The spookiest Palo Alto street
Midtown's South Court goes all out for Halloween
Just days before Halloween, the homes along South Court look like any other typical Palo Alto neighborhood, with a verdant tree canopy lining a street of neat homes. But beware. On Oct. 31 South Court becomes what may be Palo Alto's spookiest street.
Already a few residents are preparing for the big day: Fake blood drips from doors and windows, and tombstones are popping up from lawns like fungus after a heavy rain.
This section of street between East Meadow Drive and Loma Verde Avenue comes alive with hundreds of witches and goblins, residents said, and it's not just the candy-seeking kind. Halloween is a neighborhood affair, with adults getting into the act too, dressing up as ghosts and other supernatural entities and scaring trick-or-treaters in haunted houses.
"It's completely unlike any other neighborhood. South Court is the best place to be on Halloween. This one really is outrageous," resident Donna Do said.
Blue, red and black tarantulas with 3-foot leg spans hang eerily from a tangled web draped over bushes along the sidewalk.
Wendy Swanson has lived on the street since 1999.
"It's only gotten bigger since then with the number of trick-or-treaters. There are lines out the door," she said.
Swanson is particularly fond of her ghost graveyard, which includes a giant animated spider with moving legs. But she's saving the best for Halloween: a life-size animated witch that stirs a cauldron and spouts spells, she said.
Across the street the first hints of Halloween are hanging from trees and peering out of shrubbery. A large purple-and-black spider hangs from the trunk of a birch tree. A coffin stands upright deep in the graveyard, containing a mummified corpse. It takes a while to adjust the eyes, and then one sees it: the one-eyed head of a man pops out of a shrub next to the driveway.
This is the home of Allen Hall, the former chief of fright for 13 years at Scaremeadow, the haunted house at Fairmeadow Elementary School. Hall volunteered to help build a haunted house in the multipurpose room when his son was in first grade, he said.
"The message is, 'Be careful what you sign up for,'" he said.
The project mushroomed from there, and he and friend Dave Scheiman got the Henry M. Gunn High School robotics team to help create animatronic frights such as the 12-foot diameter vortex tunnel, he said.
Scaremeadow is part of the school's harvest festival, which always takes place before Halloween and this year occurred last weekend. There's always the matter of what to do with the scary props, so Hall said he took them home to set up in his front yard.
"We had 400 trick-or-treaters last year, and those are the ones I can count," he said.
Hall and Scheiman stopped working on Scaremeadow in 2009, but the tradition at home carries on.
"Dave and I erect it on Halloween," he said. The men work on the project for weeks in advance; assembly takes about 20 man-hours, he said.
"It's been a lot of fun. I like the excitement it brings to the neighborhood and the thrill of being able to scare people," he said.
There is one thing that creeps out Hall, however: "I hate spider webs. I leave those for the neighbors to do."
Hall said his neighbors are tolerant of the hoopla and many join in.
"I think I have a love-hate thing going with a lot of my neighbors. A neighbor walked by the other day and jokingly said, 'I'm going to send you my candy bill this year.'
"I said, 'Good luck with that.'"
Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at email@example.com.