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Harford homes dress up for Halloween

Whether gory and ghoulish or friendly and fun, Halloween decorating holds a special place in the hearts of some Harford County homeowners.

Whether ghoulish and gory, or friendly and fun, Halloween decorating holds a special place in the hearts of some Harford County homeowners.

While many people put out a pumpkin or another sign to welcome trick-or-treaters, some homes are transformed into extravagant displays of ghosts, monsters, pumpkins, witches and everything in between.

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The homeowners who get especially excited about Halloween usually show it inside and out of their home.

Eric and Heather Piper, who have gotten attention for turning their property off of Aberdeen's Route 22 into a veritable haunted house, even got married on Halloween.

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The Forest Hill home of Tiffany and Peter Rusko, of Forest Hill, is ready, inside and out, for Halloween.
The Forest Hill home of Tiffany and Peter Rusko, of Forest Hill, is ready, inside and out, for Halloween. (BRYNA ZUMER | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

While Eric Piper may be best known in the neighborhood for his disturbing exterior decorations, like a carousel of mutilated "devil babies," the inside of the Pipers' house also has items like a cabinet chock-full of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" items.

Although they also decorate for Christmas, "Halloween is our biggest attraction," he said.

For Eric Piper, Oct. 31 is a unique opportunity for anyone to be as weird as they want. After all, it's not every day someone can rip (toy) babies apart in their backyard and not be overly questioned about it.

"You can be gothic or ghostly and disgusting and be OK with it, because it's Halloween," he explained. "Nobody can judge you on Halloween."

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He admitted even his son thought it might be a little much when he saw Piper cutting the head off one of the babies.

Nevertheless, Piper's front door is truly terrifying to approach. It is packed with everything from a stable of howling, fire-breathing wolves to a demonic life-size doll that grows in height and threatens children.

"I don't know how many times the mailman dropped the mail" while coming up to the house, Piper noted with a smile.

He enjoys scaring kids, one year dressing up as a clown and posing in the middle of two other life-size clown dolls.

Neighborhood children, however, don't seem to be that easy to scare. Piper's display moved from a neighborhood farther south to his new home on Graceford Drive a couple of years ago, but he still gets plenty of trick-or-treaters.

"I turned the lights off at midnight because people were still showing up," he said.

Creative and creepy

Big or small, Harford's homes do seem to be getting into the Halloween spirit more, showing off both the creativity of the owners and what the holiday means to different residents.

Communities, civic groups and businesses throughout Harford County are preparing a slew of Halloween events with games, haunted houses, costume contests and trick-or-treating for local families.

The proliferation of inflatables has made it easier to instantly build a giant display on the front lawn.

The inflatable market has grown beyond Christmas into almost every holiday or special interest, from life-size Ravens football players to Thanksgiving turkeys.

One home on Bel Air's Plumtree Road boasts an eye-catching display of Halloween inflatables, including a wing-flapping dragon, a carousel spinning inside a jack-o'-lantern, a spooky-looking Frankenstein monster and a trio of ghosts riding a pumpkin.

Several townhomes on Bel Air's Atwood Road are fans of colorful posters that cover the whole of their front doors with messages of "Happy Halloween" or "Trick or Treat."

The neighborhood seems to prefer a friendlier, not scarier, approach to Halloween.

One townhouse, an end unit, has a graceful display of fall-themed flowers and plants, plus a flying witch "stuck" to the front window.

A home on Forest Hill's Mardic Drive gets attention every year from its bright, bigger-than-life Halloween display that combines the spooky and the silly elements of the holiday.

Peter and Tiffany Rusko spend weeks gearing up with gigantic glowing skulls, spider webs and lights of all kinds.

Inside, their home is just as decorated, such as a kitchen table covered with demonic baby sculptures.

"We are like the Griswolds [of 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation']," Peter Rusko said about their approach to Halloween. "Each year we kind of switch it up."

His garage was filled with pieces he was working on this year and parts of old decorations, like a creepy playground scene with a motorized seesaw.

This year he is planning a BBQ spit with body parts.

The table covered in terrifying infants seemed to be a favorite.

"In general, I just love the gross babies," he said.

Even their child, who is 11, gets into the swing of things, as "he loves scary costumes," Tiffany Rusko noted.

"Halloween is our favorite holiday," she said, explaining they have been putting up progressively more decorations since 2009. "It just gets bigger every year."

Peter Rusko said "the pressure is on," but he took off work on Halloween to get ready for the day. Tiffany Rusko's mother even flies in from Detroit for the day to help set up.

He thinks that because there's less pressure for Halloween than for Christmas makes it easier to focus on decorating.

"There's no gifts, which is great. There's no expectation," he said. "It's a fun holiday."

'The battle' against gore

Mark Adams and his fiancee, Jenel Holmes, have been filling their home on Abingdon's Dumbarton Drive with Halloween decorations, inside and out, for the past four years.

This season, their yard includes a big friendly spider, a giant black cat, plenty of inflated jack-o'-lanterns, webs, lights and Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" greeting everyone on a giant pumpkin.

Unlike some other Halloween lovers, Adams and Holmes stay focused on the friendlier elements of the day.

"We prefer the cute Halloween stuff," Adams said, adding they get a lot of trick-or-treaters and he likes to turn a fog machine on them as they approach the door.

"We get a lot of compliments. A lot of people drive by and say it looks good," he said.

His neighbor flew a drone over the display to get an aerial view that he posted on Facebook, Adams noted.

For Adams and Holmes, the choice to celebrate Halloween so intensely is a more deliberate one.

Holmes said she grew up attending "a private religious school that did not believe in Halloween," although her parents were perfectly fine with trick-or-treating.

"That was kind of the battle," she said.

Adams, meanwhile, who grew up in Texas, recalled his family suddenly stopped trick-or-treating.

"I didn't understand what was wrong about it, but I was told it was wrong," Adams said. He still sees people concerned about the message of Halloween on social media.

"Everybody thinks Halloween is getting a bad rap," he said. "For us, we have fun. We don't do scary. When the kids come up, they are not scared."

"I celebrate it because it's fun. It's festive. There is nothing evil or demonic about it," Adams said. "I defend Halloween all the time."

Now that he's older, Adams echoed the Ruskos' approach to a full-on celebration of Halloween.

"I am the Clark Griswold of Halloween," he said, mentioning another popular movie "Hocus Pocus," that shows children in modern-day Salem, Mass., trick-or-treating among numerous heavily-decorated homes.

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Adams has even noticed some of his neighbors picking up the Halloween spirit more. He said he stays focused on Halloween because one neighbor around the corner has a massive Christmas display, so he does not want to compete with that.

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"I would like to see more neighbors enjoy it and put lights up and have fun," he said of Halloween. "It's just fun to put up something different and see if people notice. And they do."

"We live such fast lives that if you don't take time to enjoy stuff, you don't," he said. "We try to enjoy what it's all about."

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