October 30, 2008

two faces of jack

Another year of traditional jack-o-lantern carvings. Although . . . the one on the left looks decidedly sinister. He's obviously up to no good. His cheerful, innocent companion is advised to be vigilant.

October 29, 2008

werewolf of chocolate

Werewolves have been playing a big role in my Halloween preparations this year, with several of Universal’s classic werewolf movies making up a sizable portion of my Halloween movie viewing. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this guy grabbed my attention right away. Always on the lookout for a themed cake for Halloween, I spotted him in the October issue of Canadian Living magazine. Now one thing I really like about this magazine is that it can usually be counted on to keep its recipes interesting, yet simple, so I thought . . . this might just be do-able for me. I suppose, in retrospect, the first mistake was failing to notice that the recipe started with one rectangular cake instead of two round ones. At that point, perhaps I should have cut my losses, put the two round cakes together and called it a pumpkin cake . . . but no, I thought, I can still make this work. Once it’s covered with icing, it’ll look just like the picture, right? Sure. So, a little creative cutting here . . . a little improvisation there . . . a ridiculously HUGE amount of chocolate icing later . . . and my Wolfman was complete. Well, okay, perhaps not prize-winning material, but I’ve made worse . . . much worse. He even looks a bit like Lon Chaney . . . sort of. Or maybe a bit like a sasquatch.
I’ve been reading the Halloween entries on one of my favourite blogs this week and I think my werewolf might fit in quite well there. Maybe I’ll drop them a line . . .

October 28, 2008


Waiting for the rain and wind to stop. These witches have been braving the elements on the front porch for days now . . . losing their hats more than once . . . having their brooms torn from their spindly hands. Rain lashing their skeletal faces . . . cloaks twisted round their withered bodies. Yet, they've faced these difficult weather conditions with admirable stoicism, gazing out into the distance, never complaining once. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for myself. I had planned to set up the remainder of my Halloween props in the yard on Sunday . . . but then it started to rain and the wind picked up. Not eager to begin my Monday morning picking up mangled props, I decided to wait and hope the weather would improve by Monday evening. It didn't. Okay, perhaps Tuesday then. Nope. It just got worse. So, I took a chance and set up my graveyard fence anyway. After all, I thought, I had planned for conditions like this when building the fence. Anticipating the howls and torrents that late October would bring, I had provided room for weighting it down. Surely, with bricks and large rocks inside the columns, my fence could withstand even this raging wind. Nope . . . I glanced out the window later in the evening to discover it had fought valiantly but had lost its battle. There is hope, however. Wednesday's weather forecast has actually mentioned the word "sun" . . . so I'm optimistic that the rest of my props will get to enjoy at least a few days in the front yard . . . and those witches on the porch will likely have some stories to share with their comrades.

October 27, 2008

"five times more terrifying!"

Universal Classic Horror Movie #5 – House of Frankenstein

My Universal classic horror movie viewing has resumed with House of Frankenstein. Running with the idea that if one monster is good, more will be better, the studio pulled out all the stops on this one and put together a movie packed with their classic monsters. The only glaring absence is the Mummy. The others are all here: Frankenstein’s monster (to be expected since it’s his house), the Wolfman, Dracula, a hunchback and a mad scientist. What more could anyone ask for, right? Well . . . perhaps a more cohesive film? This one plays out like two back-to-back episodes of a weekly road trip series. If it had been made a few decades later, it would have made a great pilot for a series about two monster pals travelling from town to town and encountering various colourful characters while attempting to fulfill their own dreams (a bit like the 1970’s Incredible Hulk). Well . . . sort of. This story opens with a mad scientist (the brother of Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant) and a hunchback sharing nearby jail cells and bonding. If only the scientist could locate Dr. Frankenstein’s research materials, he could build his hunchback jail-mate a new fabulous body. Conveniently, at that moment, lightning strikes, destroying the prison and freeing the two to begin their quest. Assuming the identity of a travelling freak show, they inadvertently resurrect Dracula and turn him loose on a small European village.
To their credit, however, they also contribute to his capture before heading off on their next adventure. On the way to Frankenstein’s house they stop to rescue a young gypsy woman (who assumes the role of screaming, fainting female character so vital to these classic horror films) with whom the hunchback falls madly in love and thus drives the remainder of the story. When they reach their destination, they find Frankenstein’s house was of course destroyed when an angry mob blew up the nearby dam, trapping the Wolfman and the monster under the rubble. (I hadn’t planned to watch this film immediately after Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, but it actually works well as a sequel to that movie – good to see that all traces of continuity haven’t been abandoned) This setback does not deter our intrepid heroes, however, and they are able to revive the two, leading the mad scientist to make some minor alterations to his original plans (mad scientists are notoriously fickle) and costing him the hunchback’s loyalty.
In the end, most of the characters get either what they want or what they deserve and the story ends . . . well, maybe not happily, but it definitely ends for everyone.

October 26, 2008


One of several of those ubiquitous crashed witches spotted on a neighbourhood walk. Their popularity seemed to have faded for a couple of years, but this year they're back . . . "and in greater numbers".

October 25, 2008

hmmm . . . they weren't in the book!

I am not particularly fond of the "typical" haunted house experience. The ones with costumed actors jumping out from corners . . . mechanical ghosts flying toward you . . . the usual. Most I find predictable and rarely unique. But then I saw this ad, which at first glance, seemed to be a haunted house based on the book, Bluenose Ghosts. I was thrilled. Bluenose Ghosts, a book of "true" Nova Scotia ghost stories collected by folklorist Helen Creighton, is one of my favourite books of ghost stories and often gets pulled off the shelf for a read in October. So naturally, I was eagerly anticipating a haunted house experience that incorporated these stories. Which ones would they use, I wondered? There were so many to choose from. I envisioned ghostly wandering women sharing their tales of woe . . . spectral crews from phantom ships searching for their hidden gold . . . visits from the devil (always popular in the book) . . . and maybe even a headless soldier or two. But still, I approached the haunted house with cautious optimism. Perhaps the creators' interpretations of the stories would be different than what I was expecting. Keep an open mind, I thought. Then, as I approached the entrance, I saw . . . a devil.

Yes, it was a soft, furry devil and it was collecting our tickets, but it was a devil nonetheless. I forged ahead. But as I made my way through the maze of rooms, I knew something just wasn't . . . right. None of this seemed "Bluenose Ghost-y" at all. In fact, apart from one rather crusty-looking pirate I soon realized that I was walking through a standard, run-of-the-mill haunted house. I've read Bluenose Ghosts cover to cover, and while I may have forgotten some of the stories, I'm almost certain there were no people trapped in bags in meat freezers, no vampires in coffins, and definitely no mad doctors operating on patients with chainsaws. So once I had safely emerged from the exit, I looked up the advertisement again. Hmmmm. It appears that someone didn't read carefully enough. It seems the haunted house itself was not actually based on the book, only the accompanying cemetery tour (which was great). Oh well . . . there are worse ways to spend an October evening.

October 24, 2008


Old-fashioned Halloween postcards from the early 20th century seem to fall into two categories - the sinister, almost surreal, images of devils, witches and evil . . . vegetables, and images like these, which put a more light-hearted face on Halloween.

The prevalence of plump, innocent-looking children on many of these cards is largely thanks to Ellen Clapsaddle, an artist who created images for thousands of Halloween postcards in the early 1900's.

October 23, 2008

treat bag memories

I have a love/hate relationship with these vintage paper treat bags. On one hand, they bring back warm trick-or-treating memories of standing on neighbours' doorsteps on a chilly October night, anticipating what might be dropped into my bag or bucket (the image below is one I distinctly remember). On the other hand, they were often filled with the types of candy I disliked . . . or perhaps settled for once I had eaten all of the chocolate and bags of chips and had reached the bottom of my trick-or-treating loot. Rockets . . . Kisses . . . anything involving licorice. But when it's a choice between mediocre candy or nothing, the candy usually wins.

. . . more vintage treat bags here

October 22, 2008

in search of pumpkin beer

Reading through some of the blogs out there during the past month or two, I’ve noticed posts evaluating various brands of pumpkin beer. Sounds tasty I thought. I’ve never had pumpkin beer. And now I think I know why. A quick trip to the liquor store confirmed what I had suspected: pumpkin beer does not exist here. Discouraging. However, all was not lost. During my recent trip to the U.S., pumpkin beer was everywhere . . . and with great names like Pumpkinhead Ale, Red October, Sea Dog Pumpkin Ale. It was a difficult decision indeed, but I finally settled on a few bottles of Jack’s Pumpkin Spice Ale and excitedly brought them home. Finally, I thought, I get to discover what everyone’s been writing about. And I must admit . . . I was a little underwhelmed. The only pumpkin spice I could detect was a barely-noticeable cinnamon aftertaste. Disappointing. So much pumpkin beer to choose from and I chose badly . . . lured by the grinning jack-o-lantern on the bottle. Oh well, I thought, maybe next year. And then . . . I saw an ad. It seems that a local microbrewery is offering pumpkin beer during the last two weeks of October this year! Better late than never. And not just any beer. No, this beer is reportedly made using local award-winning pumpkins. It just doesn’t get any more promising than that! So it wasn’t too late after all! I was being given a second chance at pumpkin beer. I immediately dashed to the nearest liquor store and tried to locate the beer. I looked . . . and looked . . . and finally asked for assistance . . . only to be told that no, this beer is being sold in select liquor stores only. Hmmm . . . seems we have an elitist microbrewery at work here. But okay, I’ll play along. So my next stop was one of the “select” liquor stores in the city, where I was promptly told: “Sorry. We had a shipment last week but it sold out in four days.” Seems I’m not the only person in town desperately seeking pumpkin beer. But there’s more. Apparently, the brewery will not commit to a delivery date for the next batch, simply stating that it will be there when it’s ready. Not only elitist, but power-crazed. This is pumpkin beer insanity! The nice liquor store guy suggested I check back next Thursday or Friday. So tomorrow, I’ll be giving the Propeller Brewery one more chance. By this weekend, I’ll either be enjoying the local pumpkin beer that I struggled so hard to obtain, or I’ll be sitting at home dejectedly, finishing off the rest of my mediocre Jack’s Pumpkin Ale.

October 20, 2008

those cupcakes are pure evil

If there's one thing I enjoy as much as creating Halloween props, it's creating Halloween desserts. These cupcakes are a modified (and dare I say, improved) version of one of Martha's Halloween cupcakes. Why mess with an almost-perfect recipe? Because I don't like licorice and marshmallows in my cupcakes, that's why. The final tally isn't in yet, but these may have set a new cupcake-eating record at my house.

October 19, 2008

haunted hantsport

I love "true" historical ghost stories and whenever I travel, I try to find a local ghost walk or graveyard tour to add to my sightseeing schedule. Fortunately, not far from home, there are several old mansions with reputations for housing wandering ghosts. Many were the homes of sea captains and ship builders. Old sea captains' homes are notorious as a haven for ghosts. And last night, one of them was hosting a moonlight tour. (The house, not the ghost.)

Churchill House in Hantsport was built by Ezra Churchill in 1860 for his son John Wiley Churchill as a wedding gift. It has its reported sightings of wandering women, running children, unexplained chills, slamming doors, ghostly music heard in the night . . . but I thought the creepiest story was the one associated with this painting, which is found near the stairway. The painting is of Tennyson's Lady of Shalott, reportedly Churchill's favourite poem. He had the painting hung in the entrance of his home so it would be the first thing to greet him each time he returned. According to the legend, at midnight during a full moon, the lady's hand drops and trails along in the water, the clouds scud across the sky and the boat is rowed along by the oarsman. No full moon last night, nor was I there at midnight, so I'll have to take their word for it.

Down the street from the Churchill mansion is the town's old graveyard. And yes, members of the Churchill family have their very prominent grave stones there. But theirs wasn't nearly as interesting as some of the others, like this plot. Sometimes the need for privacy extends beyond the grave.

October 18, 2008

grave inspiration

According to my calendar there are less than two weeks until Halloween! Two weeks! The last time I checked, it was September. I was patting myself on the back, feeling smug, feeling confident, feeling well-prepared, congratulating myself on being well ahead of schedule. And then, a few busy weeks and suddenly . . . it's mid-October! The time for indulging in the luxury of autumn holidays and procrastination is gone. It's time to get back to work.

One project that I've been postponing in favour of others this fall is tombstone building. Since this is the first year my haunt will venture off the front porch, this will be the first year I've attempted to create tombstones. Since I'll be venturing into unknown territory, I've been putting it off and working on more familiar projects. Until today. Tombstone-building starts now.

I decided on styrofoam as my material of choice. When I arrived at Home Depot, I realized the foam sheets were huge. This was good and bad. Good because I could likely create three tombstones from one sheet of foam. Bad because there was no way I would be able to transport the full sheets in my car. I would have to cut them first. And as I stood in the parking lot about to make the first cut, I realized something. This is a building supplies store. They have cutting tools and are likely more skilled with them than I am. What was I thinking? So back into the store I went. And in seconds, my new styrofoam had been neatly sliced into four sections. Some paint, rollers, and brushes, and let the tombstone creation begin.

Being a master of vague ideas, I haven't given much thought to embellishments at this point. I sometimes think I would prefer to leave them basic and unadorned, much like the markers in very old graveyards. Perhaps a worn and eroded look, with the writing barely visible. But I'll worry about that later. Probably when I'm also worrying about how to secure them to the ground in the howling October wind. For now, I'll be satisfied to complete the basic shapes.

And for inspiration, I can look to this graveyard that I recently visited in Concord. Nothing extraordinary about the tombstones. Except that they extended all the way to the back porch of the house. Close enough to rest your coffee cup on.

October 17, 2008

pumpkins by the sea

An alternative to the traditional jack-o-lantern . . . pumpkins with a nautical theme.

October 16, 2008

" a man-beast prowls the night . . ."

Universal Classic Horror Movie #4 – Werewolf of London

Okay, with the long weekend and my road trip over, it's time to get back to my Universal monster-movie viewing. I had assumed that this movie was a sequel to The Wolfman, but no, upon closer examination, I discovered it was actually made six years earlier, in 1935. At first, I wondered why another werewolf movie had taken so long to make, but after watching this version, all became clear. No one was in any hurry to resurrect this character. By the end of the film, I certainly wanted this guy dead and audiences obviously felt the same. But let’s begin at the beginning. Botanist Dr. Wilfred Glendon returns to London with a rare flower he sought and discovered in Tibet. He also returns with the bite of a werewolf, which causes him to change into one himself during a full moon. Only a substance from his new flower can provide an antidote. So off he goes to his basement laboratory to work on the antidote, but the disease and his research puts a strain on his relationship with his wife, who is still blatantly interested in her old boyfriend. It says a lot about the cold, aloof character of Glendon that it had me hoping she'd leave him for the old boyfriend. His research does not go well at first and he realizes he will not have an antidote in time to prevent his transformation. Once transformed, he does what any werewolf would do: puts on his hat and cape and takes to the streets of London in search of a victim. He also takes time out to rent a room in which to transform secretly and the two old landladies at the boarding house provide an odd, almost slapstick, diversion from the main story. Anyway, back in the lab, his research is complicated by the arrival of a fellow werewolf from Tibet, who also wants, and eventually gets, the flower in question. Transforming once more, Glendon quickly disposes of his nemesis and eventually goes in search of his wife (the essential fainting female character – no movie is complete without one). Just in time, of course, our heroes arrive, shooting the werewolf and treating us to a rather dramatic death scene. And so ends my classic werewolf movie viewing for this Halloween season. I think I’ll stick with Lon Chaney as my future werewolf of choice.

October 15, 2008

hey Tim, where's MY pumpkin spice coffee?!!

As any Canadian knows, Tim Horton's is much, much more than a coffee & donut shop. It's a national icon, part of the Canadian identity, the glue that holds this country together (or at least that's what the TV commercials imply). Tim's can always be counted on to offer its long-standing favourites in any given season and sometimes, try something new. This fall I was thrilled to see the addition of pumpkin spice tea to their standard autumnal offerings of pumpkin spice donuts and muffins. However, Tim's has never, to my knowledge, provided flavoured coffee. No, at Tim Horton's, there is only one flavour of coffee and that's Tim Horton's coffee. No Hazelnut Cream, no Bavarian Chocolate, no Pumpkin Spice. If flavoured coffee is what you're looking for, keep moving on down the street to Starbucks or Second Cup, because you won't find it at Tim's. In recent years, Tim Horton's - firmly established with shops in even the smallest towns (if your town doesn't have a Tim Horton's, you're likely not even on the map) - has begun its march toward world domination by opening donut shops in some northern American states. So, of course, whenever I travel in the U.S. and see that familiar sign, I feel an overwhelming surge of patriotism and immediately stop for a coffee (okay, and sometimes a donut). So, imagine my surprise when, on my recent road trip south, I stopped for coffee at a Tim Horton's in Maine, looked up at the beverage menu, and saw . . . pumpkin spice coffee! Words cannot express the feelings of betrayal I experienced at that moment. So many years . . . believing my national coffee shop stood on a matter of principle . . . no flavoured coffee . . . for anyone . . . anywhere. Only to discover they've been selling it behind my back. And not just pumpkin spice - no, there were several flavours to choose from. Why, Tim, why? Canadians like flavour too. Disillusioned, I returned home. In time, I know I'll get over this and perhaps even walk down to my local Tim Horton's for a pumpkin spice muffin and a cup of pumpkin spice . . . tea. But our relationship may never truly recover. You've hurt me deeply, Tim.

October 14, 2008

bewitched in salem

Samantha . . . immortalized in Salem, where else? I loved this show as a child and my first awareness of Salem and its witchcraft trials can likely be traced to references in several Bewitched episodes. Incredibly, people protested at the statue's unveiling three years ago, stating that it trivialized the city's history, particularly the witchcraft trials of 1692. Hmmmm . . . trivialized the city's history. Clearly, none of the protesters has walked through downtown Salem in October.

the burying point

No vacation is complete, particularly during the Halloween season, without at least one visit to a local graveyard, the older the better. Not surprisingly, the old Burying Point in Salem is one of the most popular spots in town. Regardless of their reasons for visiting Salem - historical research or Halloween overload (or both) - most people find their way here at some point in their travels. In October, there is rarely a moment, day or night, when this graveyard is not filled with people wandering amongst the crumbling tombstones, taking part in "ghost walks", trying to photograph ghostly "orbs" as spirits rise from their trampled graves. So, to get some empty graveyard shots, it was going to have to be either early morning or very late at night. Being the dedicated morning person that I am, I of course, opted for early morning.

Adjacent to the Burying Point is a memorial to the twenty people executed as witches in 1692: twenty stone benches, each engraved with a victim's name, while the Burying Point itself contains the graves of at least two judges who sentenced them to death. A fitting tribute. Too bad about the wax museum on the opposite side.

October 13, 2008


October in Salem. Whenever I visit, I can't help but marvel at how the events of a few short months in the 1600's have shaped the identity (and tourism industry) of this city more than three centuries later. Apparently, 1692's tragedy is today's Halloween celebration. Great pumpkin ice cream too.

October 11, 2008

halloween road trip

It's time once again for an eagerly anticipated fall tradition - the annual fall road trip. For the past several years, I've planned a long weekend (usually Thanksgiving weekend) trip. My philosophy is a simple one: why spend Thanksgiving cooking turkeys when you can simply leave town instead? And whenever possible, I try to include something Halloween-related in my journey.

So this year, it's off to Massachusetts: Boston, Concord, and Salem. Because nothing says "Halloween" quite like Salem in October. I've visited before, both in October and in the "off-season": July. The contrast is startling. It doesn't even feel like the same city. Each October, anyone with even a passing interest in Halloween, witches, ghosts, and cheap souvenirs, gravitates to its streets. In many ways, Salem is the perfect Halloween destination. But the best thing about making a second October trip is knowing where to go, what to do and most importantly, what to avoid. So, for the next two days, I'm off to embrace everything I love about Halloween in the Witch City. Ghost walks and pumpkin ice cream are at the top of my list.

October 10, 2008

pumpkin people

The Pumpkin People (and this year it seems some pumpkin animals) have returned to the town of Kentville for another season. Maybe it’s just me, but the display doesn’t seem as impressive as in past years. It appears the people of Kentville are suffering from the dreaded “Pumpkin People Fatigue”.