By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian
As you drive past a certain residence in Rivesville, you slow down. You can’t believe what you see swaying back and forth from the lower branches of the large, shady tree in front.
Is that a body impaled on a basketball hoop?
Are those disembodied feet and legs and other body parts, bloody and dangling beside it?
If you live in the neighborhood, you remember what time of year it is and breathe a sigh of relief.
It’s only the Halloween display at the Harmons’ house.
Some people go for cute and safe Halloween decorations. Playful little goblins and witches and black cats with huge, toothy grins and big, adorable eyes.
Other people go a little more scary with snarling cats, grimacing witches and menacing ghosts.
Then there is the Halloween gore fest at this quiet unassuming home in Rivesville. It’s not cute. It’s not scary. It’s way beyond that.
It’s so “ghoul” it’s cool.
Lauronza Harmon grew up in Rivesville. She and her three children, son Tyler (now 17) and daughters Quinn (10) and Capri (9), moved back from Martinsburg about eight years ago.
Perfect night to move into a new house, right?
Maybe that’s why the family has embraced Halloween as its premier holiday since then.
That first year, Tyler was in fourth grade and still into trick-or-treating (nothing gory, just Power Rangers and such), so their decorations were kind of modest. As the years passed, they’ve added more novelties.
That first year, all they had was a zombie. Then each year, their decorations grew. Now their entire front porch and yard are taken over by denizens of the underworld. Like that unfortunate basketball star. And the owners who lost all those feet and legs. The skeleton on the porch. The gargoyles lining the driveway. And the famous, much-anticipated haunted house. Complete with ghoul-haunted maze, fog machine, strobe lights and shrieking monsters, it’s bound to curl even the straightest hair.
It started a few years ago when Tyler and friends were outgrowing the tamer trick-or-treating. Harmon wanted to give them something to do to maybe keep them out of Beggar’s Night mischief.
“Now it’s become a tradition with us,” she said. “It’s almost expected of us.”
Decked out as nongory princesses and the like, Quinn and Capri are still into scavenging for sweets.
But they also like the haunted house, their mom said. And so do four nephews who love to help with it.
“They like to hear their friends’ reactions.”
Screams of terror and maybe just plain Halloween fun cut through the tarp that creates the maze. Listen closely because sometimes it’s hard to tell if the shrieks are coming from the frightened souls feeling their way through the dark tunnels or from the haunted haunters themselves.
“We work all day Halloween putting up the haunted house,” she said. “We have a system. We know where to hang the tarps.”
She doesn’t like gory movies.
“They scare me to death,” she said, laughing. She doesn’t like to be scared. “I can’t stand scary things.”
So of course the bloodied body parts dangling from the tree in front of their house was her idea.
“Yeah, well,” she said. “The kids enjoy it.”
There’s that poor old basketball player wearing Tyler’s old jersey who didn’t quite make that last basket. Or those unfortunate cheerleaders — now a skeleton on the front porch — who have shaken their last pom-poms.
“I found some cheerleader outfits, so I put them on skeletons,” she said.
She scours different Halloween stores for the goriest, scariest parts, like those legs and feet hanging oh-so-spookily from the tree.
Neighbors don’t seem to mind the gore fest, she said.
“They’ll slow down when they drive by. People will tell me they can’t wait till we put up our decorations. They get a kick out of it, rather than think we’re these horrible people.”
She thinks adding the haunted house has spiced up the holiday for the family.
“It’s grown on us. It gives the kids something different to do than just asking for candy.”
Don’t worry, Mom and Dad. If little Susie or Timmy wants to go through the macabre maze, the crew behind the scenes still tone it down.
“We’ll yell, ‘We have a little one’ and go easy on them,” she said. “And some grown-ups bring their kids through if they think they’re going to be scared.
“But some kids go through it and through it and through it. Some even forget to take their candy with them.”
They kick up the haunted house a little each year, but other than that, it’s basically the same, she said.
“But the kids still love it.”
Some even say before Halloween is over that they’ll be back next year, she added.
It’s all about the kids, she said.
“My son and nephews are the whole reason I do this. They like scary things. They’re not out there in trouble, and they’re happy. And if they’re happy, I’m happy.”
Get ready for this year’s newest scare.
“We’ve got a remote controlled zombie (Steve, named by Capri),” she said. “We’ve got a grim reaper. We’ve got a guy in a noose. He’s electronic and screams and tries to pull himself off the noose.”
That would satisfy most fright fans. But not the Harmons.
“I said we had to get a psychotic clown,” she said.
And so they did.
As she was growing up in Rivesville, she didn’t have a lot of neighbors, so she’d go to a cousin’s house in Green Town for trick-or-treating.
“I’d go as a pumpkin or Tinker Bell. Nothing gory at all,” she said.
At age 17, Tyler will be off to college sooner than she’s ready. And with him just may go the haunted house and gory decorations.
“My nephews are still into it. I don’t know if my daughters will want to keep it going.”
Until then, the screams and shrieks will keep coming every Halloween.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.