Houseful of Halloween

Haunting mid-century traditions continue to inspire—and spook—new generations
Houseful of Halloween
At Concord's Rancho de los Santos Eichler neighborhood—this Halloween scene really gives us the creeps.

Ever wonder what it would take to relive the chills and thrills of a Halloween immersed in the mid-century?

A time machine? A wishing well?

Perhaps a touch of that old black magic will do.

During the mid-century, the ominous shadows of All Hallows Eve felt more like fun than fright. While the entire neighborhood was filled with anticipation of the evening ahead, the kids, giddy with excitement, were busy dressing up in kooky disguises, anxious to plunge headfirst into the bewitching world of 'trick or treat.'

Halloween back in the day was a night of dreams come true—and candy. Lots and lots of candy. Creeping from house to house, costumed kids knocked on neighbors' doors, shouting "trick or treat!" in unison, hoping to score their favorite sweet treat, maybe even a Milky Way or Mars chocolate bar.

Houseful of Halloween
Classic mid-century monsters interpreted by illustrator El Gato Gomez.

In the 1950s and '60s, television played a huge role in postwar families' fascination with Halloween. Waiting for their favorite TV shows to start, kids sprawled out, mesmerized, in front of their sets, adjusting the antenna and letting their imaginations run wild.

The most amusing of the spooky shows, The Munsters and The Addams Family, were at the top of every mid-century family's viewing list. Girls dreamed of dressing up as vampire mom Lily Munster, and boys practiced bellowing, "You rang?" just like the Addams Family's Lurch. And everyone giggled and stared whenever 'The Thing,' that show's disembodied hand, crawled on to the scene.

"I remember adoring The Munsters," recalls El Gato Gomez (aka Crystal Marshall), known today for her popular retro- and horror-themed illustrations. "I think that is my main connection to mid-century spooky. The Dragula [coffin-shaped car] and the beatniks and the music! It was just fantastic."

Houseful of Halloween
Skeletons hang out at this Halloween setting among Walnut Creek's Rancho San Miguel Eichlers.

"The Addams Family too, of course. Anything with [actor] John Astin gives me literal giddy goose bumps," she adds. "All that creepy kitsch just has a special place in my heart."

Thinking back on her growing-up years with her family, Gomez admits, "I always just say, 'We're Addamses.' It's in our bloooood."

Getting one's pants 'scared off' at local movie theater Saturday matinees was another pastime that made Halloween truly frightening. Sci-fi and horror movies from the '50s and '60s formed a solid foundation for any good mid-century fright fest, and that continues today.

How could we go wrong with The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The House on Haunted Hill, The Crawling Hand, The Fly, The Thing, and just about any of Alfred Hitchcock's suspense films?

  Houseful of Halloween
At Thousand Oaks' Conejo Village Eichler neighborhood, Robyn (as the taco lady) and Emiko (as Dracula's bride) Moshier pose at their Eichler entrance.

Universal Studios brought us culture classics between 1923 and 1960 that are known today as the 'Universal Monsters.' The thought of actually transforming ourselves into one of their spooky monsters—Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolf Man, and others—was beyond anything we ever dreamed of.

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