Category Archives: Halloween

The best of all holidays.


Your Ghost Host

Vacation time!  Well, last week was vacation time, and we were down at Disney World.  My wife was running a half-marathon there, so we stayed for the week to hang out and take in everything Disney.

There were race errands to run the first morning, so I was sent off to the parks on my own.  And where did I head first?  The best place in all of the parks – The Haunted Mansion!

I’ve always loved the Haunted Mansion.  From the dour door greeters, the bad puns, the haunted hallways, and the animated spooks, it’s a concentrated brew of a lot of my favorite things.

So imagine the excitement I felt when I discovered there is now an entire store dedicated to Haunted Mansion merchandise at Disney World!  It’s called Memento Mori and opened about a year ago. IMG_9730 I’m pretty good at resisting the temptations strategically placed by Disney to pull money out of our pockets, I really am.  But there was something lurking in the back of that store that knew exactly how to extract cash from my billfold.  Well, from my MagicBand anyways.

Personalized Ghost Portraits.

Yep, portraits of you and your loved ones done up as Haunted Mansion spirits.  I loved it the moment my eyes fell upon the demo portraits hung on the wall.

But these weren’t just ordinary portraits.  No, they’re better than that.

If you’ve been through the Haunted Mansion you’ve seen the hallway of portraits that morph between ‘normal’ and ‘scary’ versions of each painting.  They’re classics, and have been up in the mansion since the very beginning.  Here are a couple to refresh your memory:

Horseman2animation  medusa

There have been many used in the Haunted Mansion over the years, there’s a great encyclopedia of them on  Similar effects have been done for years using lenticular images.  Here’s a very simple explanation of how lenticulars work, but it’s really just putting rows of lenses over an interlaced image.  The lenses show you one version of the image from this direction, and a different image from the other direction.  It’s physics and science, no magic.  But the result is very cool, allowing images to change as you view them.

lenticular ringLenticulars have been limited in the past to mass-produced items.  Advertisements, toys, and trinkets – lenticular images were printed and pasted onto all sorts of things over the years.  Even the new ELO CD I bought last week has a lenticular sleeve.  I remember having little plastic rings when I was a kid that had lenticular images.  Digital technology has changed all of that, and now it’s possible to produce custom, one-off lenticular images.  Disney has latched onto this idea and put it to great use in the Haunted Mansion gift shop.

You see, there’s a room at the back of the gift shop.  And in that room is a ‘ghost camera’.  It’s an old Victorian looking thing, a large wooden box with a lense on the front, set atop a sturdy wooden table.  All the better to hide the computer and software (I mean, spirit apparatus) inside.  haunted-camera-twoshot
The room is set as a vintage photo parlor – you sit on a small bench at one side of the room, and the ‘camera’ and it’s operator summon forth your ghostly projection at the other end, capturing it’s image on film.  It’s all very well done, with the cast member never revealing the technology behind the trick.  It’s explained that ‘It will take a few moments for your apparition to manifest’, and sure enough, soon you’re done and shuttled off to the front of the store to wait for your portrait to materialize.

We waited alongside a large portrait of Madame Leota, the spiritualist from the Haunted Mansion seance room.  Another cast member greeted us as we waited, pointing out some of the haunted corners of the shop.  The Madame Leota portrait shifts and changes at times, and occasionally Leota appears in a haunted mirror across the way.  There’s even a spirit trapped in a bottle on a high-off corner of the shop.haunted-shop-tripleOur cast member took great pleasure in pointing all of this out to us, and the time we spent waiting for our portraits to print flew by.  Soon we heard the faint ringing of bells and a rap on a small cabinet by the Leota portrait.  The cast member opened the cabinet doors, and there, as if by magic, sat our finished portraits.  They were amazing!



We quickly took some photos before handing them off to the shop keeper to have them shipped home.  I’ve composited the ‘normal’ and ‘spooky’ versions side by side here, the effect when tilting the image is really striking.  It’s one thing to see a random image shift, but to see your own portrait change right before your eyes is something that just tickles and delights.  It’s my favorite souvenir of the trip by far.

The cost?  A very reasonable $20 per portrait.  Of course that’s before you decide you must have the $25 themed picture frame to go with it:


Any old frame would work, but really, how can you pass up something like this?

I predict these portraits will become the centerpiece of our Halloween decorations every October.  Or…should we keep them up all year?  🙂

IMG_9705Bravo to Disney for thinking through the entire experience.  From the themed photo parlor, the distractions to pass the time while you wait, the ‘materializing’ of your portraits – the entire process was fun and in ‘spirit’.  The haunted portraits are unique to Disney World, you won’t find a similar booth at Disneyland.  If you find yourself at Disney World though, stop in and visit the cast members at Memento Mori and let them snap your portrait.  It won’t hurt…much!

Do you have a treasured Disney souvenir?  What is it and how did you discover it?



Not Enough Candy

Our neighborhood does not celebrate Halloween.  It’s a practical thing.  No trick or treaters, no Halloween.

You see, we live on a cul-de-sac.  It’s uphill.  And most of the neighbors turn their lights out.  No pumpkins, just a few yards with decorations.  A kid has to really work for it to get candy from our neighborhood, and most don’t bother.  Oh, we see them down the street at the intersection.  They pause, look up the hill, shake their heads and point their parents down towards the other neighborhoods.  Each year, despite massive yard decorations, we’d get only a handful of trick or treaters.  One year we had twelve.  That was a big year.

Our daughter is grown up now and off on her own.  So we leave a bowl of candy on the porch and head out to visit friends each year.  We want to have fun!

Boy, did we have fun this year.

Our friends built a new home this past year in an area of San Jose called Willow Glen.  Willow Glen is known for going over the top with their holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas.  Neighbors prod each other to build ever more extravagant yard displays.  Being their first year in the neighborhood nobody knew exacty what to expect.

Twelve hundred and ninety-four trick or treaters.  That’s what you should expect.  Oh my gosh.

I was like a kid in a candy store.  Literally.  I was surrounded by bowls of candy, so I hopped right into the front porch seat to help hand it all out.  That’s me in the photo above, surrounded by witches, werewolves, zombies, and vampires.  And the occasional Batman and Supergirl.  What you can’t see in the photo is that I’m grinning from ear to ear.

Our friends put together a terrific yard display full of tombstones, animated ghouls, video projected spirits and even a talking crystal ball.   The parents were very impressed, especially for a ‘first year’ member of the neighborhood.  I overheard again and again that it was the best house on the block.

And how did we know there were exactly 1,294 trick or treaters?  Well, one of the friends that owns the house is a researcher/analyst with a stats background.  It’s what she does every day.  So it leaks over into her personal life a bit.  When we arrived that night we found she’d arranged all of the candy into 100-piece bowls.  We were instructed to give exactly two pieces of candy to each kid, and we logged the time whenever we emptied a bowl.  There was lots of data (maybe next year we’ll log ages and costume types – just kidding).


So almost thirteen hundred little ghouls and monsters gobbling up twenty-six hundred pieces of candy.  Probably closer to twenty-four hundred pieces, we dropped down to one piece per trick or treater on the last two bowls.  We were running out and there was still a huge line of kids!

At one point, the peak candy distribution point, we went through a full bowl in five minutes.  That’s fifty kids in five minutes.  Ten kids a minute.  One every six seconds.  When I got up to take a break my arm was actually sore from the constant back and forth of handing out candy.  What a great Halloween!

marypoppinsfamilylargeThe best costumes?  There were some good ones.  One family showed up as the cast from Mary Poppins.  Chimney sweeps, Mary, Bert…the only thing they were missing were penguins.  What a terrific group, I think they were my favorite.

Or was it the five year-old Hulk Hogan, complete with a little blond mustache?  I saw a homemade Frankenstein costume on another little boy, and when he got his candy his little sister popped out from behind him dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein.  She was maybe four years old.  Cute and classic, I think they were the only Frankensteins all night.  There were lots of bloody werewolves, zombies, and vampires though.  Frank seems to have fallen out of favor.  One other notable costume – a boy, maybe ten years old, came up dressed as Colonel Sanders.  Did the whole ‘I’m the real Colonel Sanders’ thing.  Brilliant.  I shouted how terrific it was as he walked away, and his Dad yelled back ‘It was all his idea!’  A great costume, I wonder what he’ll do next year.

I’m enjoying just reminiscing about all of that.  But the best part of the evening wasn’t handing out the candy.  It was telling each and every kid how great their costume was and seeing them light up like a jack o’lantern.  They went to the effort to get dressed up, so I wanted every one of them to know how great they looked.  I took it as a challenge to find something unique to say each time, but it just felt so good to see them realize they weren’t getting a standard ‘Happy Halloween’.   Especially the Disney princesses.  I think they were shocked that an old man sitting on a porch could recognize Princess Jasmine, or Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  I raised a little girl through the 90’s, my princess knowledge is solid.

So this was just an amazing Halloween.  I’m really looking forward to next year.  One of the houses down the street had a haunted house in their garage and a guy in a gorilla suit, and my friends aren’t about to be outdone.   Now where can I find a gorilla suit?…