Trick or Treat at Creepy Pete's
A puppeteer's Katonah Halloween extravaganza
There are people living on the residential streets in Katonah who claim they haven’t seen a trick-or-treater in years. But Peter Linz gets thousands. “The first year we were living in the house, we had about 150,” Linz says. “But now it’s close to three thousand.” What’s the draw? The front yard of the Linz home, a village Victorian, has for 13 years been the stage set for Linz’s Creepy Pete’s Haunted Graveyard. Linz, a professional puppeteer who appeared in the original Broadway company of Avenue Q, and who is known and beloved for characters he plays on Sesame Street (most recently he was Walter, in the hit film The Muppets) says of his haunted house, “It started out just as a fun little thing for me and the neighborhood kids. It’s completely out of control now.”
Creating Creepy’s Pete’s doesn’t exactly happen overnight. “I start collecting branches about a month out,” Linz explains. “The real push happens the week before Halloween, where I spend every spare minute running wires and dragging props out of the attic and the garage.” To create the outdoor set, he uses two dozen extension cords, three fog machines, 100 votive candles, three long-handled lighters, pounds of two-inch Styrofoam insulation (gravestones), and, “a couple gallons of fog juice.” He also installs 200-watt halogen bulbs to shine against the house.
The original design for the graveyard was borrowed from a Martha Stewart holiday decorating issue. Linz quipped, “It’s how I learned to make gravestones.” Every year Creepy Pete’s has a frightening new element. “A couple of years ago we added zombie pumpkins coming up out of the ground,” Linz says.
Running Creepy Pete’s Halloween night is more than a family affair. The Linz twins, Aria and Mica, enjoy dressing up, and their youngest, Jonah, helps his dad construct the cemetery. Linz’s wife, Marlene, makes a pot of her signature Halloween Horror Chili to serve their city friends who come to help distribute candy. “I like to wander around and enjoy the show,” she says. “Creepy Pete is a grave digger with a pitchfork and a tall hat. One of my friends from the city has been a part of it for years. He turns himself into LaTrina, Creepy Pete’s sister who wears a Scarlett O’Hara curtain as a dress, but with the curtain rod still attached.” Marlene disguises herself as something different every year. “She’s been a ghost, she’s been a bad ass punk rocker. She was so awesome that year I didn’t even recognize her,” her husband says.
Creepy Pete’s Haunted House is on display Halloween night and that night only. “We pack it all away in five hours,” Linz says. “It starts before dark but we don’t let anyone come to the steps until six. We’re always setting up right up until the last minute.”
With so many visitors, the Linz’s are handing out a lot of candy. “We buy about 1,500 pieces,” Linz says. “Plus another 1,000 pieces are donated by neighbors and friends.”
Come Halloween night, Creepy Pete’s generates a party atmosphere. “It’s a little sad that it’s so crowded now we don’t really have time to talk to people anymore,” Linz laments. He still enjoys the costumed youngsters who dare to enter Creepy Pete’s premises. “We’ve never had anyone dressed as a puppet,” he says. “Although we’ve had Electric Mayhem and an Elmo and definitely a Kermit or two. I wonder if I’ll get any Walters this year.” He mentioned having just come off a TV tour on “Entertainment Weekly,” TVGuide.com, and “Good Morning America” to herald the start of the Sesame Street’s 43rd season.
“I love Halloween in Katonah,” Linz says. “You look out from our front lawn and it’s a sea of humanity. Standing on the porch, you can see dozens and dozens of strange creatures approaching on our little dirt road. It’s pretty magical. But please don’t tell anyone else about it. We don’t need more people coming.”