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The Virtues of That One Awesome Halloween House

No, there's no need to play an organ on your balcony every 20 minutes while a fog machine covers your lawn. But there is a want.

There’s the house down the block that goes over the top with Christmas decorations. The people who live there — invariably a married couple and frequently one in possession of an engineering degree — are rightly lauded for their aesthetic altruism. Then there’s the house on the corner that goes all in on Halloween. The people that live there get some seasonal side eye and the last laugh. They are, depending on the neighborhood, heroes or villains to adults, but kids invariably think they are the absolute coolest.

The kids aren’t wrong.

When I was a kid, there was a house on Swiss Avenue that went absolutely bananas on Halloween. Dallas’s Swiss Avenue is known for not only its very large, very expensive colonial-style houses, but also their massive lawns and very fancy (and occasionally King-Sized) candy. This one house in particular, though, went above and beyond the general call of the Upper Middle Class. They projected old-school, black and white scary movies onto their house all night long. They usually had a number of smoke machines spread out across their lawn, blanketing the normally-green grass with a fog that screamed All-Hallows-Eve. An anonymous and generous parent would dress up in a Frankenstein costume and crawl along the lawn, moaning and groaning, threatening to grab little kids’ ankles and drag them into the abyss.

The best part, however, wasn’t the projections, or the smoke machines, or the cast of scary Halloween characters. They usually set up an enclosed space on their front lawn made out of black plastic. It was basically a maze and was filled with the spookiest delights: an extra smoke machine, just to be safe, strobe lights that made it impossible to see, skeletal monsters walking around with their arms outstretched, a fortune teller who would read our futures.

The house was a must-visit when I was still of trick-or-treating age. I just loved it. It was equally terrifying — I have one memory of sprinting away from the house after a mummy scared the living shit out of me — and intoxicating. I would make my way to the maze, enthralled, wondering what creepy things I would see and legitimately fear. It was always such a wonder to me: in my own neighborhood, which was only a 5-10 minute drive away from Swiss Avenue, there were almost no children at all. My parents would put out a bowl of candy and maybe hang a witch from our front tree and be done with it. But here, on Swiss Avenue, Halloween felt really real. I can’t explain it in more certain terms than that. We would leave the well-lit avenue, in a glucose-induced-mania or coma, all of us, and drive into a quiet, dark neighborhood. On Swiss Avenue, literally hundreds of children would be on the streets. But just around White Rock, no one was there. Maybe they were all going to Swiss Avenue like the rest of us. I didn’t realize then how big of a deal Swiss Avenue was, even though I loved it and it has shaped forever my love and reverence for a holiday that is literally exclusively about fun.

Children are bussed in from across the city to delight in Swiss Avenue. That’s something I didn’t recognize at the time.  Families really do knowingly go all out for kids that aren’t their own. They couldn’t possibly be their own: 3 to 4,000 kids per year are estimated to hit the neighborhood. And the people who throw this awesome event, which includes one guy who does a creepy, haunted organ performance from his balcony every 20 minutes and a family that puts a massive spider with webbing that covers their entire lawn on their house, do it because they know that kids love it. Not just kids in their neighborhood, but kids who can’t even afford costumes.

There’s something really magical and giving about that. The families on Swiss Avenue are spending time and money on the children of total strangers, so they can have one night of really unadulterated and spooky fun. Yes, parents dip their hands into the candy pot, but it’s really only for the kids. It’s not a holiday taken seriously outside of Wiccan circles and there are only a few hundred thousand Wiccans in America. It’s also not an aspirational thing to do. Having the house bedecked with beautifully twinkling Christmas lights speaks to love and to money and to a sense of well-heeled enthusiasm for the coming of one’s lord. Having the house covered in cobwebs speaks to a deep-seated desire to do weird shit for no clear reason and to make the neighbors either extremely happy or extremely unhappy. The impulse to haunt is weird, but deserving of celebration — especially because all that morbidity inevitably makes the local kids happy in a way that tinsel cannot.  

Those who do give so much on Swiss Avenue recognize that this is a rare moment of widespread public good. But thinking about it from the kids’ perspectives, if they are self-aware enough to notice, they see something: these so-called rational adults are taking days off of work and spending hundreds of dollars on a stupid event that only lasts one night. No one is stopping them. In fact, there is encouragement so aggressive that it borders on peer pressure. But it also shows kids that it’s okay to be really into weird shit, like buying skinless grapes and putting them in a bowl on your front porch because it’s funny.

It’s about a greater sense of community, of community happiness, and, of course, the pursuit of candy. And let me tell you — Swiss Avenue doles out a lot of King Size candy.