The National Retail Federation says Halloween will be an $8 billion industry this year, with seven in 10 Americans celebrating and spending an average of nearly $80 per person on costumes, candy and decorations.
Don't believe it? Look no farther than Erin Rinner's house in the 700 block of East Lake Avenue in Evesham Park, where tombstones dot the front yard, skeletons crawl through the fog in the grass, an animatronic Grim Reaper greets you with ghoulish good humor at the front door, and a battery-operated black cat yowls at the bottom of the footpath.
One tombstone solves a longstanding mystery. "Jimmy Hoffa," it says. "Found him!"
The 35-year-old systems engineer Rinner has been going over the top for the past seven years to decorate her house for Halloween. And this year, she and her partner, Kelly Fitzgerald, are getting some help they never expected — from Lindsay Ayers, 29, a new neighbor, who bought the house next door, her first, in May. It turns out Ayers is as Halloween-crazy as Rinner and Fitzgerald are.
"That's one of the reasons I wanted to buy a house, so I could do Halloween," said Ayers, who works in business development for Valley Motors in Cockeysville.
"Me, too!" crowed Rinner as they put the finishing touches on their holiday-themed houses and yards Sunday evening.
Rinner is spending far above the national average of $175 each Halloween. Growing up in Canton, Ohio, "it was my favorite holiday," she said. "I think I trick-or-treated until I was like, 14."
She always knew the houses that gave the best candy, and thought to herself, "That's going to be me when I have a house."
Rinner said her house is so scary that some children are afraid to go up to her door. But the brave are rewarded with full-sized candy bars, not the "fun"-sized ones, she said.
"It's only once a year," she said, "And I really like it when the kids are scared."
Rinner, Fitzgerald and Ayers are not alone. North Baltimore residents are doing Halloween in a big way. Communities planning Halloween parades, festivals, costume contests, haunted houses and other events, include Roland Park, Oakenshawe, Homeland, Radnor-Winston, Lake-Evesham, Remington, Roosevelt Recreation Center in Hampden and the Hampden Village Merchants Association.
Roosevelt rec center's haunted house was a big hit last year, except for the wait lines of up to two hours.
"We've got things moving a lot faster this year, hopefully," said center Director Joshua Fissel.
Shoppers were already on the prowl for costumes Oct. 18 at the Party City store on York Road near Cedarcroft, where Michael Jackson's "Thriller" blared from speaker and shelves were stocked with seduction wigs, light-up skeletons, clown costumes, gun holsters, lab coats, neck and arm shackles, oversized sombreros and "Zombie crossing" signs.
"We're looking for a rapier for a Puss In Boots," said Friends School voice teacher Rebecca Rossello, of Rodgers Forge. Rossello said her son, Nick Lane, 3, wants to dress up as the title character from the animated movie "Puss In Boots," about the adventures of a swashbuckling, sword-wielding cat.
Rossello's daughter, Ana Lane, a fourth-grader at Friends, wants to be Anne Boleyn, the queen of England who was beheaded by King Henry VIII.
"But you need the accouterments," Rossello said.
Many houses are happily haunted, including, of course, the row houses in the 700 block of 34th Street in Hampden, known as "The Miracle of 34th Street." The street is best known for its light displays at Christmastime, but it gears up for Halloween, too.
At Bob Hosier's house, gargoyles stand guard on the porch and a sign says, "Bates Motel: No Vacancy," in homage to the movie "Psycho."
In Roland Park, Bo and Susan Ciaverelli have a theme for their decorated house in the 200 block of Oakland Road: "Haunted Playground."
"Our family and friends have always been a little dark," Bo Ciaverelli said, noting that their son, Cotton, now a college student, preferred building monster models to playing sports as a youth.
Susan Ciaverelli said the family has been observing Halloween with a vengeance since they moved there in 1989 and discovered that the neighborhood seemed a little tame around the holiday.
"Like most bad habits, it started innocently enough: a little creepy Spanish moss here, a disembodied talking head there," she said. "But soon it took on a life of its own. We started planning scary themes."
Cotton would dress as a ghoul and lie in wait for unsuspecting trick-or-treaters, his mother said.
Now, they carry on the tradition as "a public service," she said. "Besides, kids need to learn that nothing in life is free. They have to really want the candy to walk up to our house."
And this year, children might be even more wary.
"We have a new animatronic that hopefully will bring some angst," Bo Ciaverelli said. He wouldn't say what it is.
The biggest Halloween news in Roland Park is that Judy Dobbs, who has been organizing a neighborhood parade for nearly 30 years, is stepping down as organizer.
The parade, which has drawn as many as 100 families through the years, starts at ends at Park Lane, an alley between Hawthorne and Keswick roads. At the end, Amy Urdang hosts a backyard party with cider and popcorn, while parade co-founder Barrie Sigler treats the children to token prizes and her husband, Richard, compliments them on their costumes as they walk a red carpet.
Now, Dobbs, who has the Herculean task of sending out invitations each year, is stepping aside after this year's parade, on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3 p.m., or Sunday, if it rains Saturday. She is asking around to see if someone else wants to take over.
"I'm tired," she said. "I love seeing it every year and I love being part of it, but it's time for someone else to carry on the tradition."
Frightfully good events coming
The following is a partial list of Halloween-related parades and other events in north Baltimore.
Hampden HalloweenFest, Wednesday, Oct. 31, 5-8 p.m., on The Avenue, Falls Road and Chestnut Avenue, with trick-or-treat and costume contests.
Roosevelt Recreation Center Haunted House, 1221 W. 36th St., Hampden, Friday, Oct. 26, 6-10 p.m. Cost is $3.
Homeland Parade at the Lakes, Saturday, Oct. 27, 1 p.m., with a pet parade preceding the children's parade. Rain date Sunday.
Oakenshawe Halloween Parade, Saturday, Oct. 27, 4 p.m., starting at Homewood and Guilford terraces.
Radnor-Winston Halloween Parade and Fall Festival, Saturday, Oct. 27, 11:30 a.m., 4903 Crowson Ave.
Remington Hauntingdon Festival, Saturday, Oct. 27, 5-8 p.m., in the 2900 block of Huntingdon Ave. Rain date Sunday.
Roland Park neighborhood parade, Saturday, Oct. 27, 3 p.m., starting on Park Lane between Hawthorne and Keswick roads. Rain date Sunday.