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Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue

Nightmare on Pennsylvania Avenue

For the last fifteen years we have been decorating for Halloween.  What started out as various riffs on Harry Potter, such as two cardboard figures playing Quidditch, quickly became far more elaborate takes on pop culture and politics.  We alternate between political themes on election years and funny things in the off years.  Our daughter, now off at college, came up with one of our best ever themes- 2017’s -The Horror of College Admissions.  You can read all about it in this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

But this year is an election year, and a critical one at that.  After almost two years of pandering to racism and fear,  we felt that President Trump deserved a starring role in this year’s offering, our take on the classic Halloween thriller, Nightmare on Elm Street.  But this is the CraftyLawyer blog, after all, so in addition to showing you the fruits of our labor, I thought I would share a few tips on building your own sensational Halloween displays.  Here are a few of the frequently asked questions we get asked each year.

How do you build your figures?

The crafty husband shines here.  He came up with a way to make an armature for about any kind of figure–PVC pipes fitted together to make stick figures.  He slides the pipes over long garden stakes to keep them standing– rain, sleet or hail (all of which we had this weekend!), drops the costumes over the forms, and then uses safety pins and T-pins to keep all the clothes together.  He stuffs the inert shapes with cotton batting and suddenly they look like three-dimensional beings.   The PVC pipe is also just the right size to allow for foam display heads to be eased on to the top.  Sometimes we paint them (see the Statue of Libery) and sometimes, especially for political figures, we buy masks (see Donny J. Krueger).


Do you start planning months in advance?

Ah, no.  Sometimes inspiration strikes early, but most of the time we settle on an idea in late September, order what supplies we need, and then frantically put everything together in the days before the big reveal, to use HGTV speak.


The yard a few days before Halloween

Where do you keep all the stuff?

We literally have a closet under the stairs (appropriate given how many Harry Potter vignettes we’ve done) in our basement.  We call it the Halloween vault.  Some scary creatures hang from hooks on the walls, and we have a row of foam mannequin heads that lodge in nicely between the stair boards and a coat rod.  I’m afraid we’ve scared a few of our daughter’s friends with that set up over the years!

This has got to be expensive!

We use and reuse till we can’t use anymore.   We actually threw away some mannequin heads this year that were probably about ten years old.  We rely on foam insulation board–the Pink Panther boards–to build a lot of our scenes (the Tardis from a Dr. Who display, multiple gravestones over the years). We buy suits and other props at  thrift stores. This year’s $5  headboard came from one of my favorite reuse places–Community Forklift in Edmonston, Maryland.   We donate back those items still in good shape.  I also keep my eye out for staples–lights, bases,  canvasses.  This year I scored some great deals at Michael’s with wooden boxes and message boards that can be used over and over–and for 70 per cent off they were cheaper and easier than hand painting all of our signs, as I usually do.  We do buy masks–we have most of the presidential candidates for the last few elections (although someone stole John McCain in 2008).  And we made one great big purchase for 2016’s Winter Is Coming/Game of Thrones display–I mean you have to have a dragon.  Trump was a White Walker in that one.


Sometimes you have to splurge–you can’t have Game of Thrones (or a democracy) without a dragon!



Glowing blue eyes courtesy of battery operated lights

What is the most critical part of your display?

Besides the awesome figures and a sense of humor, it has to be lights.  Look now and after Christmas for deals on floodlights, multi color prism lights, extension cords and battery operated lights.  Good lighting makes everything more menacing, more enticing, and crisper, plus ensures that people see all the little jokes we put into our display.  For Halloween, some strobe lights and flickering flame lights are great effects and can usually be picked up after the holiday for 1/2 off or more.  So,  yes, I guess we do plan ahead some–but I’ve always been a hunter-gatherer when it comes to after holiday sales, so it comes naturally.  I do try to buy things, though, that have plenty of uses and can be hauled out for more than one event  (flicker flame lights are a great special effect in your fireplace when you can’t or don’t want to light a fire!).


Lighting makes all the difference!


Now, on to the show! Uncle Sam is dreaming.  He sees an evil creature threatening Lady Liberty.  But in this movie, as in the original, if someone dies in your nightmare, they die forever.  Will America Wake Up–Before It’s Too Late?


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