The orange glow that settles in nightly over the rooftops of a North Baltimore neighborhood these days isn't a fire. It's Halloween on a Hampden block that delivers a mega-kilowatt jolt of late October energy.
Glowing Frankenstein monsters, swirling ghosts, sunset pumpkins, sticky spider webs, shallow graves and clanking skeletons fill porch after porch along the 700 block of W. 34th St. One house has a working fog machine. Another has a front yard filled with mock graves.
"In reality, it's the safest street that anyone could bring their kids to," said Darlene Hughes Hosier, whose family has been decorating the corner home for more than 45 years.
A mechanical crow caws at the entrance to her front yard and steps. The porch is protected by a crypt keeper. It speaks. There's a Bates Motel sign.
She and her neighbors are part of what is getting to be an annual tradition here that draws visitors from all over, even a few strays from Italy and Australia.
They call their effort the "Miracle on 34th Street," a communal outdoor decorating blitz.
Tonight the street will be lighted for Halloween. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, the halls will be decked for Christmas. Some homes decorate for Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Memorial Day and July Fourth, too.
It was the success of the Christmas decorating that surged and made the street an electric park for all occasions.
The street now glows in traditional oranges, with dark purple and navy blue lights substituting for black. It looks like a home-grown combination of Copenhagen's Tivoli and Orlando's Walt Disney World.
"My husband goes all out," Mrs. Hosier said. "One year we had a haunted house for Halloween. The house was all filled with strobe lights and black light. We took the blades out of saws and the bits out of the drills and ran them. They made a noise you won't forget. We had people hide under the tables with packets of fake blood. I was cleaning up that stuff for months afterwards."
She has been buying Halloween candy for weeks -- enough sweets to fill a 20-gallon drum in her home.
"This has to be a fun holiday, something our children will remember," she said. They encourage visits from children in costume Oct. 30 and 31.
The neighbors see the Halloween decorations as something of a trial run for Christmas, when they really go all out, stringing strands of lights over the rooftops and across the street.
"I was really scared to open my first electric bill when we went all the way to the top," said Sharon Morgan. Her son Travis, a City College senior, helps string the Christmas lights beginning Nov. 1, when the Halloween lights come down.
"Once you get the hang of it, it's not hard dropping a ball of string down from the roof, running it across the street and lifting up the string of attached lights," Travis Morgan said.
The residents pitch in for the expense (about $10 or $15 annually) of the Christmas electricity. They also hold a neighborhood raffle to help with expenses.
The "Miracle on 34th Street" seems to have encouraged other homes in the immediate neighborhood to decorate in a similar, though less flamboyant, style.
There are Halloween lights and decorated front gardens along nearby Chestnut and Roland avenues, as well as a large Halloween garden at 37th Street and Buena Vista Avenue.
Residents do not seek cash donations from visitors.
But on Nov. 25, the Saturday after Thanksgiving when the 700 block lights up, the 34th Street neighbors will accept unused blankets, sweaters, caps and gloves for the homeless.
"You go down to the harbor and see people eating out of trash cans. We'd like to do something to help out," Mrs. Morgan said.