Saturday, October 31, 2009

This Is Halloween!

I woke up this morning to the silhouette of barren willow tree branches swaying restlessly in the wind - their stripped arms twisting against the dull orange of a beautiful October sunrise. I feel blessed to be spending this Halloween with my sister and her family - a first for me, as the celebration of All Hallows Eve has been something I have selfishly kept a solitary affair.

The forecast for today calls for cool temperatures and wind - but no rain! This is fortunate as we have had nothing but rain for the past week, and more rain is forecast starting tomorrow. To have this one spot of dry weather sandwiched between days of poring rain feels like the Halloween Gods have smiled down upon me.

I'm looking forward to carving pumpkins, watching old horror movies, eating candy, and prepping for tonight's haunt. I hope everyone out there has a very happy, haunted Halloween!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

We're Gonna Need More Candy...

So I sent a photograph of myself in my Poe costume to the local newspaper with a little blurb saying we were having a haunted house in our garage on Halloween night. I was hoping for just a little ink highlighting our haunt - never in my wildest dreams did I think they would dedicate almost a HALF PAGE to our display!

I took the paper out of our mailbox yesterday and eagerly thumbed through it - looking for the tiny picture and cut line I had sent them. For one fleeting moment, when I could not find my picture, my heart sank. "Shoot - they didn't put it in." But when I finally got to our page I about fainted.

My next thought was: "Holy sh*t. We're gonna need more candy..."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mantorville Fall Festival

We had the most amazing time on the Saturday before Halloween. We took a short drive down Highway 57 to the little township of Mantorville, MN for their annual Fall Festival. To understand and appreciate the charm of this excursion, you must first know that Mantorville is just a tiny speck of a town, consisting of only 500 people or so, down in the Zumbro Valley of SE Minnesota. What it lacks in population it makes up for in atmosphere and attention to the little details.

The residents of this community recognize they have a beautiful location carved out of the surrounding limestone and they use this to full advantage. Some of the oldest buildings in the state are festooned with cornstalks, carved pumpkins, hay bales, squash and Indian corn. There are horse-drawn carriage rides, tractors pulling smiling children on their first hay-rides (with a narrator in period costume telling of the haunted history of the town - which is considerable), games and candy for the kids, hot cider and candied apples for the adults, haunted houses in the basements of mid 1800 era homes, and residents in costumes getting in on the act.

I was in heaven.

The weather could not have been nicer for a late October's eve. A partly cloudy sky gave way to abundant sunshine, and then a pleasant evening of cool, crisp autumn air mixed with the scents of straw and candles burning inside of grinning jack 'o lanterns. I lingered at the car, having to be practically pulled away by my wife - wanting to take just a few more snapshots with the camera (the picture above is one of the last I took just before we left).

I am so smitten with the place that I plan on volunteering my time and Halloween decorating knowledge for next year's festival. At the very least, I shall have a custom scarecrow built for the scarecrow contest. With our huge Halloween party the weekend before (that we went completely over-the-top on account of my wife's sister and family being in attendance) I just didn't have time to build a proper scarecrow that I thought would be up to snuff.

Next year. Yes, already planning next year...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Gods of Power, Gods of Might...

I saw this posted on Pumpkinrot's blog and thought it might come in handy. Thanks for the heads up, Rot - let's hope it works!

The weather forecast is looking grim for Halloween. Cold temperatures I can handle - just a couple of years ago it got down to 22 degrees - but rain would definitely cast a pall over the day's festivities. I'm hoping for morning showers and that by afternoon the precipitation will have cleared off. In years past we have been fortunate to have dry Halloweens - but this year it looks like it will be close. Gods of Power, Gods of Might indeed!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Zahn Manor VI

A new section for 2009 has been added to the site with a few pics from our annual Halloween/Birthday bash. Hard to believe this was our 6TH annual party! More to come...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Ghost of Poe

My costume worn at our annual Halloween party...

From the torrent, or the fountain —
From the red cliff of the mountain —
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold —
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by —
From the thunder, and the storm —
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ghost Hunting 101

Last night I went to a Community Education class at the local high school called 'Ghost Hunting 101.' It was a very interesting presentation put on by a local paranormal investigator / intuitive / medium. There wasn't anything particularly groundbreaking in the class - if you watch Ghost Hunters regularly you will be familiar with all the gadgets - but it was fascinating to hear someone speak about their personal experiences encountering the dead, lost souls, and family passed away. I'm thinking I might sign up for the Ghost Hunting 201 class - and hopefully the 301 class if they can get enough people to participate, which would be an actual ghost hunt - something I have not done in years!

Here's a link to the ladies' website that put on the class. She seemed well versed in the subject matter and very spiritually aware.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Big Boy

As a Halloween enthusiast, I naturally felt compelled to show off the giant-sized gourd we picked up at Seakkap's Orchard the other day. A visit to Seakkap's is an annual tradition for our family. In years past we have made a very big deal of it for our kids; usually heading out there on the first Saturday of October for family photos, giant pumpkins, caramel apples, cider, and hay-bale mazes.

This year, however, Mother Nature just did not want to cooperate. While the beautiful summer weather seemed to stretch on forever, when it did end it seemed like we by-passed autumn and went directly to winter! We've had frigid temperatures and pouring rain since the last week of September, with no end in sight. So this year we had to make our trek to the pumpkin patch when the weather allowed. On Wednesday the forecast called for a high of 59. When the temperature actually hit 63 we figured "to heck with tradition!" and grabbed the kids and our camera.

By the time we left the temperature had soared to 67 degrees and we were running about the hay-bale maze in our short sleeves. We got some nice photos of the kids, our requisite caramel apples, and I hefted one giant sized pumpkin into the back of our van. My daughter actually picked out the mammoth gourd, and the old-timer at the checkout told me the previous best for weight was 55 pounds. Ours weighed in at 57 pounds.

I left the orchard with a pretty big grin on my face.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Farewell, Israfel

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Loved by some, loathed by others, admired by many - he continues to inspire me on a daily basis. My deepest respect to you, Mr. Poe. May you rest in peace, fully deserving of the lavish send-off you should have had the first time.

"Deep in earth my love is lying; and I must weep alone."

By BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press Writer Ben Nuckols, Associated Press Writer – Tue Oct 6, 1:08 pm ET

BALTIMORE – For Edgar Allan Poe, 2009 has been a better year than 1849. After dozens of events in several cities to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, he's about to get the grand funeral that a writer of his stature should have received when he died.

One hundred sixty years ago, the beleaguered, impoverished Poe was found, delirious and in distress outside a Baltimore tavern. He was never coherent enough to explain what had befallen him since leaving Richmond, Va., a week earlier. He spent four days in a hospital before he died at age 40.

Poe's cousin, Neilson Poe, never announced his death publicly. Fewer than 10 people attended the hasty funeral for one of the 19th century's greatest writers. And the injustices piled on. Poe's tombstone was destroyed before it could be installed, when a train derailed and crashed into a stonecutter's yard. Rufus Griswold, a Poe enemy, published a libelous obituary that damaged Poe's reputation for decades.

But on Sunday, Poe's funeral will get an elaborate do-over, with two services expected to draw about 350 people each — the most a former church next to his grave can hold. Actors portraying Poe's contemporaries and other long-dead writers and artists will pay their respects, reading eulogies adapted from their writings about Poe.

"We are following the proper etiquette for funerals. We want to make it as realistic as possible," said Jeff Jerome, curator of the Poe House and Museum. Advance tickets are sold out, although Jerome will make some seats available at the door to ensure packed houses. Fans are traveling from as far away as Vietnam.

The funeral is arguably the splashiest of a year's worth of events honoring the 200th anniversary of Poe's birth. Along with Baltimore — where he spent some of his leanest years in the mid-1830s — Poe lived in or has strong connections to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Richmond. With the funeral angle covered, the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond staged a re-enactment last weekend of his death. Those with a more academic interest in Poe can attend the Poe Studies Association's annual conference from Thursday through Sunday in Philadelphia.

Visitors in Baltimore for the funeral can enjoy a new exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art, "Edgar Allan Poe: A Baltimore Icon," which includes chilling illustrations to "The Raven" by Edouard Manet. Baltimore has a decided advantage over the other cities that lay claim to Poe, notes BMA director Doreen Bolger. "We have the body," she said. This week, that's true in more ways than one. Jerome said he's gotten calls from people who thought he was going to exhume Poe's remains and rebury them.

"When they dug up Poe's body in 1875 to move it, it was mostly skeletal remains," Jerome said. "I've seen remains of people who've been in the ground since that time period, and there's hardly anything left." Instead, Jerome commissioned local special-effects artist Eric Supensky to create an eerily lifelike — or deathlike — mock-up of Poe's corpse. "I got chills," Jerome said Monday upon seeing the body for the first time. "This is going to freak people out."

The body will lie in state for 12 hours Wednesday at the Poe House, a tiny rowhome in a gritty section of west Baltimore. Visitors are invited to pay their respects. Following the viewing will be an all-night vigil at Poe's grave at Westminster Burying Ground. Anyone who attends will have the opportunity to deliver a tribute. On Sunday morning, a horse-drawn carriage will transport the replica of Poe's body from his former home to the graveyard for the funeral.

Actor John Astin, best known as Gomez Addams on TV's "The Addams Family," will serve as master of ceremonies. "It's sort of a way of saying, 'Well, Eddie, your first funeral wasn't a very good one, but we're going to try to make it up to you, because we have so much respect for you,'" said Astin, who toured as Poe for years in a one-man show.

The service won't be a total lovefest, however. The first eulogy will come from none other than Griswold. "People are asking me, 'Jeff, why are you inviting him? He hated Poe!'" Jerome said. "The reason is, most of these people defended Poe in response to what he said about Poe's life, so we can't have this service without having old Rufus sitting in the front row, spewing forth his hatred."

Eulogies will follow from actors portraying, among others, Sarah Helen Whitman, a minor poet whom Poe courted after his wife's death, and Walt Whitman, who attended the dedication of Poe's new gravestone in 1875 but didn't feel well enough to speak. Writers and artists influenced by Poe, including Arthur Conan Doyle and Alfred Hitchcock, will also be represented. Jerome expects to cry — one reason he won't be speaking. Even his rivals are impressed with the scale of the tribute.

"Annoyed as I am with Baltimore sometimes, I have to give them credit," said Philadelphia-based Poe scholar Edward Pettit, who argues his city was of greater importance to Poe's life and literary career. "Baltimore has done an awful lot to maintain the legacy of Poe over the last 100-some years."

Monday, October 5, 2009

October Orchard

As busy as October gets, we still try to make time to do those fall activities that make the season so special. Last weekend we made the journey to Lake City to eat at a quaint little diner called 'Chickadee's' that had a really fabulous breakfast. After that we drove around Lake Pepin and took in the sights along the waterfront - tons of sailing riggers shoring up their vessels for the season.

After that it was out to Pepin Heights Apple Orchard (who claim to be the biggest in Minnesota). We picked out some odd looking pumpkins that looked like a cross between traditional orange pumpkins and white pumpkins and a few decorative gourds - then it was back home toiling away in the garage haunt. If you live in the Northstar State, Lake City is a picturesque drive of rolling valleys and beautiful scenery. I recommend it if you've got a weekend to spare.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


My taste-test of the latest variety of pumpkin ale brought me to Shipyard's Pumpkinhead Ale. To my unrefined palate, this offering was very similar in taste to Anheuser Busch's Jack's Pumpkin Spice Ale - which is okay, but not remarkable. Out of the three different brews I've sampled, Blue Moon's seasonal ale is the easy victor with it's subtle aroma and mellow taste.

In other news: the new graveyard fence was painted and installed yesterday. This was a big project which took several hours to complete - but well worth the effort. We came across some extra money and splurged this year. After five years of rebuilding a dilapidated graveyard fence that was held together with duct tape and zip ties, we finally went to Home Depot and bought four 8' sections of fencing. After killing a million brain cells spray painting them black, I finally erected them on the front lawn. The headstones went up last night as well - which means...

WIND! And lots of it. It's an annual tradition for us. I put up our elaborate haunt so it's ready to go on October 1st - and Mother Nature promptly does her very best to rip it all down. 35 mph winds? CHECK! Driving rains? CHECK! Freezing temperatures? CHECK! I was pleased to see this morning that everything withstood the elements, but this morning my centerpiece Edgar Allan Poe headstone blew over and was impaled on its re-bar stake. Some minor repair and I think he'll pull through, but boy is it frustrating.

Like I said: an annual tradition. More to come...