Have you ever wanted to host an epic Fright Night for Halloween? This post is dedicated as a 'How To Guide' for haunted pleasures, including some of the approaches I embraced for Safety and Comfort during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
But first... Welcome to the Tales From Upper Hillsborough, where I share the journey of Urbaneer team member and bestie James Ormston and me who, twelve years ago, bought a dilapidated vintage triplex in idyllic Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Since our acquisition, we undertook a significant transformation - in part because we had to remediate a mold issue due to failing building components and water management problems - ultimately resulting in the creation of a beguiling second residence we ultimately called The Black House. Why? Well, er, um... we painted the house entirely black! Here's one of my posts from 2015 that shares why I believe Black Houses Are Beautiful.
So it's been some time since I've written about The Black House. In fact, I wrote about this property pre-pandemic when I posted some interior photos of The Garden Suite in Autumn 2019. And while not a lot has changed to our Prince Edward Island Home (well, ok, I recently had a custom metal arbour constructed on the deck of the Garden Suite plus I went enthusiastically overboard layering textiles - including bedding, cushions, and pillows - in different patterns, textures, and colours), COVID-19 certainly twisted our lives inside out. How so? Well, James - who has been a professional musician for over 25 years (and a realtor for 8 years) - would have celebrated his 20th anniversary with the Charlottetown Festival had the pandemic not caused The Arts to shutter this year. It also resulted in the cancellation of most of our summer Airbnb bookings, which left us wondering exactly how we might navigate moving forward. Fortunately, despite the lockdown (in Canada it started on March 13th, 2020) we secured amazing tenants seeking accommodations anywhere from two to six months in the Attic Atelier and the Captain's Quarters on the second floor.
Meanwhile, the first 10 weeks of lockdown were on the quieter side for we realtors in Toronto before the housing market suddenly roared back to life. Given I'm an asthmatic and, therefore, at higher risk of complications from the coronavirus I felt a fair bit of anxiety suddenly resuming my daily life of unlocking doors for my clients. Despite my fascination with the pandemic, and how it might shift us both personally and collectively, including a significant amount of writing on the subject as it pertained to shelter (you might enjoy this overview of my articles summarized in this post called The Season Of COVID-19 & Canadian Real Estate), my own life resumed full speed with little change. And, well, I'll admit this traumatized me. With many professionals embracing technology and engaging in the 'Work From Home' model, I found I had to make a very personal decision on how I wanted to chart my immediate future. As serendipity would have it, at the beginning of July the four eastern Canadian provinces formed the Atlantic Bubble which allowed those within its boundaries to travel freely (albeit with checkpoints). Canadians who owned property within this region were allowed to enter providing they quarantined for the requisite 14 days. A few weeks later, in a 'Sliding Doors' moment, I packed my suitcase and drove my car east while James remained in Toronto to spend his first summer since 1998 to guide my clients in person while I did so remotely.
Over the past twelve years I've visited The Black House multiple times annually, but for brief stays that never exceeded three weeks. After my two weeks of quarantine (thank goodness for grocery delivery and having a garden to tend), my small social world began expanding as my local friends introduced me to theirs, I engaged my neighbors, and I started chatting to local shopkeepers whom I saw regularly running errands. Given there have been only 64 cases of COVID-19 on PEI to date (7.5 months), and the comings and goings on the island are strictly controlled and contact tracing is diligent and detailed, while islanders are both cognizant and cautious of the risks of the pandemic, the community opened their arms and welcomed my arrival. I began being invited to small kitchen parties, birthday celebrations, and barbecues. I also reinstated my fitness program with Stephanie Hines-Peters at Jason and Dawn Mosher's fantastic gym called Naturally Fit and embraced Iyengar yoga (in a classic PEI barn, no less!) with Charles Sanderson and his team at YogaGrove.
Working out with my friend and Black House 'House Manager' April Clow at Naturally Fit Gym.
I love my growing community. Most everyone has been authentic, open, and genuinely interested in getting to know me. So after living in Charlottetown for three months - and with Halloween approaching - I decided that a great way to demonstrate my appreciation would include hosting a spooky 'Fright Night' for my neighbourhood. After all, when your house is black - and it even includes A Black Garden At The Black House In PEI By Dan Does Design - it's pretty obvious this would be the ideal way to celebrate my presence.
A snap from 2009 - I hosted a Haunted Halloween Mews with my neighbours at The Button Factory in Toronto for several years.
Halloween Is My Favourite Day Of The Year!
I love Halloween. After all, it's the only day of the year one can legally frighten children! So much so, that I want to share with you my spooky manifesto so you can create a magical outdoor evening for your neighbourhood someday if you're so inclined.
The Black House - a shingle manse that dates from the 1880s - sits on a wide lot with a 15-foot wide driveway on the right side of the property. It has a Front Porch with a door and five windows on the street facade (where - for Halloween - each window had a 'Flame Bulb' operating in a light fixture inside), and a Side Porch to access the three suites and more windows on the south elevation. Taking these original features into account, I designed the Fright Night to take advantage of these aspects by creating Five Fright Zones with three musical flavours that incorporated social distancing measures.
The digital poster promoting the evening to the neighbourhood.
Five Fright Night Zones
The property was divided into five zones offering different experiences for my performing friends to play and entertain the participants, with markers on the ground showing people where to stand as they progressed through the labyrinth of fun. Here's what each of them entailed:
Zone 1 - Street-facing Centre-Hall Front Porch - Set back but close to the street, the Front Porch was wrapped in 'Danger Tape' with a spotlight pointing down so it appeared to be an 'Enclosed Cell' featuring a ghoul. In this location, a Bluetooth speaker played a Haunted Electronic Playlist from Youtube including:
The lovely and talented Jen Keenan took centre stage in the front porch
Zone 2 - Do You Dare Enter! - Spanning the width of the property in front of the house two Stilt Walkers from Island Stilt Alliance (siblings Zora & Fidel Wendt) greeted people and encouraged everyone to stay in their groups for social distancing. At the mouth of the driveway, a 'Circus Ring Leader' in a cape and top hat (Yours, Truly) stood on the driveway in front of a V-shaped funnel made of four 6x8 foot wired construction fencing covered in 4x8 foot cardboard panels painted like a Circus Tent by local artist Charlotte Manser-Hart. These led to an 8x8 foot painted Circus Tent facade with a door cut out and draped in black canvas marking the entrance, while a string of Edison bulb lights suspended from the top of the scaffolding running down to the front corners of the covered construction fencing enhanced the illusion of a tent. Daring people to enter into The Haunted Zone, the Circus Ring Leader told each group of families or kids that the price of admission was - get this: a Scream! Each group had to face out at the crowd on the street and scream at the top of their lungs to proceed. Behold the power of secret scream therapy during times of COVID-19!
There were a lot of kids who were extremely tentative about going into the Haunted Circus Tent. Anticipating this, the children could request The Good Witch - performed by the tutu-wearing Black House resident Erin Dempsey - who by ringing her bell (which served as a cue to the performers) would cast a spell on the ghouls and prevent them from frightening the kids, given this is what ghouls are wont to do!
On the top of the scaffolding, a secure platform served as the place where performer Reequal Smith - a Fire Dancer - performed her magic to those awaiting their turn to enter.
Here's a video showcasing a 'Bubble Of Participants' screaming for entry with a cameo of Erin The Good Witch behind and Reequal The Fire Dancer above:
Behind The Scenes
Here is the rental construction fencing and 10-foot high scaffolding being assembled, followed by the painted cardboard 'circus walls' being attached and the front facade of the Circus Tent Entry, before a temporary 'Circus Roof Tent' was attached to the Entry and scaffolding:
Zone 3 - The 'Haunted Circus Tent' - As you can see in the images above, running the length of the driveway a series of 6x8 foot construction fences assembled opposite each other were arranged in a diamond-shape, surrounding one set of 5x10 foot scaffolding standing ten feet high placed in the centre. Behind the Circus Tent Entrance, the construction fencing mostly had oversized table cloths attached with clips for easy installation, while four 5x10 foot high panels of black canvas were suspended from the top corners of the scaffolding like draperies. An additional two 5x14 foot panels draped over the top of the scaffolding and attached to each side of the construction fencing on either side of the entry to create a 'tent', while a 5x10 foot panel of red and white canvas was clipped to the top of the scaffolding on the backside so it served as a backdrop for the clown.
The clown - my friend and contractor Paul Coles - sat under the scaffolding on a bale of hay lit by a bright spotlight attached to the underside of the scaffolding Given the intensity of the light focused on him, as he welcomed each guest's arrival as they entered the 'Circus Tent', participants couldn't see the ever-moving collection of caped ghouls and ghosts (featuring recent residents Ben Docksteader & Marilee Devries & current resident Paul Collins) who would spontaneously leap out and frighten the participants (see video at the end).
The music playlist was Creepy Carnival Music played on a massive Bluetooth speaker:
A peak-a-view of Yours Truly and Paul Coles clowning around
Zone 4 - Side Porch Candy Collection & Kid Costume Parade - Keeping social distancing protocol in mind, as participants exited the 'Circus Tent' at the back, they would loop around to the Side Porch where Black House residents Trish Helm-Neima and Paul Neima - followed by neighbour Kelly Cooper the 'Treat Fairy' - stood at the top of a half landing where they would place treats into a 10 foot long PVC drain pipe so they would spill into the kids' Trick or Treat bags. The playlist in this zone was popular music with a Halloween Theme (Michael Jackson's 'Thriller', for example) spanning the 1950s thru the 1990s to soothe frightened babies & their parents exiting the 'Haunted Circus Tent'. We also used one section of the construction fencing opposite the Side Entry to the Garden Suite to attach bags of chips on clothes pegs for the kids to also take. As the bags of chips were removed - it revealed a view into the 'Haunted Circus Tent' from the Side Porch so everyone could see new arrivals being frightened.
Here are some of the links to the playlist we used:
Zora Wendt - pictured above next to the 'Chip Wall' and her brother Fidel were fantastic Stilt Walkers.
Zone 5 - Creepy Window Show - As participants left the Side Porch to exit to the sidewalk, they'd pass a ground floor window facing the driveway. At random times, one of the ghouls would stand there with a flashlight under their faces. After many years of hosting Fright Nights, I've learned that someone just staring out a window can be a simple and effective conclusion to an evening!
Rhonda Mackay caused the kids to screech (and did some amazing clown makeup)!
Some Of The Cast Of Fright Night Characters!
Neighbour Danni Moher elevated Creep with her costume!
Black House residents Trish Helm-Neima and Paul Neima brought their Spook full tilt!
Here is a one-minute+ video which showcases the walk-through, with tempered ghouls so you don't get too alarmed!
Afterwards - My First East Coast Kitchen Party
After weeks of preparation and production, it was great to host the Fright Night. I love the magic of performing in a mysterious setting. Afterward, I had my very first 'East Coast Kitchen Party' where we savoured Chicken Soup (Thanks Kelly & Dave!), Vegetarian Chili, and Corn Chowder with homemade biscuits (Thanks Erin!) and Apple Cider. Dave brought his guitar and sang Beatles Songs with Kelly, and he accompanied Black House resident Erin who played her Irish Flute. It was really special. I feel like I've found a new community of friends, which means a lot starting a new chapter of life.
Yes, it took six hours the following day to disassemble all the rented construction fencing, the 10-foot high scaffolding, and all the painted props. And yes, my body was exhausted, sore, and spent after ramping up on the adrenaline of performing Improv, eating candy for 7 days prior (Yes I'm addicted to sugar), and then engaging my core muscles to do the heavy lifting.
But I loved every minute of it.
And yes, I'd love to make it an Annual Event.
A Special Thanks With Love & Gratitude To....
I am so grateful to Rhonda Mackay, Ben Docksteader & Marilee Devries, Trish Helm-Neima & Paul Neima, Kelly Cooper & Dave Benstead, Erin Dempsey & Paul Collins, Paul Coles, April Clow, Jen Keenan, Dani Moher, Zora & Fidel Wendt, Reequal Smith, and Charlotte Manser-Hart plus Battlefield Equipment Rentals and the Charlottetown Police Services for all your help!
There's no way this could have been accomplished without each and every one of you!
Yup! The Black House is a rental property for durations ranging from weeks to months depending on the season. You can see more at www.CharlottetownAccommodations.com!
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy:
Love Black Houses as I do? These two blogs can be found on my sister site Houseporn.ca!
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