'It’s a family affair': The Curtis family continues 35-year Halloween tradition


The Curtis family stands outside their decorated house Monday, Oct. 24. 

Robin and Larry Curtis have covered the yard of their 502 S. Arnold Ave home in Halloween decorations for over 30 years. Inflatable zombies, skeleton fish, pumpkin patches and more in the front, on the side of the house and all throughout the backyard have become a staple in the community.

“Everybody does Christmas. A lot of people do Easter,” Robin said. “Nobody was doing Halloween.”

It all started in the late 1980s when Robin, Larry and their daughter, Sarah, moved to their current Mount Pleasant home. A few years after, they started decorating for Halloween. Now, Sarah’s son, Curtis Droster, 8, helps her, his grandparents and great-grandmother put the decorations up annually.

Robin’s oldest grandson, Donovan Curtis and her sister, Carol Wright, help with the set up, too.

Building the collection

Each year, Robin and Larry purchased items in their collection from garage sales and post-Halloween sales.

“It just grew from there,” Robin said.

The collection is always evolving, she said. They recycle personal items like Frances’ light post, Curtis’ boat-shaped sandbox and even Robin’s very own wedding dress.

“Most of the stuff we get, we buy at garage sales, or the clothes were ours,” she said. “We did country line dancing, and we don’t do it anymore, so our clothes made the yard.”

Robin said it took their family two days to set up a “good start.” From there, they “tweak it every day.”

Planning starts in the summer, according to Robin’s mother, Frances Wright, 97, who has been by her daughter’s side to assist since the start. Finally, weeks before Halloween, Robin said their elaborate décor is ready.

“About two weeks before Halloween, we usually have it the way we want it,” she said.

Various “scenes,” as Robin calls them, throughout the yard illustrate a wedding with a minister and cake hand-built from wood; medical doctors with scrubs and masks; and an ocean-themed section with fish skeletons and an inflatable fisherman.

The work does not stop there. Every night, the family removes all the unattached face masks and Halloween masks because they have been stolen in the past.

Robin said only about half of their decorations are currently out. They have much more, including a clown scene, Jon’s drive-in – inspired by the Mount Pleasant burger joint – and a "Wizard of Oz" scene with a yellow brick road and wicked witch.

“You see something at (a) garage sale and go ‘Well there’s the start of a scene,’” Robin said.

A special guest is making an appearance this year: Waldo, from the children’s book “Where’s Waldo” is in the yard.

“Waldo moves every other day,” Robin said. “He will be behind something; he won’t be just sticking out.”

Each year for Halloween, most of the family dresses up as decorations in the yard to scare people.

“If it’s a small child, I will do some kind of signal,” Robin said.

“So that we won’t scare them,” Larry said. “We like scaring people; we don’t want to horrify them.”

Where does it all go?

During the off-season, the Curtis’ store their decorations in two outdoor sheds and their basement. Robin said she’s learned of ways to consolidate them into smaller spaces.

“I can get probably 12 to 15 – depending on the size – inflatables in one crate,” she said. “Instead of 15 boxes.”

Larry said one of the troubles with having so many decorations is keeping track of it all.

“Sometimes we can’t find where we (put) stuff,” he said. “There’s a big, tall inflatable dragon that we have, I don’t know where it is.”

“You’d think after 30-some odd years we’d be organized but we’re not,” Robin said.

“We keep buying,” Larry said.

Adjusting to new needs

This year, Robin was not able to participate as much as she has in past years. She is living with and caring for her mom, who is developing dementia, and her sister, who is losing her vision, in Canadian Lakes.

Living thirty minutes away, she is not able to stay at home with her husband or set out the decorations.

Instead, Larry did most of the work this year.

“She loves Halloween. I love her. So that’s why I do it,” he said. “She’s my motivation.”

A community staple

Robin said they considered retiring the decorations this year until neighbors asked, in passing, when they could expect to see the show.

“We just didn’t think anybody really cared,” Robin said. “But I guess people, they really look forward to it every year."

“A guy came by with his kids,” Larry said. “He came up and talked to me and says, ‘I told my kids "When I was your age (was) the first time I saw (the Curtis’) yard"', so he brought his kids back to see.”

“That’s how long we’ve been doing it, generations,” Robin said.