Some homeowners take ghoulish pleasure in decorating their yards with zombies, tombstones and fog machines for Halloween. Others take a gentler approach.
Friendly ghosts staked in circles on the lawn. Happy monsters flying animated inflatable helicopters. Plastic pumpkins with clown wigs.
It’s more Sesame Street than Nightmare on Elm Street – a peaceful place where the jack-o’-lanterns are all smiling, the limbs are intact and the characters could fit in with the Muppets.
That’s the not-so-eerie feeling one gets while visiting the Town of Tonawanda home of John and Eileen Franke, where grandchildren play among witches and scarecrows with amicable features befitting Raggedy Ann and Andy.
Sure, 1½-year-old grandson Ryan Eberhardt calls it the “Pooky (spooky) House” – but haunted, this house is not.
Eileen Franke, a retired physical education teacher from the Ken-Ton School District, decorates in a style one would expect from a woman who worked with elementary school children, including 17 years at Alexander Hamilton Elementary.
“Little ones get scared,” said Franke, a gardener who decorates her home inside and out for every season and holiday. To frighten is not the intention of this couple, who have eight grandchildren.
Instead, colorfully dressed witches sit on a bench on the porch and on a tricycle in the garden. A white plastic ghost rides in a red wagon filled with white geraniums. Pumpkins, containers of mums and old toys used as props are everywhere. At the side door, a vampire figure holds a sign that reads “Velcome.” The character could almost be called cuddly.
Decorations come from flea markets, craft shows and local stores that offer Halloween decor, Franke said. Some date back to her teaching days.
Some items do light up and make sounds – and one witch has rather bad teeth and purple hair with matching fingernails – but this stuff is tame. No trick-or-treater is going to avoid this house.
That is also the case at the Nigam home in Amherst, with its oversized animated inflatables, mechanical figures, Halloween icicle-style lights, flickering faux candles and a whole lot more.
Yet everything is smiling and happy.
“It has to be little-kid friendly. We try to make everything as pleasant as can be. We don’t want to scare the kids. We want them to come back year after year, laugh and have a good time,” said Mary Nigam, whose family also goes all out at Christmas.
They don’t wait until after dark to start the show, either. Right around dismissal time at the nearby elementary school, it all gets turned on to delight kids passing by on buses or in cars.
And the trick-or-treaters? Before the decorating started, they had four of them one year. Last year, it was close to 90.
Nigam said that’s why they do it – it’s such a great feeling to hear all those little kids coming up and really enjoying it.