When you start with a chilling upstate autumn evening and add in the mausoleum cold that entombs the imagination of a ten year old boy on Halloween, you can be guaranteed to hear the sound of chattering teeth at some point during trick or treat night.
The October 31st tradition my brothers, sisters and I stuck to was as follows: we ran home from school as fast as possible to scare up the costumes that had been haunting us every night since October 1st flipped forth on the kitchen calendar. Next came the painful and fruitless search for the magic ritual that would move time itself forward to dusk. (A similar ritual was sought every Christmas eve with an identical outcome, failure.) This done, dinner was attempted. Now dinner had two drawbacks. First, we had to sit at the table for a reasonable amount of time to fulfill the mystical adult standard that all parents knew but would not explain, and second, no matter what my mother fixed, it paled in contrast to the mountains of candy that would soon be ours. The clock ticked on mercilessly, going nowhere.
When the sun finally set the signal was given to begin dressing. By now I had been suited up forever. This, as with every year past and future, was my proudest. I was The Headless Man! I was hideous! I was terrifying! With my father’s help against my mother’s advice, I was soaked in Heinz 57 tomato flavored blood, handed my ax and grocery bag, and released into the boney hands of the night and the company of five of my closest friends who had been impatiently waiting for me on the front steps. Now we were hideous! We were terrifying! We were Frankenstein, with his oozing green food colored oatmeal face; The Invisible Man complete with ace bandages and RayBans; an almost out of place Cowboy brought nicely in line with the addition of several beautifully grotesque arrows convincingly piercing his bloody head, neck and body. The one clinker was the Wolf Man, wearing a cheap nondescript store bought mask and a winter coat which none of us commented on until later, and then only behind his back. The final member was a totally unexpected but ingeniously authentic Witch.
The night was perfect. A shadow-enhancing-almost-full moon, a chilling wind howling through the skeletal arms of the towering elm trees, and more than enough dead leaves for ground coverage and the making of an ambient scuffling noise that constantly sounded like the stalking of creatures more terrifying and real somewhere just off in the darkness. We were very brave then. Dead ahead of us loomed the Cuppenger house!
Mr. Cuppenger, “Cupps The Magnificent”, had once been a young man and a vaudeville magician at the same time. “Cupps The Magnificent” also loved Halloween and although he was no longer young, or in vaudeville, he more than compensated for it with his now passionate concern for celebrating this Day of the Dead.
The Cuppenger house was old, gothic, scary and as enchanting as a graveyard on this All Hallowed Eve. Believers of all ages were drawn to the place like vampires to an open wound! The front lawn of the home was covered with dozens of eerily lit jack-o-lanterns. (This in a time before vandalism became fashionable.) The wonderful scent of candle wax and roasting pumpkin permeated the block. As we approached the front door to the sound of faint, morose organ music I soon became aware of several black coffins, recently exhumed, for us to rest upon and wait for the next group of kids to be ushered into the house. Among the coffins were tremendous burlap bags full of peanuts to both feed us and keep us from chickening out!
This Halloween was remarkable in a special way because for the first time and never again I found myself and my friends sitting with my big sister Chris and her coven of cronies. I was overwhelmed with a fresh wave of bravery that had been secretly deteriorating on my way up the way. I always loved my sister Chris.
With a loud blood curdling scream the heavy front door creaked slowly open. A billowing fog cascaded out over our feed as a cold disembodied voice said from somewhere far beyond the grave, “COME IN IF YOU DARE!” No one dared right away until Chris broke the terror and entered the blackness within. Did I mention that I loved my sister Chris?
The front hall was thick with atmosphere. Flickering electric candlelight cast an orange hue over us all. An old man dressed in a dusty black, cobweb covered tuxedo offered us apple cider and spider cookies from a silver tray. We were then directed into the parlor through a heavy set of black velvet curtains. As we passed, the old man smiled and commented on each and every costume. I believe he appreciated my outfit most of all.
The room was incredible. At the organ sat a decrepit old woman dressed totally in black and playing a sorrowful dirge that sent chills down my spine. Upon the ornately carved pump organ was a twisted candelabra complete with 13 black candles. Next to this was a marble bust of George Washington. Oriental rugs covered the floor. In the middle of the room, among the spooky Victorian furnishings, stood a large cabinet adorned with huge Chinese symbols. Beside the cabinet was a table and a smaller box decorated in the same fashion.