SHERIDAN — Three witches huddle around a cauldron and stir, seeming to cackle at age old jokes and share family secrets. Down the street, skeletons ride bikes, push lawnmowers and picnic on a park bench, claiming one of Sheridan’s front yards as their personal playground.
With Halloween just days away, lawns and porches have become the haunts of spooks of all sorts. Whether scary or silly, if it seems there are more decorations this year than years past, there likely are.
In the last 12 years, national consumer spending on Halloween has nearly tripled from $3.3 billion in 2005 to $9.1 billion expected this year.
The National Retail Federation has conducted a yearly survey since 2003 to monitor spending on the holiday. This year’s estimates will set a record high and send a slew of superheroes and witches to parties and doorsteps around the nation.
The increase in spending correlates with an increase in Americans planning to celebrate, up nearly 15 percent in the last decade from 58 to 72 percent.
The national trend of spooks on the upswing is reflected in Sheridan, too, and residents who let loose on the holiday see the increase as a positive because it means more fun for more people.
“Halloween is for the kids,” Gordon Carlson said. “You can have fun doing it, but it’s for the kids — or the inner kid.”
Gordon and Susan Carlson started decorating for Halloween 20 years ago to amuse their children because they lived in a small town that didn’t do much for the holiday. Their zany skeleton display collected over two decades can now be seen on their lawn in the 1000 block of Big Horn Avenue.
They originally purchased a few skeletons from medical supply catalogs and wired them into funny poses. Susan Carlson was thrilled when Halloween decorations became more mainstream because they could buy bendable skeletons and grow their display. Every year they dream up different scenarios: sunbathing while sipping on a margarita, fishing, one skeleton casually pushing a lawn mower over another one.
While this is only the Carlson’s second Halloween in Sheridan, they’ve already received enthusiastic responses.
“We’ve had people drive up and holler out their windows, ‘Hey, great job!’ That makes you feel good when other people enjoy it,” Susan Carlson said.
Darlene Gilkey, owner of Nest Home and Holiday Window Works and More in Sheridan, said she’s seen an increase in the availability and purchase of Halloween decor in the last 10 years, offering a quick estimate that sales have at least doubled in that timeframe.
Gilkey said customers will come in July looking for Halloween decorations and noted people are spending more on the holiday than ever before.
“We used to cut out jack-o-lanterns and put candles in them,” Gilkey said. “That was it, a costume, mask and some pumpkins.”
Gilkey believes social media sites have likely contributed to the rise as people see costumes or decorations they want to imitate. As demand increases, supply is sure to follow.
Apartment Therapy blogger Nancy Mitchell recently explored the history of Halloween decorations, noting that catalogs for decorations became popular in the 1920s and 1930s but featured mainly disposable items made from crepe paper and pipe cleaners. In recent years, decorations have become more permanent, stored away in bins like Christmas or Easter items.
Local resident Agnes Blaney — known for her yard full of blow-up decorations on Thurmond Avenue — would agree.
Blaney has stacks of bins in her basement to hold decorations, power cords and stakes. Five holidays a year, members of Sheridan College sports teams help her haul out the bins and set up the billowy figures.
“People stop, and people take pictures. I had a car drive by last year and I looked up, and their dog was looking!” Blaney said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Just up the street from the Carlsons in the 1200 block of Big Horn Avenue, Linda Brenneman has contributed to the increase in Halloween decorations in recent years — but not necessarily through direct purchases.
She began making her own Halloween decorations three years ago, using PVC pipe, cloth and papier mache to create a giant spider, gravestones, witches and a Grim Reaper.
This year, her husband helped motorize the three giant witches standing around their cauldron. One stirs, one adds ingredients and one turns her head to keep an eye on trick-or-treaters.
“I like that scare or little spook that gets your heart racing for a minute and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m alive!’” Brenneman said.
Now that her children are older and don’t need costumes, the decorations give Brenneman a creative outlet and allow her to connect with the community. She plans to add more each year — one neighbor has offered room for the expansion — and hopes her efforts will delight community members and encourage Sheridan to up its Halloween fun factor.