I was born at the tail end of the baby boom, so growing up in the 1960s Halloween traditions were pretty firmly in place: cardboard decorations for the window, manufactured children’s costumes, trick or treating. We would put out our pumpkin, or Jack-o'-lantern (usually with the face painted on because, you know, knives are sharp) and hang up some window decorations. Some houses put up scarecrows or hay bales and corn stalks, but that was it...
Soon, I had kids of my own and we’d do the pumpkin picking and the costume shopping. We’d even take them to McDonald’s, which was all over the Halloween trend. They sold their Happy Meals in plastic buckets that were painted like pumpkins, witches or ghosts. They had a handle, a snap-on lid, with a cap or hat on that that detached to become a cookie cutter with a Halloween shape. They could be used for trick-or-treating buckets. And more…
We moved into a side-door apartment and during our first Halloween there we wound up with a lot of left-over candy because nobody ever goes to the side door of a house when they go out trick-or-treating. It was a standard rule-of-thumb. Or for Halloween, a rule-of-severed-thumb. This issue had to be addressed.
I honestly don’t remember what sparked the idea though I do remember being depressed by the early darkness of autumn and lamenting the fact that things wouldn’t brighten up until people started putting up their Christmas lights. But how did these various concepts collide: I knew we had a number of those McDonalds buckets and an oscillating desk fan with a broken blade that still oscillated. I had this interesting string of Christmas lights, it was 8 plastic “snow balls” that had a number of small lights and a control that had the different colors fade in an out or blink and flash. This was a precursor to the “marquee lights” window lights now available. So, I’m thinking to myself, what if I ran the string with a lighted ball inside each McDonald Halloween pail? How would that look? It looked pretty darn good.
Now, with the oscillating fan, how could I utilize that? Could I put a rubber mask over it, set it up on a step ladder, put an old graduation robe over it and stick some rubber monster hands out the sleeves? Why, yes, yes I could! I set up my creation out by the side stoop, turned him on and he would stand there, his head slowing turning back and forth.
Needless to say, we ran out of candy that year.
So, every Halloween I’d put up my bucket lights and moving man and it became a neighborhood legend. Kids would pose next to it for pictures, parents would ask about how I built it and everyone agreed it was cool.
To jazz up the window decorations, I took a set of Christmas lights and replaced the tiny lights with only the orange-colored bulbs. So, the house was always a mix of store-bought items and the homemade.
Within five years, stores started selling Halloween lights: orange ones, black lights, lights shaped like eyes or skulls or pumpkins. Soon many of the houses on the block sported Halloween lights. Then the inflatables came out, with moving parts, then the haunted tombstones, the talking ravens and the sinister door knockers (press the button, try me!). I knew times had changed when I had to replace the string of lights and wound up buying a set of Halloween lights to put inside my Halloween lights.
Today I still assemble my mechanical man and put out my McDonald pail lights. Sure, my home isn’t as unique as it once was, but it’s still offbeat enough to garner attention.
Man, I wish I had patented it.
NEXT: How I invented Thanksgiving lights, 4th of July lights, St. Patrick Day lights and St. Valentine Day lights.