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ON THE SCENE: Keene Valley celebrates Halloween

November 3, 2016
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

As the days counted down to Halloween when I was a kid, I anticipated the event with a mixture of excitement and dread. Excitement because it was a bit of a mini holiday and an opportunity to go out and hustle candy from the neighbors, dread because my mother saw it as an opportunity to get creative - with me as the canvas.

My mother, assisted by her friend Dorothy Russell, loved to create costumes for my two brothers and me. My fear was what she's come up with, and then having to wear the outfit much to my great embarrassment. One that stands out was when she turned me into a strawberry ice cream cone. Sitting down in such an outfit was not possible, but the bigger problem was trying to outrun all the kids who wanted to take a "bite" out of the ice cream.

According to my brother Gerret, he was decked out as a spoon that year. No doubt our brother Chris ended up dressed as a cherry. The hint here is that our mother liked themes.

Article Photos

Jessie Warner and Jen Kazmierczek
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"Once she dressed me as a witch," said Chris. "But the one I remember the most was when she turned me into a tooth, Gerret into a tooth brush, and you into a tube of tooth paste."

Back then, the kids would parade around in the 1932 Olympic Arena and the judges gave out awards for best costume, which our mother often won.

"The first one I remember was when she dressed me up as an Indian complete with a full headdress," said Gerret. "They had all the kids parade around the arena. Dr. Hart wanted me to stand in a particular area where they would be selecting the best costumes, but I really didn't understand what was going on so I kept leaving to walk around the arena with the other kids. Thus, I was on the far side of the arena when they selected the best costumes. The next year, she dressed you and me up as a clothesline. I was in the front, you were in the back, and we wore these cardboard tubes with horizontal tubes attached and lines between us with laundry hanging of the clotheslines. Chris was dressed as a little girl and was carrying a small basket full of laundry."

"He hated that!"

"He definitely was not thrilled."

"I think it was the dress that was most upsetting."

"She did win a lot of prizes. Too bad they didn't take pictures back then the way they do now," said Gerret.

I suspect Chris is quite happy that those moments are not recorded, they being seared into his memory is a record enough.

In Keene Valley, some people make their own costumes, some mothers gleefully decorate their children, and then there is Gladice Whitney, who, with the help of her children and grandchildren, decorates her whole house. The Whitneys' house, located in the center of the hamlet, is truly over the top for sound effects, creepy, creeping critters crawling about, grasping ghouls protecting the candy, skeletons scaling the walls, and demons peering out of deep recesses. Just getting into the house requires walking through a gauntlet of shrieks, moans, fluttering ghosts, spiders and other creatures seeking to unnerve the most stout of hearts.

The house itself looks right out of a Charles Addams Family cartoon, and the family takes full advantage. Once one gets in, there is a table filled with great goodies to gladden the heart of the most sugar-crazed trick-or-treaters combined with the warmth of the Whitney family; however, there are these nasty little creatures daring one to reach for those tender morsels. As you reach your hand forward, so do they.

Gladice admits that she started the tradition of going all out for Halloween, but it does have consequences.

"We've been doing this a long time," said Gladice, "Twenty years or more. We've got to do something different every year. It's getting that now my children give me Halloween stuff for my birthday and Christmas. It's happy birthday mom, here's something for Halloween, a few things to scare kids with. It's fun. My only worry is that we have so much stuff on the porch it's going to fall down one day. It probably will have to be held up by a skeleton."

Not nervous about ghouls or falling porches was Gabriella the zombie. "I like scaring things," she said. "I learned how to be scary from my mommy."

"How do you happen to have a zombie for a daughter?" I asked.

"She got murdered at a prom," said her mom Mindy Bell. "She's now a zombie prom queen."

Keene Valley seems built for Halloween, and of consequence attracts kids from Keene, Upper Jay and a few beyond. It's compact, flat, and the townspeople are generous - a generosity that extends to the parents as well as the kids. The route is bracketed by two fire pits, one in front of The Mountaineer and the other the fire department, so there are opportunities to warm up and get hot cider at both.

This year, Keene Valley Congregational Church's new pastor John Sampson decided to decorate the path leading up to the front steps and vestibule with pumpkins carved by members of the congregation who helped him give out candy. An added thrill for the kids was the opportunity to ring the church bell, and they did so with a relish.

"I love my first Halloween in Keene," said Rev. Sampson. "I've done Halloween before, but this is pretty great. Lots of nice people, lots of great costumes, lots of fun ringing the bell, it's all good. We have big plans for next year!"

What would have gladdened my mother's heart was meeting Ella the pangolin. Referred to as scaly anteaters because they are covered with tough overlapping scales, these unique creatures are one of the most endangered mammals in the world.

"I made the pangolin outfit, said her mom with a justified pride (lots of scales to cut out and attach). "I really enjoy making my children's costumes. They come up with the ideas (not an opportunity I had), we research them, and then we make them. My son Charlie is Hugh Glass, a Wyoming mountain man, and Ella is a pangolin."



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