Halloween comes with expectations. And for the past eight years my partner and I, along with an evolving roster of six to eight of our most creative and energetic friends, have co-hosted Halloween parties for about 150 partygoers. The event is the culmination of weeks of planning and designing, gathering or fabricating props, constructing environments, and creating an unparalleled experience for our guests to transport them into a world of shadows and mystery. Among this circle of friends, the motto is “go big or go home.” Our strategy to include co-hosts, who in turn, invite their circles of friends, results in a party of epic proportion.
The fun begins when we gather to plan the theme, sketch out a timeline, and identify tasks.
The first and most important rule is that a great party demands a great invitation. We design and send printed invitations for two reasons: It’s awesome to receive it in the mail, hang it on the fridge, and begin planning a costume for the big night. Also, electronic invitations have the unfortunate tendency to be freely shared on social media, attracting friends-of-friends-of-friends from five surrounding states.
As Halloween draws closer, preparations switch into high gear. My partner buys a ton of pumpkins and assorted gourds from Oreshan’s Farm. He orders in advance and the orange beauties are set aside for him. Two thousand pounds of pumpkins fill the back of a pick up truck and maxes out the payload! On the night before the party, co-hosts gather to carve the pumpkins using rotozips and reciprocating saws. While they carve, I keep them fed: curried butternut squash soup, salad, crusty bread, apple pie, and ice cream, along with copious amounts of wine, beer, and cider to keep the troops energized and satisfied.
At past parties, our friend Todd Moxham (Moxham’s Custom Renovations) has created and installed an extraordinary “corn maze” that becomes the only entrance to the party. With a combination of wooden pallets from the grocery store and twelve-foot tall swamp grass reaped from various marshy roadsides, the maze is a terrifying and hilarious adventure. Even as guests park their cars and walk toward party, they hear the screams and laughter of others already caught in the maze. It takes a good ten minutes to journey through the complicated pitch-black labyrinth where revelers have been chased by chain-saw wielding strangers (chains removed, but very loud), or rattled by werewolves and frightening villagers.
With a rush of adrenalin and relief that they have made it through the maze, partygoers are rewarded with entry into the party. For the co-hosts, the reward comes in peals of giddy delight as friends first encounter the festive ambiance. We host the party in a barn, but any unusual space with appropriately spooky lighting and outlandish décor will do.
In keeping with the theme, we loosely divide the space into “rooms.” In one such room, furniture designer Jeff Johnson once built a coffin and lined it with yards of white satin and lace that was the repurposed remnants of a very large wedding gown purchased at a thrift store. He staged a Victorian funereal tableau with torchiere lamps and withering floral arrangements. Guests were invited to sit or lie in the coffin and take souvenir photos. It may sound macabre, but with two, three, or four people in it together—arms and legs in every direction—it’s pretty hilarious.
A good rule of thumb to consider when hosting a party is to place the bar a good distance away from the food. It assures that guests will continue to move and mingle throughout the evening. With experience as a guide, we have learned that Halloween is not really about the food. It is about the fun. We have taken to serving individually packaged chips, snacks, and desserts. It may sound tacky, but actually it’s simple and hygienic, and there aren’t groping hands covered in fake blood and makeup touching everyone’s food.
The foundation of a successful party is great music. We rely on professional disc jockeys who have that uncanny ability to read the crowd and play music that keeps them on the dance floor. Lutz Entertainment and JTD Productions are consummate professionals with excellent sounds and lighting systems. Years ago, one guest remarked that he danced all night and could barely walk for three days afterward—but he had such a great time it was worth it!
We like to continually surprise our guests. A special “treat” is revealed when they venture downstairs in the barn. In a room that is completely draped in diaphanous white tulle fabric and glowing light, clairvoyant Lawrence R. McCauley and his colleagues from The Awareness Shop in New Paltz offer tarot readings for all who dare. Unlike so much of the evening that is a riotous fusion of sound, color, and high energy, this personalized glimpse into the spirit world offers a focused connection between psychic reader and subject.
Drawing on the spiritual aspects of the holiday evokes introspection and contemplation. A good place to do that is beside an immense ritual bonfire. Crisp autumn air, dancing embers reaching into the night sky, and soothing warmth from the fire provide an opportunity to relax and perhaps meet a nice ghoul in a quiet environment.
Laboring to conceive and create a great costume is the responsibility of every guest. To reward the effort that it takes to craft a memorable costume, visual artist Galen Green created trophies for the best-of-the-best. Proudly displayed in a place of honor beside the dance floor, these coveted creations are presented at the culmination of the evening.
Eventually the party ends and we bid goodnight to our friends. But to our co-hosts we say, “See you tomorrow.” The day after the party, co-hosts return to clear out the barn, deconstruct the corn maze, remove the gauzy fabric, and share stories of the previous night’s adventures. I’ll offer a hangover-friendly lunch, such as grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup, hot tea, and cookies to keep them happy. As Ina Garten would say, “How easy is that!”
Without a doubt, Halloween is a great night to tap into your creativity and to celebrate the wonderfully eccentric aspects of your personality. Hosting a party is a labor of love and a memorable way to appreciate your friends. It may seem like a monumental undertaking, but by collaborating with others who love a good party and who will work to make it happen, your party will surely be the talk of the town.