Saturday, July 31, 2010

The last day of July for us...

... the First Day of Life for a few others.

Autumn People are readers, and our libraries tend to be weighty in the dark, mysterious fantasy categories. Our library here at the Skull & Pumpkin is well-stocked with such things.

And, any Hallowe'en, fantasy and magic lover is not only familiar (get it?) with the Harry Potter books and films, but is likely an admiring fan (if not an obsessed devotee). One doesn't, however, have to be a big fan to agree (because there's really no debating the matter) that Rowling's creations have permanently impacted the publishing, literary and fantasy worlds, and forever affected the way kids (and plenty of grown-ups!) read and look at the world around them.

Today, we're going to be raising a glass to the birthday of not one, but of the two most important figures in the Potter universe.

J. K. Rowling is celebrating her 45th birthday.
A remarkably quiet, kind, funny and imaginative person who, whether by sheer luck or her own utterly unique magic, became the Tolkien of the 21st Century.
I'm fairly certain it was a perfect blend of both.

And, probably because she enjoyed July 31st all her life (or simply because the idea was a fun one), she bestowed the same birthday upon her main literary creation.

Harry James Potter was born on July 31st, 1980 to Lily (nee Evans) and James Potter.

Yes, that makes him 30 years old today. You know, if he was real.

Regardless, we raise a glass to them both, for bringing us such great adventures, philosophy lessons, and ultimately just pure, simple joy.

DDSP 2 J.K. N' H.P.!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Old tubes, part four.

Funny... last night I was listening to our old radio while dusting off a few of the counters and shelves, and while I was dusting off the radio itself I heard some crackling and a brief moment of total silence... and then all was as before.

I knew the old Hallowe'enith console had pulled from without (or within) some radio tale new to our ears.

And lo! this morning I hear a tale from none other than the Author of the Hour here at the ol' S&P.

From the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre comes the Edgar Allan Poe classic, The Fall of the House of Usher!

Now, to be sure, the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre is not necessarily very old. With producer/director and radio pioneer Himan Brown at the helm, and the inimitable E.G. Marshall performing hosting duty, the series ran from 1974 until 1982 -- not as old as the other programs heard here at the S&P, but surely a longer run than most of those series, and every bit as dramatic, involving, enthralling, and ultimately satisfying.

The Fall of the House of Usher stars horror and sci-fi film stalwart Kevin McCarthy. It's a rich and filling 41 minutes long, and first aired in March, 1974. 

Old... but not very old. Almost as old as your pubkeeper -- but not quite.

Enjoy the Poe tale, good guests of the Skull & Pumpkin.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Task of the Red Death.

Relax, everyone. Don't get up. Stay in your comfy seats and keep talking and enjoying the ol' S&P.

I just wanted to show you a few things. Been doin' some sculptin'.

A foam skull, a little earth-tone sculpting compound, a few plastic half-round eyes I got over the winter online (a buck for four pairs!) and an hour of 'Hhmmm, maybe it oughta be -- NO it's better if it's like... ah! there you g-NO NO I hate that put more on the -- I fail!', and L'Mort Rouge begins to take early shape.

I love this last one because even though it's a bit blurry, he looks very tired.

Yes, he needs a wash of dark brown and scarlet mixed with flat black, then highlights of drybrushed terra cotta, flesh, grey... and of course, dottings and dabblings of bright, hot blood red.

"His vesture was dabbled in blood -- and his broad brow, with all the features of his face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror."

He'll be enshrouded... tatters of the 'habiliments of the grave' will wrap around parts of his face and most of his body (skeletons to loan, anyone?), and he'll be enrobed, though I'm not sure if it will be too fancy; this 'mummer' was supposed to look like he walked out of the grave.

Don't mistake me -- I love the classic dastardly look, the feathered hat and impossibly long, folded cape and gown and sceptre of the Phantom of the Opera's Red Death:

... but I think that Poe envisioned something a lot more like this:

Hopefully, I can make a simple, shrouded corpse and with a big clock face, proper lighting, luck and a touch of scarlet terror everyone will know that
"He had come like a thief in the night."


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Friday, July 23, 2010

"Only philosophically."

I found something today that needs to hang in front of the bar from this moment on.

We sometimes forget things like this, and it's really kind of stupid because we really ought to know better than to let our fear get in the way of our happiness, or peace, our contentment that we're just doing the best we can.

It's inked quite elegantly on a big parchment in a big frame; and while putting it in front of the bar, below our waists, seems like an odd place for it,  the message is going to stare us in the face every time we look down at our laps and feet in fear, doubt, shame, confusion, depair.

Enough chatter. Read the brilliance.

"... Let me tell you something. The whole world is a circus if you know how to look at it. The way the sun goes down when you're tired, comes up when you want to be on the move. That's real magic. The way a leaf grows. The song of the birds. The way the desert looks at night, with the moon embracing it. Oh, my boy, that's circus enough for anyone. Every time you watch a rainbow and feel wonder in your heart. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand. Every time you stop and think, 'I'm alive, and being alive is fantastic!'... every time such a thing happens, you're part of the Circus of Dr. Lao."

The words of one Dr. Lao, born in Pano Hai, who turns seven thousand, three hundred and twenty-two years old... this October.

Our magic is our magic.


Thursday, July 22, 2010

The 100 day dash begins... again!


Once again, we Autumn People find ourselves at a magical turning point in our year!

Hallowe'en is 100 nights away.

Oh, okay, there's a matter of some hours over that time, but I never really count the partial days -- and as a Hallowe'en haunter, the extra time is always required!

As I mentioned last year at this time, a hundred days out is the time to be asking questions about this year's needs, wants, doubts and hopes.

It's also the time when you begin having the weekly nightmare: it's 4 pm on October 31st and you haven't put anything up yet, and people are starting to arrive.

But mostly it's the time to finalize ideas, set designs, and start getting busy.

My graphics tablet and I are hoping that somewhere in my haunt (thinking the Treat Room) we will hear a tolling clock and then dim light will expose to us this vision:
Can't imagine the kid (or grown-up!) who wouldn't want to take candy from the Red Death...

As well (in my case anyway), some much needed supplies are in order. Not on order yet (money-money-money-money... mon-ey!), but soon. Things most folks would view and never for a moment think about a Poe-colored Hallowe'en.

Things like-
... and numerous other odds and ends.

Tomorrow I will mention to some of my co-workers that we're a hundred nights out from Hallowe'en and they will all say something like "Ooh! Only a hundred days? Better get busy then!" and laugh as if one hundred days was all the time in the world to work the kind of Hallowe'en magic we work.

But one or two will grin and nod quietly, and find a moment later to ask me in a near whisper, "So... what's the big piece for this year?" -- and I'll know a fellow Autumn Person.

In honor of the moment, I've removed the hilariously hideous pipe organ Stars & Stripes and replaced it with George Winston's solo piano classic, Autumn. I also removed the Jaws theme and in its place added the beautiful The Trees Weep Leaves from David Huntsinger's underrated, little known and currently out of print Autumn In New England album. Two songs that call Fall to us, envisioning a breeze and a falling leaf even as we sit in the heat thinking Summer may have decided to stay forever.

Yes, there's plenty of Summer left, plenty of time for so much... but it's coming, folks.

God bless it, it's coming.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Well whaddayaknow?

When I opened this establishment, my only hope was that it would be nothing more or less than a small, warm, welcoming place full of good will, spooky cheer and like-minded Autumn People who would pass the time pondering, discussing, celebrating the darker side of life and the glorious orange and black mystery that is Hallowe'en.

I think we've all made that happen, and thank you so much.

But tonight I see that I've actually... I mean we've actually created a place that is not only those things, but has earned a bit of respect and admiration among other like-minded Autumn folk populating the online October Country...

I am rather proud and not a little astonished to tell you that the Skull & Pumpkin has just been handed its very first ever BLOGGING AWARD!

Now, I'll agree that this place has so many odd twists and turns and is so open to the various unraveling paths of Hallowe'en Love that it can be safely considered 'versatile', as in multi-faceted.

But to Spooky Vegan, who gave me this distinction, I must humbly bow, offer my deep gratitude and express my surprise, really -- we were just doing what we thought was meet and good!

Now, according to Spooky Vegan, there are some rules attached to this honour; I thought there might be a catch, but it's a very kind catch:

• Thank the person who gave it to you.
--- Once again, Spooky Vegan, I cannot thank you enough. Drinks and snacks on the house for the rest of the month!

Share 7 things about yourself.
--- Alright:
1. I despise, I mean despise, avocados and bananas;
2. I am a little hard of hearing;
3. I know way more about spiders, insects and 'bugs' than you do;
4. My favorite colors are hunter green and purple;
5. I've been to England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Thailand, Singapore and several cities in Japan (but I've never been to me!);
6. Briefs, never boxers, and
7. Good champagne makes me giggle like a debutante.

• Pass the award along to 15 who you have recently discovered and who you think fantastic for whatever reason, and
• Contact the blogs you picked and let them know about the award.

These last two I HAVE done, I promise, but I thought it might be best to do so privately; they can announce it or not in their own way(s). Suffice to say they are all excellent blogs, and fine places to visit. You can see a number of them right here in my 'The Rest of the Neighborhood' links list.

So, wow... an award! Even if it goes to 15 people along with me, and to 15 more (and exponentially hundreds in the next few hours) afterwards, it's quite a thrill for me, and a lot of fun.

Thanks again, Spooky Vegan. Very cool of you.

As you were, now, everyone. Next round's on The Frog Queen!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's still July, right?

Here at the S&P, we dig Summer.

OH no, Summer ain't no AUTUMN, we can all safely agree; but we certainly enjoy our long, chatty pub nights in the hot weather, just as long as we have enough cold libation surrounded with enough chilling, thrilling decoration!

For any griping I have about it being extra hot and sweaty lately (and seriously, the heat indices for the last few weeks have been hovering around 100... I'm turning over in my sleep so moss doesn't grow), I still like that it's only the middle of Summer and we're still many, many weeks away from Labor Day (and Jerry).

I mean, I'd love it to be Autumn all the time and often feel like I 'can't wait' for it to arrive... but I seriously don't want my year to unravel any faster than it already does, you know?

And since I've only a little more than 100 days to bring this year's Hallowe'en vision to life, I don't mind the July heat and humidity.


So today, out driving in my beloved, clunky ol' Jeep belting out Steely Dan tunes and melting from the heat (and the funk-a-liciousness) I headed to Michael's to pick up some much needed Poe-character-making materials -- Poe fixin's, I call them -- and lo!

Oh pssht, I can hear your disdain, that's just the 'Fall, harvesty' stuff that's out early every year!

Maybe you're right. But then what about

It is July 20th, right?

Love it.

I immediately felt a little cooler, a little less sweaty, and it made my purchase of  Poe-fixin's™  that much more enjoyable, and a bit less painful (times are tight for many of us; I'm feeling rather po' myself)!

I think my favorite of the little wooden/cloth figures is this little beauty:

She's like Whistler's Dead Mother and the old lady from that 'Oh Susannah!' episode of Our Gang all in one.

Might have to pick this up eventually:

I don't know what it is about it I like more -- the chains in the teeth ('cause that would be so very secure) or the very fact of it reading 'Creepy Welcome', because that's something we'd all say to guests as they entered our homes. 

Not A Creepy Welcome To You, not Spooky Greetings (tho' I have said that!), but simply Creepy Welcome.

The door opens -'Hey man, thanks for inv--" 

It's perfect.

It's July and this is already here. 

It was a treat to behold, and the best thing is, I know it's just the tip of the spooky iceberg!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Preliminary reports are sketchy.

Boy, do I have Hallowe'en on the brain today!

Yes, yes, I know -- "whaddaya mean 'today'?!" -- but having found and decided upon my theme, my mind has been in overdrive.

Plus I love my cheap little LaPaz graphics tablet... so here's a quick prelim sketch of the newest member of my animatronic family of Hallowe'en denizens.

The Raven.
I don't want a lifelike or realistic raven -- a number of people have done those (or tried), a very few have succeeded -- but in any case there's precious little character in them. I like overdone, caricatured, and cartoonish in my figures; larger than life, exaggerated, full of Hallowe'en goodness!

Short of acquiring an actual bust of Pallas (which might be harder to find than a Plutonian shore), I originally thought he should be on a skull, which is on some books, near a candle, etc., and set between the two pirates in the graveyard. But I realized that this guy needs to move and needs some real size to fit all that movement into the innards; it would have to be an awfully large skull to get the scale right!

So he will likely recite his poetry and interact with/make fun of Cap'n Lantern and Ficketts from a tombstone perch, unless I find a big damned skull, because I still love the vision of the whole skull/candle/books cliche'!

Quoth the Raven,

Friday, July 16, 2010

Found it!

Sorry I've been absent lately.

I have been trying to get some video for everyone -- it's footage from decades ago at Gram's house and it's really cool -- but I've wasted two days trying to convert the .vob files to any other type that will work with my video editor and is compatible with Blogger's uploading scheme.

After much hair pulling, I've decided to let it go for now. It's probably a matter of uninstalling/reinstalling something or other and rebooting a trillion times, and I'm not in the mood now!

BUT on a much, much happier (and constructive!) note, I've found a very elegant and exciting (to me anyway!) answer to my 'what's the main theme for this year's display?' question.

See, the past decade's been pretty easy as far as coming up with a theme -- most of the time, I'd already been aware of things like upcoming anniversaries of my favorite films, the Haunted Mansion, blockbuster movies, and so on.

But so far this year there wasn't anything like that especially looming on the dim, misty Hallowe'en horizon, and other than my odd little robo-skeleto-mad-doctor head, I hadn't made anything new yet. A little strange for me, and it was getting worrisome.

But last night, a dream insinuated itself into my slumberous oblivion, and as if it had been inked by the very same quill he did himself use to scrawl his masterpieces, a vision came to me... let me put it so:

Once, upon a summer's evening
While I labored, nearly weeping
Over many a corrupted codec bit of editing bore;
From out my scalp my hair was falling
With all the un- and reinstalling
Suddenly, I felt a calling --
A calling to my pillow...  *snore!*

Into my slumber, at first dreamless,
There came a sudden vision seamless --
Tombs and skulls and reddened Death and long-lost-loves in tow;
And in this dream, my house and gard'
Became a poet's dark boneyard --
My theme this year will be the Bard of Horror:

E. A. POE!
(Bill Murray should've portrayed him when he was the right age!)

It was an incredible dream, where among the usual props and decorations, there stood a pendulum, and a recently un-bricked wall behind which slumped a dead woman and a living black cat; tearing from her coffin a sickly woman buried prematurely; and nearly hiding along a far wall, under a red lantern light, a scarlet-robed figure of Death "untenanted of any tangible form."

I woke up just about jumping out of bed. 

No special reason for the theme, I suppose, except that Edgar Allan Poe rocks and other than the well-known daguerreotype portrait here in the Gallery (over there to your left, give it a click!) I've never really tributed him before.

Maybe Uncle Forry will recite The Raven, or maybe the Great Pumpkin will do it. Or maybe... oh! that's an even better idea than either of those... this is going to be great!

Lost Lenores and Berenices,
Ravens, cats and other species
Haunting, stalking, brooding from the quill of their creator.
I can't wait to start the task
-- "Can you do it?"
--  Need you ask?
I promise pictures, and maybe (maybe!) video to come later!

I was trying to fit 'nevermore' in there somewhere but... my brain hurts now!

Glad I've found my theme. Now the work play begins.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Old tubes, part three.

Oh, the things we Hallowe'en Kids can hear at the altar of classic radio; the things that scared our parents, our grandparents, before we were around...

I overheard some quiet heterodyne squeals and crackles during the night and now, sure enough, the ol'  Hallowe'enith console radio at the S&P somehow has a few more programs for our pubbin' pleasure.

Whether the old tuner pulled them out from thin air or from inside its dusty, glowing chassis is beyond me, but here are two more fantastic old shows.

First is a March, 1933 episode of the series The Witch's Tale called The Graveyard Mansion; the show's as awesome as the title!

Then comes a fine fable from the series The Weird Circle, an odd little story called The Haunted Hotel, which originally aired in May of 1945.

Please listen and enjoy... and maybe on your next visit to the ol' place, you can bring your own Hallowe'en kids or Hallowe'en grandkids and we can all share a quiet evening of old school chills and lo-fi thrills.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

A world of granddaughters and monsters!

Don't want to interrupt any conversations at the bar, but I thought you might want to indulge a grandfather -- well, a Pa, I should say -- and take a quick look at these pics taken on my birthday.

My cousin Tommy (thank you so much!) was able to wrangle about a dozen family members into riding the Castle of Chaos adventure and a visit to the Hollywood Wax Museum.

At the museum, Kiara begged me to take photos of her with these figures...

Frankenstein, Dracula, Leatherface (I know! But she wanted the picture!) and her favorite, the Mummy... which must be pronounced "MUM-aaaaayyyy" as in the 'It's The Mummy' song from the Mad Monster Party soundtrack.

Proud Pa. Proud, proud Pa.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Old tubes, part two.

Remember that radio I told you about?

It has arrived.

Somehow, this vacuum tubed beauty either has the remains of a million old radio thrillers and chillers somewhere in its filaments and capacitors, or it only picks up signals not heard over the air in half a century.

A beautiful dial... perfect for this ol' pub!

As I moved it into position between the bar and the library, I noticed a hum coming from its massive old speakers, even though it wasn't even plugged in yet!

Apparently it was finding a few old shows for us to try out... and they're just perfect for us!

First, a Hallowe'en Masquerade Party as thrown by the perennial cheapskate, Jack Benny, on October 29th, 1939. Classic and classy!

Then, a terrifying tale from the archives of the incredible Arch Oboler and his famous Lights Out! program. Listen as two less-than-upstanding con men travel through a desolate jungle, trying to avoid the fangs of The Spider, (sorry Frog Queen!) originally broadcast in June of 1938.

It's awfully neat to have this beauty in our li'l ol' S&P... and I hope you choose to listen to it often, as programs change and new (well, new to us at any rate!) shows begin to spill from the speakers.

For sheer impact and involvement, radio is superior to movies and television, if only because in our minds' eyes, the pictures are so much better.



Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I'm sitting here listening to vintage scary tunes, with sconces lit and monster movies in the DVD queue... and while that might seem like any night at the ol' S&P, it's not quite so.

It seems your humble pubmaster is celebrating another trip around the Sun.

42's pretty grand, isn't it?

A friend of mine sent me the above image... must say, I'm really loving it! Don't know who Uuuaahh is, but what the heck -- it's the thought that counts.

By the way, I DID get the radio mentioned in this post, and will get it up and running soon (old radios need a lot of tender loving care before they can really shine!) -- another few days at most -- and then you'll all be very happy!

It's a remarkable thing to be living in this crazy world, and enjoying the sun's setting as much as its rising. We who love the dark, the odd, the decidedly different, tend to have a tougher road than others... but it's worth it.

Thanks again, Mom and Dad. I cannot return the gift of Life, but I'll always be grateful.

Be yourselves. Be who you wish to be. Just BE, trust me. Being is easier and better than becoming.

And never, ever let 'em think they've won.

Drinks on the house.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Independence Day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Corpse of July.

(Had to mess with it a bit, couldn't help myself. Gotta love my graphics tablet!)

Well, dear S&P regulars, it is the Middle Month of Summer -- that bright, hot, red-white-&-blue stretch of days known as July.

We celebrate the birth of nations, the peak of seasons, the traditions, activities, toys and joys of Summer.

July seems to be a big month for birthdays; no doubt it can get pretty cold in October...

As ever, here at the Skull & Pumpkin a new month means new additions to the ol' jukebox, and this time I've got a mix of nuttiness to rival that bowl of snacks at the bar.

Now, in case any of you are really new to this thing, I always begin the jukebox with Vince Guaraldi's The Great Pumpkin Waltz, our official theme song, and ends with Darol Anger and Barbra Higbie's Pumpkintime, our official incidental music.

New this month is the classic John Phillip Sousa march that is the American Summer, Stars & Stripes Forever. Yeah, he composed it on Christmas Day in 1896, but it has become the Fourth of July for most of us. But since we're a Hallowe'eny kinda place, I thought a quirky pipe organ version would really be a swell fit. Here, organist Cameron Carpenter plays in his usual lurching, lumbering, can't-keep-time, sloppy style, and it's perfect for us.

Now, I've decided to keep the Grim Grinning Waltz from the Haunted Mansion where it is, because it's a good pipe organ complement to the Sousa piece. Also, I've kept the themes from Poltergeist and Jaws where they are -- Summer is about blockbuster family fun, and if those two movies don't define 'Summer blockbuster', I don't know what does.

Summer also means a lot of yardwork and days spent outdoors, and therefore for some it also means garden pests and critters. So I thought I'd really s-t-r-e-t-c-h the limits of relevance for this one and select a great 1942 big band piece The Mole, from Harry James & His Orchestra. It's awesome. Deal with it.

And since we're in the realm of Summer critters (see how easy this gets once you just accept the illogic?), I thought the 1985 Mike Marshall/Darol Anger piece called Dolphins would be a great addition. Two great solos in this one.

Of course, we cannot let a Fourth of July pass without a listen to Paul Simon's 1973 anthem American Tune. Some of the greatest lyrics of his career, and relevant any time we consider what it is to be an American, whether it's Independence Day, Thanksgiving, the first Tuesday in November, or even April 15th.

Enjoy the music, enjoy your holiday, enjoy your freedom.

Personally, I have a big family reunion going on so we'll all be in and out of the ol' S&P this weekend. Many cheers all around!