Where Hallowe’en Lives (2016)

It seems Hallowe’en is coming both late and early this year. The local parade is on schedule — it’s coming up this Wednesday, the best parade our town has all year. Julie and I have been so busy that we’ve yet to carve jack-o’-lanterns. We’ve resolved to do that tomorrow. I haven’t read many seasonal stories this fall. I hope the fact that I’ve been writing a lot is a good excuse. Julie is having her classes read “The Bone Man,” and I’ll be visiting the classes next week to chat with them about the story and about writing in general. So it’s happening as it should: Hallowe’en is coming.

It came early for me in one unique and delightful way this year. I visited a store where the true spirit of Hallowe’en was alive and well. Pull your chair closer to the fire as it crackles and dances on this nicely warm October night, and let me tell you about it.

Julie and I went to a wedding in Belle Vernon this past weekend. It was a lovely time all the way around. We stayed down there Friday night after the rehearsal and dinner. Saturday morning, while Julie and the other girls were getting their hair done, I had time for going on an adventure. So of course, typewriter tracker that I am, I had looked up all the local antique stores I could find. The Internet suggested that there were three; following the trail, I discovered five and never made it to the sixth. The first one of the morning was by far the most atmospheric and original shop (of any kind) I’ve ever visited. It gets extra points for being open seven days a week and open at 9:00 a.m., two things that most antique stores don’t do. (Now, if only more of them would stay open at night — but Julie points out that I have unrealistic hopes for a demographic I’m not part of: most antique hunters don’t want to shop at night. I suppose she’s right.)

Anyway, Tim’s Secret Treasures is located in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, just across the Monongahela River from Belle Vernon. Tim welcomed me as soon as I came in. Like many antique dealers, he wanted to know if I’d been in before, and if there were anything in particular I was looking for. As for the latter question, often, I don’t want to tip my hand too soon, because I don’t want to hear, “Oh, no, we don’t have any typewriters.” Nor do I want to be taken right to the typewriter(s) in the store. I want to find them on my own, if they’re there. I have learned, though, that it’s good to talk with the storekeeper about my interest before leaving. Sometimes it prompts them to bring a typewriter out of the basement; sometimes it elicits the mention of another shop where there might be typewriters. Sometimes it leads simply to a pleasant conversation.

But I digress. Tim’s shop went on and on, a warren of rooms crammed with secret treasures, just as promised. Many antique stores provide that. What made Tim’s so unique was the presentation. First of all, there were giant animals standing outside, colorful statues of farm animals, indicating that this was a place worthy of attention, anything but ordinary. Inside, Tim had decked out every room in honor of Hallowe’en as only a true lover of Hallowe’en could. Everywhere I looked, everywhere I turned, there were life-sized figures in full costume — ghouls, ghosts, phantoms, monsters — many of which (triggered by motion detectors) spoke or thrashed or lunged. Spooky music played.

Tim was busy carrying in provisions for a Hallowe’en party that night, which he invited me to. Wherever he was at a given moment, I’m sure he could track my progress through the store by the sounds I was setting off.

As I climbed the squeaky steps, Tim warned me to watch out for the ghosts upstairs. At the top of the flight, a seemingly ordinary mirror burst into life with a ghastly face peering out and a tormented soul begging to be set free. “Let me out! It’s dark in here — so dark! Pleeease! Let me out!” Beyond an archway, a werewolf snarled at me, jaws wide. A condemned man thrashed, screaming, in a zapping, sizzling electric chair. A desiccated corpse played a piano. That’s what I admired about the mannequins Tim positioned in his store: they weren’t just added; they were integrated, interacting with the antiques as if a permanent part of the place.

The rooms went on and on, full of figurines and relics, tools, bottles, collectibles, furniture. Chairs and stools hung from pegs near the ceiling. In a small chamber dedicated to Native American-themed items, the face of a warrior was half the face of a wolf — a shape-shifter. In the presence of so many moaning, growling, staring, writhing, threatening figures, the antiques took on a sinister appearance. Some were clearly eerie anyway, beneath and unrelated to the Hallowe’en trappings. I didn’t want to touch the ceremonial dagger, the tribal mask. I didn’t want to peer too closely at the tiny ceramic face or into the dusty glass. When I left, I wanted to leave alone.

But Tim is as pleasant a shopkeeper as one could ask for, a man who loves the past and its objects, who is generous and welcoming. If we’d been around for the evening, I would have liked to attend his party: I could imagine the store filled with customers, wandering the rooms and floors to be thrilled by the lurking horrors.

“That’s an elevator, isn’t it?” I asked Tim, referring to the open-sided wooden platform I’d glimpsed in a shaft upstairs. He seemed happy that I’d noticed it. “This used to be a funeral home,” he explained. “They used the elevator for hoisting caskets up and down. I use it for furniture.” He knew a great deal about the building’s history, rattling off the precise years of various events. People had died here, he informed me, including an owner lady who passed away and not been found for a long time. I did not quite get around to asking him if he’d ever seen or heard or felt anything ghostly on the premises; I should have.

It was a better haunted house than many I’ve paid to go through, and I told him so. I’m just realizing now that what made it so effectively creepy was the ubiquity of real objects from the past — all the chairs and dolls, tools and boxes, tables and desks and bookends and lamps and mirrors . . . even the beat-up old Royal Empress typewriter squatting like a great pale toad in the gloom. All these things belonged to people once, people mostly dead now, some dead for a long time. People used and treasured these items, or else neglected them. Many hands touched them. The place is packed, cellar to attic, with whispers, with a vast ponderance of memory, aching and stagnant and observant. You, the living, walk there among things not yours, things sad and quiet and lost and hungry.

Various truths: I am delighted with a childlike glee that I went there, that I got to meet and chat with Tim, purveyor of Secret Treasures, host of parties, keeper of holidays; he is a nice guy. I am glad that I emerged again into the sunlight and fresh air. I am a little afraid of Tim’s store, and a little sad that I can’t visit it more often.

Such is the true spirit of Hallowe’en. Wouldn’t you agree?


9 Responses to Where Hallowe’en Lives (2016)

  1. Kay Myers says:

    Very interesting story, Fred, and you certainly have a way with words in describing the whole store. I feel I was there at Tim’s with you.
    Thank you for your blog!

  2. Jedibabe says:

    I too grew up around antiques, being frequently drug to old junk shops as a child. I never thought about what a perfect Halloween retreat they could be until you shared this tale of your experience in Tim’s shop. It is a perfect setting, that sense that rootedness that those old relics possess. As a child my favorite aspect of those shops was usually that they had boxes of sugar cubes to go along with their coffee offering, but now I willing enjoy the dusty old stuff, prowling around just as my parents did, looking for items with stories that speak to me. Fred, I appreciate you setting the spirit of this season as no one else I know can do!
    If you were closer to New Mexico I’d invite you and Julie to stop by Zuni for the recycled costume contest I’m hosting at the local Halloween Carnival this year. I’ve been pushing Trash to Art this past year and wanted to add the fashion component to it this year. I realized that Halloween costumes are ideal because it doesn’t have the pressure of “couture”. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what sort for fun costumes people can create out of trash. This community, of which I’ve been a resident for over two years now, has been in existence for many hundreds of years and I’ve begun to accept that I live in a haunted house, so it seems very appropriate to honor that history and celebrate it at Halloween. I have truly learned to revel in Halloween from your stories, so I thank you, Fred, for making me more aware of the magic of this fun season. Happy Halloween to you, and to all!

  3. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    I could smell the air in the store, feel the floorboards moving under my feet … I love your ability to put the reader in your place!

    Like the rest of the blogheads, I look forward to annual extravaganza of Durbin jack o’lanterns!

  4. fsdthreshold says:

    Oh, jack-o’-lantern pictures are coming, Mr. Brown Snowflake! We have three large pumpkins awaiting their transformation! Thank you for your kind words about this post. It really is an amazing store Tim has there!

    Jedibabe, your costume contest at the Hallowe’en Carnival sounds wonderful! I’d love to hear the highlights of what people come up with!

  5. i am mr brown snowflake says:

    OK, it has been a MONTH! Ahem, ahem …

    BTW, I believe P.S. will be in Tville over Christmas — I hope Dr. and Mr. Durbin will join us at some point!

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