Lesley Bannatyne
Halloween Autho



Halloween Books

Halloween Nation. Behind the Scenes of America's Fright Night
Pelican Publishing, April 2011

If you would like to arrange an event, reading or lecture, please feel free to write me at:

Lesley Bannatyne
9 Oliver Street
Somerville, MA 02145

Email: lesley.bannatyne@gmail.com















































Halloween Cabinet of Curiosities

One of the hardest parts about writing a book is knowing when you're finished, because, seriously, you really can go on forever, especially with a subject like Halloween. The day I mailed Halloween Nation to the publisher, I already had a list of amazing events, websites, and curiosities that I wished would fit in the book. So here's my idea: I'm going to start adding these great things to this page as an online addendum to the book, starting with WITCH, a short bit on Johnny Depp and my INTERVIEW with Rot of pumpkinrot.com (and the very popular What's Brewing blog)...



Or, How Rosemary's Baby, Pat Robertson and Eight Bottles of Tylenol Changed How We Think About Halloween

[outtakes from Halloween Nation]


, creator of Pumpkinrot.com
and author of the blog, "What's Brewing"


Witches Night Before Halloween
- LB, 2007

For all your little witchlings.

[This is an early illustration by Adrian Tans, who did the
artwork for the book.]

’Twas the night before Halloween and all through the cottages,
The witches were stirring their brews and their potages.
Their cupboards were bursting with hop-toads and newts,
And they’d shined up their pointy-toed, fancy-dress boots.

The witchlings lay snoring, quite snug in their beds,
With visions of moist, creeping things in their heads.

“Nice night,” whispered Mad-Maud to Potbelly-Pat
As she snuffed out the torches and took in the cat.

But at the first stroke of midnight, when folks lay asleep,
The whole gang of witches on tiptoes did creep
Out past the cornfields and ’neath the trolls’ bridge,
Past the shadowy crossroads to Cemetery Ridge.
 “It’s time to begin,” hissed Elise-With-One Eye
As the moon reached its peak in the October sky.

On the stump of a tree, with a thump and a creak,
Big-Bree drummed a beat as the witches all shrieked:

“Come goblins! Come ghosties! Come skeleton bones!
We’ve witch work tonight We can’t do it alone!”
They stomped on the ground! They bellowed! (They wheezed.)
They tangoed! And salsa-ed! (On arthritic knees.)
Louder and wilder with each passing verse
They chanted in voices from tuneless to worse.
Till BANG! the old charnel house cracked and broke,
And out flew their pals with a big blast of smoke!

A few drooling ghouls from down underneath,
With cleanly picked bones and half-rotted teeth;
A pale, dark-eyed viscount quite long in the tooth;
Two squadrons of zombies, unkempt and uncouth;

Dark, furry, four-footed, hard-to-see things
That take to the sky amidst flutter of wings;

Redheaded banshees with ear-splitting wails;
And a rheumy-eyed ghost dressed in neatly pressed tails.

With one boney finger, Maud tested the breeze,
Grabbed hold of her broom and ascended with ease.
“To town!” she commanded. “There’s much to be done.
Pack your newts and your spiders. Let’s go have some fun!”
They dangled black bats from the City Hall eaves
And festooned each doorway with poisonous leaves.
Cobwebs were stretched from church spire to town square,
And green slime was dribbled down every porch stair.
On each hollow pumpkin they scratched a mad grin,
Set the kitty-cats yowling, and stoked up the wind.
“So much haunting to get done in so little time,”
Mourned a vain, headless countess, a bit past her prime.
“Not to mention the rusty old gates we back-ordered
Are stuck in a truck at the Canadian border.”

“Not like the old days,” whined Rotten-Tooth-Ruth,
“Is this the example we set for our youth?”

More shadows! More cobwebs!
More monsters! More slime!
More dank, moldy cellars!
More grave dust! More grime!
And when they had finished, thick fog hugged the ground,
So they snapped a few photos, and flew out of town.
“To the hovels! Let’s go! Time to wake up the spawn!”
Cried the witches while hobbling back home ’cross the lawn.
They banged pots together, poked the witchlings with sticks,
Till the kiddies woke up and threw terrible fits.

“It’s Halloween, you gremlins!” crooned Bubonic-Sue,
“Time to show all the humans what witches can do!”

At that the wee witchlings leapt straight from their beds,
Tied pointy black caps to their misshapen heads,
Laced up their brat boots, grabbed onto their brooms,
And rode single-file toward the just-risen moon.

“Stay warm! Make good choices!” yelled the parental group,
As the young witches did some back-flips with a whoop.
And yelled loud as they could, while they sailed through the night:
“Happy Halloween to all and to all a good fright!”



November 1911. "Thanksgiving masking," where kids would dress up and go door to door for apples, or "scramble for pennies." - Shorpy Historical Photo Archive



Ellie Schuster is a Wiccan who's used magic for decades. I profiled her in "Halloween Nation" and we'd talked about how much she admires JD and how if you have the right intention, will, and preparedness, you can make things happen. Like meeting Johnny Depp.

So.... here's Depp signing her copy of "Nation" last October. That's Ellie he's looking
at so fondly. And the signature, she says, binds the spell.

Thank you Ellie. And you too Johnny D.




From 2009, but I still love this: youtube video of House of Shock interview


Detroit's under-the-radar-until-now Halloween bash (NY TIMES)


Halloween in China? Oh yeah.


At long last, a spate of 21st-century pardons and apologies....

Talk of Witches at Vatican Inquisition Conference [Pope John Paul asks for forgiveness, 2004]
Town pardons executed 'witches' [81 Scottish 'witches' pardoned, 2004]
Exoneration of 'witches'
[final pardons sought, 2006]

State of the Haunting Union [summary of the history of the haunt industry by Leonard Pickel, DOA Haunt Design and Consulting]

Also, on a similar subject: 12 Things that Shaped our Industry [Kirchner/HauntWorld]


July, 2011


An interview with Rot himself, talking about his blog (5000 entries since 2003 and growing!), his approach to art and his love for Halloween.

“If my life depended on it, I don’t think I’d be able to create something that wasn’t in some way related to Halloween.”—Rot


Your blog, “What’s Brewing” is such an evocative site. The images, stories, poems, and music that you showcase on it are always so unique. Where do you go to find material for your blog? When you’re trolling the world for images or ideas, music or text, are there specific things that call to you?

ROT: My blog was initially a way for me to give hints or progress photos of the Halloween props I was building. I’d update it with teaser videos of scarecrows-to-be or with small previews of the upcoming Haunt theme for my annual display. It was a creative outlet and a way to pass the time between the long months stretching from one Halloween to the next.

I’ve always been a little obsessed with a need to see Halloween imagery, and I knew a few websites of fellow Haunters which I frequented, and wanted to share them with anyone who stumbled upon my blog. So I featured the ones I knew, and began hunting for other Haunters. The online Halloween community is a close-knit bunch of enthusiasts and Halloween forums were the first place I looked to find unique props and Haunts being discussed or showcased. Googling helped me find more obscure Haunters – people who were either unfamiliar with the presence of Halloween forums or were maybe just not that social (like me). I’d find their websites or web photo albums and pluck a few of my favorite images and feature them on my blog. I look for displays with original layouts and design, or a fresh take on Old School Halloween charm – I try to imagine what I’d feel if I was trick-or-treating and came upon that Haunt.

Eventually my interest in certain artists, poets, musicians, and vendors helped me fill in the spaces between the Haunters I featured. Flickr.com, Halloweenforum.com, Youtube.com, Dreadcentral.com, Etsy.com, Ray Bradbury, and the world of online bloggers have given me a bottomless pit of images, music, videos, products, text, and Haunt material. My blog has over 5,000 entries. When I started out, I never thought there would be so much Halloween-related material or so many Halloween-loving folks out there to keep it going for so long.

There’s a very strong aesthetic at work at the objects you create as well as those you post on your blog. It’s eerie, beautiful, and usually very creepy. Can you talk a bit about how your own personal aesthetic was shaped? And do you have an art or photography or even theater background or did you come to this as an amateur (in the real sense of the word: one who loves).

Amateur, all the way. I don’t have any background in art, photography, or theater. I grew up in a home environment that discouraged things like getting an art degree. It was seen as a risky waste of time and a great way of sabotaging a stable career. I think my parents tried to satiate those desires by having a huge supply of paper around at all times, so I managed to draw and crayon constantly. I think they were hoping I’d grow out of it. The drawings were rarely normal. Always a monster carrying a human head in its hand. Or headless people. Or bloody eyeballs with tiny red tendrils. Or squids, ghosts, witches, and vampires.

I remember watching an episode of ZOOM when I was in grade school. They were demonstrating papier mache using newspaper strips dipped in water and flour. And something sorta clicked. So I experimented with it and changed the formula to Elmer’s glue and water and loved the technique. It turned into a nice little hobby, and a perfect way to satisfy my urges to make monsters. And it was also a way to make my favorite holiday even neater. As my love for Halloween grew, I think my style became more and more related to the holiday, and eventually completely tied to it. If my life depended on it, I don’t think I’d be able to create something that wasn’t in some way related to Halloween.

So much of what you create looks as if it’s been inspired by a close relationship with the natural world and how it changes, decays, and grows. I know you loved being outdoors when you were younger and spending a lot of time in the suburban woods—is that something that continued as an adult? To what extent do you look to the natural world for your ideas?

I think Halloween is all about natural elements. My approach to a prop usually starts with that in mind. I want it to be something that would look at home in an organic setting. Like it was part of the environment. Or something that’s not indigenous, but has been in a natural setting so long that it’s been corrupted by it. I think that’s why I love building scarecrows so much – they really have to be completely natural and organic.

A huge chunk of my youth was spent outdoors in the thin strips of wooded areas near my family’s suburban house. Overturning logs and huge rocks to see what was under there. Creek-walking for hours every day in the summer. And going absolutely insane in the autumn trying to take it all in. I spend a lot of time observing nature, but never in the ways I did back then. My wife and I will go for long walks in a state park nearby (a location we use often for prop photo shoots). Or we’ll canoe and try to get as close as we can to the mushy swampy areas around a lake. I’m constantly pointing to twisted vines or gnarled branches and commenting on how I could use them in a prop. I think I try to see the natural world as a giant dark backdrop for vile creatures, with a lot of big open spaces for distant lonely scarecrows.

Your scarecrows are so impressionistic and have such strong personas. Can you talk about how you think of them? How you get an idea for one, say, and how it takes shape once you start working on it?

I’ve often joked with my wife that I wish I could quit my job and build scarecrows all day long. I think my subconscious is always processing different forms of them, so the ideas are always there. When I decide to build one I start to work with a combination of concepts. I never plan or sketch the design before I start building. I’ll have an idea in my head and I’ll try to let it develop on its own before I pick up any materials. When I’m ready, I always start with the shoulders and chest, since those are built around the support structure that plops down over the scarecrow’s wooden post. Once that’s in place, I start to feel the design out – the height, the arm width, the color. Lots of time is spent standing in front of that empty weird mass imagining mache and branches and fabric staring down at me. One year I recall being obsessed with finding a hornet nest to use as a scarecrow’s head. Completely obsessed. I drove around for a couple of weeks looking up into the trees for old abandoned nests. I even looked online and there were actually people selling them (way overpriced), but I opted to go a different route. And I sorta regret it now. I should have followed that voice.

Is your Halloween work a year-round activity or do you have periods where you work crazy hours? I’m always amazed at what people can do. (For example, there’s a postal deliverer in Oxford Ma who takes his 3 weeks of vacation each year in October so he can—with help—carve and display the 5000+ pumpkins that make up his Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular). How do you manage to do what you do?

My pieces are created throughout the year, using the last couple of months before Halloween as a time to tie up loose ends and finish with the details. I’ll usually take the week of Halloween off from work so I can truly savor the High Holiday. My wife and I really live Halloween every day of the year. It’s in our blood. It’s what we talk about when we’re out doing yard work or sitting around on a Saturday morning drinking coffee. So making time to build my props has never really been a problem. I truly love it and I think I truly need it to remain sane. If a person is truly passionate about something, if it’s really what they should be doing, they’ll find the time to do it.

I understand that you’d like to remain a bit anonymous but are there any biographical details that you’re willing to share?

I’m not a very social person. I don’t even have a facebook page. I think my site and my blog and my work are really what I’m all about. The music I feature, the text, the images – all things that are a part of my life. Things that make me happy. And the corpses, the witches, the pumpkin-headed creatures, and the old dusty scarecrows that I make are all a part of my brain, and my personality.

And lastly, if you’re willing, a few thoughts about Halloween: Why do you think it is that so many more people are home haunters now than even ten years ago? What makes Halloween a mild, or not so mild, obsession for many people?

I’m going to blame the Internet for that one. When I was building my Haunt each year after retiring from trick-or-treating back in the 80s and 90s, I felt like I was the only guy in the world who had a yard display. I had no way of knowing what was going on out there, what people were building, how they were lighting their graveyard, or how they were constructing their props. The Internet didn’t exist. And I’m pretty sure there weren’t any books on the topic of Yard Haunting (though I never even thought to look it up). So we all existed out there, unaware of each other. Doing our own little Halloween thing.

Back in 2002, I learned how to build a website and put one together so I could have a photo album of my Haunt online, so I could send the link to coworkers and my family, rather than an email with a pile of images attached to annoy them. I opened my email one day and found three emails from some people who had seen my work on my site. Pumpkinrot.com had been posted on a Halloween Mailing List (I guess that was the early version of a web forum). I didn’t even have contact information on my site at the time so I’m assuming they took a chance and emailed different email extensions with the name “pumpkinrot.”

I quickly learned there was a whole bunch of Halloween folks out there, connected by the Internet and sharing their photos, designs, and methods - motivating each other with super positive encouragement and a warm sense of community. I think someone who loves Halloween and has always been one to go overboard with decorations will eventually end up online hunting for more decorations or ideas. They’ll stumble upon a forum and discover a mountain of tutorials discussing lighting techniques and foam tombstones and flying crank ghosts and fog machines and papier mache zombies. With knowledge and encouragement and motivation, they’ll decide to branch off into an entirely new direction of Halloween decorating – the homemade prop.

And the obsession will grow.







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