I don’t get all worked up about Halloween, but I have friends in the theater world whose year-long project is how best to astound their friends and neighbors with their Halloween costume extravaganzas.
I got over that in sixth grade. My mother had made me a perfectly lovely witch costume, pointy hat and all, so I was excited to show it off at school. Halfway through the day, the kids who had brought costumes were allowed to go to the washroom and put them on. So, here I come in my spiffy witch outfit and, right behind me comes Irene, prettiest girl in class, all tricked out in her sparkly, jingly belly dancer outfit, with makeup on and her long, curly hair bouncing around.
Talk about feeling like a dud. Yikes! I’ve never, since then, felt comfortable in costume, even though I designed and made them for many years.
When we moved to Duluth and bought the big old Victorian, it had been completely empty for eight lonely months. The neighborhood kids were circulating the story that it was haunted. They’d seen lights, heard noises. So it was that it took several years before anyone under age 12 ventured up the long driveway on Halloween night, even though we offered “the big candy bars.”
Our kids had no such problem and were able to turn out the best and most imaginative costumes, using the “findings” in the big packing boxes left in the “haunted” attic, with maybe a little help from Mom. For instance, prom dresses, Borgana fur coat, bathrobe, antlers, Ace bandages, sunglasses, draperies and foam rubber sheeting became a fairytale princess costume (drapery fabric, some fake pink fur and sparklies); an elk (Borgana coat, antlers, button from the Elks Club and beanie with a chin strap to hold on the antlers); and the Invisible Man (completely wrapped in Ace bandages, including his face, wearing a bathrobe and sunglasses), and out they would go!
Usually with their snowsuits covering whatever they were wearing, because, of course, in Duluth, Minnesota, it almost always snows the day before Halloween. They would present themselves to the neighbors, unzipping and showing them, “Look! I’m a bunny rabbit!”
When we moved out into the woods, the driveway was a quarter-mile long, so the only Halloween-ers we got were our grandboys. They would storm up onto the back porch in their spotted dog, (made by their Mom) Batman and Underdog costumes and we would act surprised and try to guess who they were — followed by liberal offerings of “the big candy bars.”
But, I’m here to tell you that no place does Halloween better than A.T. Jones Costumers in Baltimore, Maryland. In addition to theater production rentals, Halloween is their big moneymaker — the place everyone goes for their costumes. So they decorate for the holiday, have moving figures here and there, making unearthly noises, all appropriately scary. A true shopping immersion experience!
Jones was where I would travel to as I finished up the hats and headpieces I made for the Baltimore Opera productions. The owner, George, had been a professional magician before taking over his wife’s family costume business. Up on the third floor of this very old brick building on Howard Street was where he kept his mysterious props and costumes, and it was always dark up there. There were suits of armor waiting to jump on you, silk scarves wafting in any breeze and lots of mirrors to make you think there was someone over there, watching, when it was really only you.
If you had to ride up the creaky, cantankerous, wooden freight elevator to retrieve something from the third floor, you always:
Never went unless there were three or more things you had to have.
Told someone where you were going.
Tried to take someone with you. Usually no takers. But, the best place I ever worked, hands-down.
A Halloween column originating in Duluth, Minnesota, would not be authentic without mention of “The Great 1991 Halloween Blizzard” that dumped 36 inches of snow on us, over a four-day period, beginning on Halloween afternoon. It’s one of those folklore things.
People remember where they were, what they were doing, and most of all, what they couldn’t do for four days, like turn on the lights, cook dinner, make coffee. Some of us couldn’t flush our toilets or take showers — we had wells with electric pumps.
In our case, we had moved out to the log house in the woods the winter before. Tom came home early from work and said “storm coming.” And it did! It came and came and came! Three days later, Tom snowshoed out to the main road — a quarter-mile, wading through the waist-high drifts — and was picked up by a friend to get food and go to work.
That night, around midnight, came one of the prettiest sights I ever did see. Around the bend in our driveway trundled an enormous front-end loader, lights flashing like an unidentified flying object. The cavalry had come to plow us out! I swear I heard the “Lone Ranger music” playing. Really!
Next time: Does Dilbert make you laugh? How about Abbott and Costello or SNL? Here’s what does the trick for me!
Claudia Myers is a former costume designer for The Baltimore Opera, Minnesota Ballet and has taught design and construction at the College of St. Scholastica. She is a national award-winning quilter, author and a local antique dealer, specializing in Persian rugs.