Halloween Haunts: A Tradition of Fright
by Robert P. Ottone
As long as I can remember, Halloween has been my favorite holiday. This isn’t an original concept, right? Every horror writer champions Halloween as the best night of the year, but for me, my affinity for the spookiest of all nights connects directly to my dad and our special way of celebrating the night.
The last time I went Trick or Treating was in fifth grade. I dressed as Michael Meyers and went out with my friends Shawn and Chris, and came home with a large assortment of deliciousness.
After that, there was no time to go out with friends. Halloween was for scaring people. To that end, my father, his friends, and I helped design and construct a haunted house on our front lawn, inspired by the local haunts my dad and his friends frequented each fall.
I’d spend my after-school time helping my dad construct the maze-like design, as well as test the various scares, tricks, devices, smoke machines (the smell of which I still crave to this day and look forward to every year) and more.
We never relied on animatronics. Animatronics are for amateurs. Instead, my father, a teacher, was able to gather his students and friends from work to come and haunt the house with us, playing various “roles” and scaring people out of their minds. My friends helped, too. The aforementioned Chris, the last Trick or Treat buddy I had, participated, and delivered the frights in a big way. Another friend, Matt, did a pitch-perfect Pennywise (the good Tim Curry one, obviously).
It was an all-hands on deck endeavor. Thousands of children, their parents and more from the community (even folks from neighboring counties, making the forty-five minute drive to enjoy our haunted house after seeing a news report on the local channels) would frequent the house every year. My mother, wearing her homemade witch hat, would hand out candy to the brave souls who made it all the way through the maze to the front door.
We were able to construct thirteen different themed rooms on our front lawn. Each room contained a different scare. Each room had one or two actors in it that hammered our attendees. On more than one occasion, visitors were left with soiled pants, or, at other times, were too terrified to handle the haunted maze-like aspect of our design, and ended up smashing through a wall to get out.
I take pride in that. My dad did, too.
My dad passed away in 2019. It was the first year we didn’t have some sort of haunted attraction on the front lawn. Instead, I sat outside, on the porch, huge bucket of candy in my lap, thinking about him. Thinking about what we might have done on the front lawn to scare the straights in our neighborhood out of their minds.
Halloween is different for me now. Maybe one day I’ll be able to enjoy it the same way I did as a child, watching my dad get excited over a particularly effective scare. Listening to him joke around with his friends Mike and Stevie as they built the haunted house.
Going to bed with school the following morning while he and his buds worked into the wee hours the night before Halloween.
I’d give anything to be out there, with him, building the haunted maze, and listen to him complain about the Yankees.
I still love Halloween. To me, it’s the only holiday that matters. Everything else is for children.
Halloween is for my dad.
About Robert P. Ottone
Robert P. Ottone is an author, teacher, and cigar enthusiast from East Islip, NY. He delights in the creepy. He can be found online at https://www.spookyhousepress.com/, or on Instagram (@RobertOttone). His new collection of elevated horror fiction, Her Infernal Name & Other Nightmares is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever fine books are sold.