Monroe's skirt and reenact the famous scene from “The Seven Year Itch”. Oh, yeah. We did that. My mother made biscuits dance on forks as Charlie Chaplin, my father growled orders as Cecil B. Demille and I strutted about as my favorite icon, Marlene Dietrich. More crowds came. More ideas brewed.
(Note my fashionable beret in the middle of September in Florida....)

The next year we decided we needed to really preform. And perform we did. The next few years we would perform themes “Lil' Abner” and “Peter Pan” and even tackled the Presidential Debates with our own version of Kerry vs. Bush. It was classic. But my favorite year was the year we portrayed different Disney Villains. Each of us picked out favorite villain and dressed the part. I of course had to outdo myself every year with the extravagant sets so I created a giant dragon that sat on our rooftop and a set for each character. That was the year we got the audience to participate by voting for their favorite villain. We each had to explain to the audience why we were the worst villain. I played the wicked queen from Snow White, My sister; Cruella DeVil, Mom; The Cheshire Cat (complete with her own tree to sit upon and black lighting to make her spooky) Dad; Captain Hook with my younger sister (Ray) as Tinker Bell his assistant (complete with their own boat and canon that spit fireworks) and my fearless brother was the narrator that told our stories and kept the crowds panting for more. We rented wireless mics, rigged theatrical lighting and sound, built and staged a set, rented and created costumes from scratch. Talk about a show! That year we counted over 1000 pieces of candy passed out. We had definitely hit a chord.

The sets I built with my father actually got me into art schools across the nation and eventually into a career as a scenic painter for theater and film. Over the years we grew up, moved out of the house, gathered lives and families of our own. But secretly, we still have each of those characters we played inside of us waiting for Halloween when maybe they have a dim chance of escaping once again and dancing in the ONE limelight. Long live the Aldersons!