Trick or Treat—You Pick
A Wilton Family’s Halloween Extravaganza
Photos by Megan Smith-Harris
For 11 months of the year the McCullough family lives a mild-mannered way in their mild-mannered colonial on a quiet, tree-lined residential street in Wilton. But come October their property is transformed into a Halloween extravaganza. A life-size skeleton embraces the mailbox, and Leatherface, the terrifying character from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, stands on the lawn, chainsaw in hand, challenging all who dare to walk down the front path. There is also a creepy clown in a rocking chair, an oversized inflatable Dracula who continually rises from his coffin, an eerie ghost girl drifting back and forth on a tree-swing, a giant spider web, and multiple witches.
A dozen humorous tombstones dot the front lawn, notably one for filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock that proclaims, “Death is for the Birds” and three for famed cereal characters Snap, Crackle, and Pop whose epitaphs collectively read, “Too. Much. Milk.”
Overseeing all the action is a 20-foot-tall Grim Reaper suspended from the peak of the house, his arms outspread as if to say, “I’m waiting for you!” It’s all done in fun and there are enough playful decorations to take the curse off the house so it’s not truly terrifying.
One can’t help but wonder who would go to all this trouble, and why? Wilton resident Joan McCullough, that’s who. According to Joan, her husband Mac thinks she’s crazy, but her 14-year-old daughter Cory loves it. And so do all the local kids who happily flock to this haunted house on All Hallows’ Eve. “We get a lot of trick-or-treaters and go through dozens of bags of candy every year,” says Joan.
It started off small scale. “Cory really liked to decorate for Halloween. Around eight years ago we threw a party for her first-grade class. Many of the parents hung around and everyone had a good time. So we thought, ‘Why not throw an adult party?’ We invited parents and neighbors, and it just grew from there.” The adults get into the Halloween spirit as much as the kids do. “We’ve had people dressed as politicians, characters from Fifty Shades of Grey, even a six-foot-tall Honey Boo Boo. Everyone is so creative.”
Joan’s personal favorite costume? “Probably when I dressed up as Uma Thurman’s character (Mia Wallace) from Pulp Fiction, with a hypodermic needle in my chest.”
The inside of the McCulloughs’ Halloween-themed house is also decorated for prime-time shock value. Visitors are greeted by the ghostly identical twin Grady sisters from the classic horror film The Shining. A portrait of a crazed Jack Nicholson, as insane writer Jack Torrance, also from the iconic film, hangs on the powder room door, flanked by two bloody handprints.
Once you work up the nerve to get past Jack, guests are still not safe because Freddy Kruger from A Nightmare on Elm Street with his striped sweater and razorblade hands completely envelops the toilet tank. Should one need to use the facilities, guests must literally sit on his lap. A skeletal Mona Lisa and a number of pithy Halloween sayings (“Ghouls just want to have fun,” “Witch is the new black”) hang on the walls, and the whimsy continues with the food on offer.
Custom cookies depict Frankenstein, oversized eyeballs, pumpkins, and witch hats. Even the throw pillows get in on the ghoulish action, disguised as black cats and mummies.
“I start decorating the inside of the house around the middle of September,” says Joan. “And I begin decorating the outside by October first. It takes a full week to get everything out.”
Getting things put up properly is time-consuming, so occasionally she relies on the help of volunteers. Her collection of decorations has been amassed over the years. Friends donate Halloween décor and a lot is purchased online.
It seems like a monumental amount of work for one night of the year, but Joan just laughs and shrugs. “Halloween has always been a fun time for us.” Clearly, this family’s Halloween philosophy is, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”