At first, decorating for Halloween at the Novitski home in Brookfield was pretty basic: A scarecrow on the front porch. Then in 2003, Ken Novitski found some life-size skeleton figures at a big-box hardware store.
“That’s what started it,” Novitski said.
Eleven years later, Ken and Betty Novitski’s home in the 3200 block of Harrison Street has become something of a local tourist attraction. Every October, neighbors and their friends — he’s had visitors from as far away as Sao Paolo, Brazil and Germany — come to admire the more than 30 skeletons, witches, grave diggers, monsters, ghosts and other creatures that inhabit the side and front yards of the house.
It takes Ken about three days to put up everything outside. Inside, Betty continues the theme inside the couple’s living room.
“The way it’s set up and the lighting I put on it, when it gets dark out it looks like an old Universal movie set,” said Novitski, referring to the film studio that made the classic monster movies of the 1930s.
It’s not as if Novitski simply bought some ready-made figures and plopped them in his yard. The skeletons were purchased, but Novitski painted them and posed them using coat hangers and cable wire ties.
The rest of the figures, including a fearsome-looking full-size, headless man on a horse, are the result of Novitski’s hard work.
“It took me a month to make the horse,” he said. “All the grave diggers, the witches and warlocks, the horse and the horseman, they’re made out of PVC pipe. Ninety percent of it I put together myself.”
The PVC pipe “stick figures” are then fitted out with masks and hands that Novitski buys at Halloween stores and clothed with shredded fabric or whatever’s available.
“A couple are wearing my old suits,” Novitski said.
In order to make the horse, he had to do a little anatomical research, which he completed by taking a tape measure out to a riding stable in Willowbrook where he measured a full-size plastic horse they keep out there.
“I was out there with a tape measure for about an hour,” said Novitski. “Then I came back with my measurements, laid the PVC out there and stared at it for hours until I thought what I was looking at was what I wanted.”
At that point, he filled out the horse’s body by fashioning a chicken wire body and then covering it with burlap and about “four gallons of black paint.” In fact all of the clothing worn by the various creatures on Novitski’s property have been generously slathered in paint to weather- and mildew-proof them.
Keeping with his Universal Studios theme, Novitski last year created a mummy with a Boris Karloff mask. Betty Novitski shredded material she bought at a local fabric store and Ken “started spray-gluing it on there. And I went nuts with a couple cans of spray paint.”
In coming years he hopes to add a classic Frankenstein’s monster and a Bela Lugosi-looking Dracula. It would be the second vampire in the mix; a very creepy looking vampire now dangles, upside down, from the tree in front of Novitski’s house.
The display has attracted more and more families to the block for trick-or-treating. Last year, said Novitski, the house had 197 kids come up to the front door — you have to pass a coven of witches and a skeletal bride and groom to get there.
“My wife counts every kid she hands candy to,” said Novitski.
One of the reasons the display is popular with even small children, he believes, is that it’s not gory. It’s scary, but approachable. Each year, a local Montessori preschool swings by during the day for a visit.
When asked why he goes to such great lengths to decorate for Halloween, Novitski said it’s to see the reactions of the kids.
“I love to see the faces on big kids and little kids,” said Novitski. “It’s funny when you see people walking out there. They can’t believe it.”
The display will be up until Oct. 31. After that, it’ll be down in two days, stored away until next Oct. 1.