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Halloween How-To

Posted October 17, 2012 in Des Moines West

Chris Lucas and his son, Tommy, place a wooden ghost that Chris made into their lawn. The Lucas family decorates the front of their home every year with a slew of pumpkins, usually 25, that they grow, harvest and carve.

Crafting creepy costumes, being deliciously scared in a haunted house and passing out candy can be just the beginning for some Halloween enthusiasts.

From a homemade haunted house to grilled food and a gaggle of ghoulish pumpkins, the following Des Moines residents share their Halloween traditions.

An extraordinarily frightful fete
For some people, Halloween involves little more than decorating with fake spider webs and cardboard cutouts, carving a couple pumpkins and buying some candy.

And then there’s Robin Kelleher.

From the realistic witch sitting in the rocking chair in the front yard of her home and meticulously spookified rooms, to horrific foods and the second floor’s transmogrification into a haunted house, Kelleher relishes planning every gory detail of their decor and annual Halloween party.

If things go according to plan, this will be the sixth year Kelleher and her husband, Jack, and their 11-year-old daughter, Jordan, are throwing the celebration. The tradition began partly as a way to get to know Jordan’s friends and their families when they moved to Des Moines, Robin says. The bash was also a way for Jordan to experience the fun Robin had as a kid at her neighbors’ huge Halloween parties.

Each year, the Kelleher party has gotten bigger. And more elaborate. And gorier.

“I really like creating the props and coming up with one more thing scarier than the next, if I can,” says Kelleher, who makes about half the decorations and up until a couple years ago, made her daughter’s costume every year.

“It’s me kind of rehashing all of the horror movies I’ve seen in my life and taking little parts and putting it all together.”

She’s a go-with-the-flow kind of person, pulling things together as she goes along. This year, other commitments before Halloween had Kelleher unsure about whether the annual party and haunted house were a go. But she was hopeful.

She still planned to decorate their home’s main floor, where typically each room has its own theme. This year, there’s a witch theme in the kitchen, the living room will likely be home to ghosts, and the dining room table will probably feature a head on a platter, she says. A vampire usually sits at the computer in their library, with bats swinging overhead.

She’d like to increase the creepiness on the main floor, turning it into a downsized version of the haunted house upstairs. Then she’d like to have trick-or-treaters walk through.

The haunted house, which takes over the second floor’s five bedrooms, hallway and bathroom, was something Robin came up with five years ago. Over the years, she’s upped the scream factor by using real people to scare those going through it.

“The haunted house came about as needing something a little more entertaining as the kids got older,” she says.

It takes shape over the course of several days, with Robin closing some of the doors to keep things a surprise for Jordan. For about the last three years, she says, her daughter has taken a more active role in putting everything together.

“I love seeing what my mom has dreamed up next,” Jordan says. “My friends and I still enjoy it and love scaring them after the parents are done scaring us.”

Robin’s husband, Jack, takes the Halloween frenzy in stride with a sense of humor, saying his favorite part of the holiday is the day after. But seeing the joy it brings their family and friends makes it all worthwhile.

“It is all about giving the kids a great experience and my wife the opportunity to utilize her creative juices, both of which makes this annual episode well worth it,” Jack says. “My number one goal for my family duties is to keep the ladies happy; this event always contributes favorably to that outcome.”

Ultimately, Jordan is why she goes through all of this, Robin says.

“She’s the reason I do it. As much as I enjoy doing it, it’s just watching her and all of her friends. All of her friends truly enjoy it.”


Kelly Powers and his wife, Pam Arnold Powers, began offering grilled food, along with candy, to trick-or-treaters and their families four years ago. They also transform the front of their home to look like a cemetery every year.

Halloween horrors, hot dogs and hamburgers
Have you ever seen a headless man grilling hot dogs and hamburgers on Beggars’ Night? It’s a likely sight if you stop by the home of Kelly Powers and his wife, Pam Arnold Powers.

Four years ago, a costumed Powers began handing out food along with candy, a quick dinner that’s been particularly appreciated by adults.

“A lot of parents come home from work, especially when Beggars’ Night is on a school night, to get the kids all dressed up, and there’s no time for dinner,” Powers says. “It hits the spot then when you’re running around and haven’t had the time to eat.”

Offering a meal is just part of the evolution of the couple’s Halloween festivities since moving to Des Moines from Colorado about eight years ago. Each Halloween, Powers transforms the front of their house into a cemetery, with ghosts in the trees, lights and noisy decorations to spook passersby, adding a different embellishment some years, he says.

They’ve always served something for adults, Arnold Powers says, usually an alcoholic beverage. But each year, their set-up has grown more extravagant.

Halloween is her husband’s passion, and she’s just along for the ride every year, says Arnold Powers, who helps some with the decorations, and on Beggars’ Night.

“He probably has to push me sometimes, but when we’re doing it, I really enjoy it,” says Arnold Powers.

Part of the fun is the Beggars’ Night tradition of trick-or-treaters telling a joke for candy. The couple was unfamiliar with the practice when they first moved here. Now every year, a dressed-up Powers, and his occasionally costumed wife, make sure kids tell their jokes before getting their treats.

The 50-year-old Powers says his enthusiasm for the holiday has partly to do with his childhood.

“Some people would describe me as a big kid, but actually I grew up overseas in a foreign country that didn’t really have Halloween,” says Powers, who was raised in the Philippines. “So I think I’m still enjoying it because I didn’t have it as a kid.

The Lucas family -— Chris, Britgne, Gabby and Tommy — grow and harvest their own pumpkins, then carve them to create a display outside their home. They grow most of them at their relatives’ home near Dubuque, then haul them back to Des Moines.

“It’s just the best holiday of the year because you don’t have to buy anyone gifts or write any ‘thank you’ notes. The thing about Halloween is you just have fun.”

Pumpkins galore
Pumpkins take center stage each Halloween at the Lucas home.

For the past 10 years, Britgne Lucas and her family have been growing their own pumpkins and carving a slew of them for the holiday, making for a gaggle of ghoulish gourds who greet trick-or-treaters.

Their creepy grins and scary faces stare at you from the front of their house. Some sit on a bench, others line the steps leading up to the front door and more flank the steps.

In past years, the Lucases have propped them on overturned flower pots leading down to the sidewalk, made a pumpkin snow man and rigged a display of pumpkins with a baby monitor so they could say things from the house as kids walked by.

Their decor also includes wooden cutouts of pumpkins and ghosts that Lucas’ husband, Chris, made. Blinking lights resembling eyes are nestled in the trees, and spooky garland and a wreath on the front porch add to the ambience.

But it’s the plethora of pumpkins that really make the scene.

It started when Britgne was in a small town for a wedding. They  stopped at a gas station and saw a man selling a trailer full of pumpkins he had grown himself. They were $1 a piece, and they bought a dozen of them, Britgne says. They had a lot of fun carving them with their kids, Gabby, now 12, and Tommy, now 9.

They decided to grow their own pumpkins, the majority of which grow at the home of Britgne’s in-laws, who live on 25 acres near Dubuque. They plant the pumpkins in the summer and harvest them around mid-October.

“We get about 50 pumpkins a year,” Britgne says, giving some away to their neighbors. “Then we’ll carve 25 of them and use them for our Halloween display.”

Sometimes the crop isn’t as good, like this year’s. They’ll probably have 10 pumpkins this Halloween, says Britgne, and supplement with some faux ones.

The whole family usually carves the pumpkins the night before Beggars’ Night, setting up an assembly line. Britgne’s husband guts them, and they set to work shaping them on their newspaper-lined kitchen island.

Each person is responsible for a certain number of pumpkins. They decide on themes for each one, then vote on whose is the best.

“Over the years, we’ve gotten pretty fast at it,” Britgne says. “The problem is sometimes we run out of ideas. So what I like to do is Google ‘pumpkin carving’ to get different ideas for what other people have done, which serves as inspiration.”

Tommy and Gabby have differing opinions about the pumpkin growing and carving. While it’s something that Tommy enjoys, Gabby’s response is a bit more weary, saying that carving can get old after the 10th pumpkin. She adds that hauling the pumpkins to Des Moines at harvest time “makes the ride home a little uncomfortable, sharing the backseat with so many pumpkins.”

But Halloween doesn’t end just at the pumpkins. Britgne says their family also likes to dress up, with the kids wearing paired costumes — for example, Yoda and Princess Leia — most of the years.

“I would say Halloween is one of our favorite holidays,” she says.

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