Calling it quits on HalloweenAl Stahler is gearing up for his last fright night. On Halloween he expects hundreds to line up in front of his Valparaiso Avenue home ready to be scared out of their wits.
Al Stahler of Menlo Park puts on his last spooky spectacle
This year's theme is "Zombieland."
Loosely based on the 2009 movie, Zombieland will have three special features, says Mr. Stahler: a Zombie Tester, a Zombie Apocalypse (landscape littered with dead Zombies), and a Zombie shooting gallery (shoot a Zombie and win a prize). The prizes are assorted Gummi candies (think Gummi brains and body parts).
Mr. Stahler also promises surprise entertainment for those waiting to enter Zombieland. "We usually have about 100 in line and admit four at a time," he says. Zombieland opens at 6 and closes at 10 p.m.
This year's scary show will be Al's 13th and last. Next year the Stahler daughters, Kathleen and Amanda, always a big help to their dad, won't be around. Kathleen is a student at St. Mary's College in Moraga, and Amanda is a senior at Menlo-Atherton High School.
Al's wife, Christine, who "has always been a tremendous help," is usually occupied with the houseful of guests who stay on after the display closes.
Al Stahler got hooked on Halloween when he was 13. "I was too old to go trick-or-treating, so I started decorating my parents' front porch," he said in a 2003 article in the Almanac. For a few years after he and Christine, were married, they held a Halloween party in the basement of their home.
As Kathleen and Amanda grew older, the event moved to the front yard. "The first year I put out a 6-foot spider with glowing eyes and played scary music. We got five trick-or-treaters." Last year they had 800.
Over the years, has there been a favorite display? "I think it would be Star Trek in 2009," he says.
Any disasters? "One year we constructed a maze made out of cardboard, and there was a torrential rain the night before Halloween. We had to rescue everything." He learned to put up tarps and shelters from the rain since the show goes on "rain or shine."
At 5 p.m. on Halloween night, Mr. Stahler and crew will be frantically putting last-minutes touches on this year's spectacle. Kathleen is driving home to take part one last time, and Amanda has enlisted a dozen high school classmates to help out. Al's sisters, Mary and Ann, will lend a hand as they have for many years.
Looking back, Mr. Stahler says he has taken a lot of satisfaction from the enjoyment he has provided for kids and their parents. As one of his neighbors told him, "You know, I never used to get any kids on Halloween. Now this has become a neighborhood destination."
He's also happy to see how nearby Sherman Avenue has become "Halloween Central," with almost every house decorated.
What about next year? Won't it be strange not to be putting on a show? "Maybe I'll bring out the spider," he says.