Locals take Halloween to new heights

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Wed., Oct. 19, 2011
A row of skull fenceposts borders the graveyard at Quid Blankley's Halloween display at Lisbon's Ross Hill Campground.
A row of skull fenceposts borders the graveyard at Quid Blankley's Halloween display at Lisbon's Ross Hill Campground.

Halloween has become more than just a holiday for two local residents who’ve taken the spooky occasion and turned it into a local tradition.Trick-or-treat night at Lisbon’s Ross Hill Campground isn’t complete without a stroll to Quid Blankley’s lakeside campsite. Blankley has transformed his site into a haunted graveyard, complete with eerie fog, creepy music and ghoulish accessories.

Blankley, a native of England, arrived in the U.S. in 1985.  “When I first came over here I was intrigued by [Halloween],” he said. “We don’t celebrate this in England.” The closest approximation is Guy Fawkes Night, Nov. 5, when bonfires celebrate the foiling of a plot against the life of King James, he said.

About seven years ago, Blankley started decorating his summer place for the campground’s annual Halloween observance, and the idea sort of mushroomed. “I started out in a little way and just got more and more into it,” he said. “Now it’s just huge. I have a lot of fun putting it up,” he said.

Dozens of animated creatures, some of which Blankley constructed himself, line the driveway and inhabit the “cemetery.” Laser lights sparkle like fireflies on the gravel driveway, fog drifts across the scene, and the theme from the “Addams Family” TV show plays on hidden speakers.

This year, a young friend named Chris, 11, helped him do the wiring and set-up. “He really is quite a genius,” said Blankley. “I’m glad he helped me out this year.”

Early in the evening, when the littlest trick-or-treaters visit, Blankley greets them with a smile and candy. But later, when the older kids start arriving, he retires to his propped-up coffin, clad in black robe, ghoul mask and prosthetic hands. When visitors approach for a closer look, he jumps out from his black shroud with a howl for dramatic effect.

In Griswold’s Arrowhead neighborhood, the local legend is the Olewnik house, where Ted Olewnik has dressed up as the title character from the film “Beetlejuice” every Halloween for more than 20 years. Olewnik loved the movie when it was first released in 1988. “I knew I could sound like him,” he said of the Michael Keaton character. “It was just a matter of putting the make-up on. I found a nice white suit at Goodwill and painted stripes on it, and the rest is history.”

Olewnik presides over Halloween in his garage, which is hung with a spooky backdrop he painted with help from a friend. He dispenses cookies and crackers to trick-or-treaters from an empty coffin, bantering with them all the while in the movie character’s voice.

One year, after he had knee surgery and couldn’t get around well, he enlisted a friend to don the striped suit so as to look headless. Then, seated nearby inside a specially-designed cloth-draped table, he chatted with alarmed visitors as Beetlejuice’s “disembodied” head,  periodically singing “I Ain’t Got Nobody.”

“Each year we’ve added a little more,” Olewnik said about the display. About 150 children visit each year, and it’s become a multi-generational event.

“We’ve had young adults who came here as children and are now bringing their own kids,” he said. Like Blankley, he tailors his presentation to his visitors’ ages. Younger children who are too intimidated to visit the haunted garage are met by his wife, Ann, with treats at the end of the driveway.

“I don’t try to scare them,” Olewnik said. “I try to make fun of the parents and have fun with the kids, joke with them. This is a neighborhood where people feel safe to bring their kids and have an old-fashioned Halloween.”

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