We moved in to the house in 2002 and had lots of leftover moving boxes. “What if we made a little archway for the porch that looked like a castle for Halloween? We could wear our Ren Faire costumes and hand out candy,” we thought. Some boxes, some left over lumber and paint and voilà! Castle façade! Kids really enjoyed it (our friends did, too!) and a tradition was born.
We walked out of the theater after watching Pirates of the Caribbean in the summer of 2003 and said, “Hey, we could build a pirate ship in front of our house for Halloween.” So, the next theme was Pirates of the Caribbean and we built the Black Pearl pirate ship in our yard. To build the ship, we acquired free boxes from a bike store and free cardboard tubes from a carpet store. Add a blonde Johnny Depp, a pirate maiden, and two pirate dogs and you have the makings of a very pirate-y Halloween advent-arrrrr.
As huge Star Wars fans, we knew that a Star Wars themed Halloween House was inevitable. In 2004, between Star Wars Episode II and Star Wars Episode III, we decided to go big Star Wars style. We chose the Ewok Village on Endor from Return of the Jedi as the next setting and built tall trees, an Imperial bunker and a fourteen foot high to-scale AT-ST Scout Walker. That night, the house was manned by two Princess Leias, some Rebel soldiers, cardboard Ewoks, a Jedi, a Stormtrooper and even a Death Star janitor! Even Scout and Ebi, our two dogs, got into the spirit. The Force was definitely with us. We got 400-500 trick or treaters that Halloween. 2004 was the year that our “any kid wearing a Star Wars costume gets an extra treat” policy was born.
Just on the tails of the release of the book Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince and one month before the release of the movie Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we transformed our house into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for Halloween. We acquired free cardboard from Eric’s work, bought stone wall Scene Setters and re-built the porch arch for the castle. On the porch we added a talking Sorting Hat and a flickering Goblet of Fire. Hogwarts regulars such as Professor Dumbledore, Rubius Hagrid, Professor Trelawney, Professor Quirrell and even Harry Potter himself made appearances as costumed characters to the delight of record crowds.
We had already decided to do Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as the Halloween theme in 2006 before we created our Hogwarts Castle in 2005. The film had come out and had lots of imaginative visuals that captured our attention (and Johnny Depp was in it, so that gave it an advantage as we had already done the Pirates of the Caribbean Halloween house a few years prior). We transformed the castle arch into the entrance into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, added a chocolate waterfall and populated the yard with Oompa Loompas. Willy Wonka, a very cute trained squirrel and an exceptionally tall Oompa Loompa (“aren’t you a little tall for an Oompa Loompa?”) completed the scene. Breaking with our “we-give-out-toys-instead-of candy” practice, we handed out Willy Wonka candy to the delight of trick-or-treaters. We printed up Golden Tickets and handed them out to neighborhood kids for a special treat at the house. Perhaps it was a combination of the up beat soundtrack and the place where Michelle was standing that evening, but crowds gathered assuming that she was going to perform an Oompa Loompa dance. Hmmmm…hourly performances? Perhaps something to consider for future houses.
The summer of 2007 brought with it the third installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie series—Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Believing this to be the last of the pirate movies for the foreseeable future, we decided for the first time to repeat a theme. The 2007 Albertson Halloween House would expand upon its previous pirate ship execution by making the pirate ship 3D (having a deck on which characters could pace), adding a masthead and building a second ship (Captain Jack’s sinking ship from the beginning of the first film). A large crew of pirates descended upon the ship, including Davy Jones and Elizabeth Swan from the movie. A less-blonde Captain Jack greeted (and bantered with) trick-or-treaters from atop his sinking ship. 2007 marked the first year that we became part of the City of San Jose glow necklace distribution network, an effort to keep kids safe on Halloween night.
The Dark Knight was released in July of 2008, so we decided to build Gotham City in our front yard for Halloween that year. Not wanting to be exclusive, we added bits of Metropolis to make Superman feel welcome and a giant spider web so that Spidey would hang around. Trick-or-treaters got to walk up into Wayne Manor where they got to glimpse Batman’s computerized control center before getting their treat. The bat signal must have attracted attention, because in addition to Batman, the Joker, Superman and Spiderman, kids got to interact with Mary Jane, Ming-Ming Duckling (The Wonder Pets), Kim Possible, Ron Stoppable, a Naked Molerat, Dr. Horrible, Captain Hammer, Moist, a Captain Hammer fan, Mrs. Incredible, Superboy and Superbaby. Kids got an opportunity to be on the cover of a comic book and look for hidden heros among the buildings of the city. In all, it was a super success!
Even before the Gotham City façade was finished, we knew that we were going to build Sleeping Beauty’s Caslte for the 2009 Halloween house. Trying to be as accurate as possible to the Disneyland castle (complete with hidden Mickey’s), we erected a full castle including waving flags, parapets and a fire-breathing dragon. Visitors to the house got to walk up into the princess treasure room of the castle where they got to view Cinderella’s glass slipper, Aladdin’s lamp, Snow White’s poisoned apple, Ariel’s shell, the Beast’s rose, an enchanted spinning wheel and a talking magic mirror while they received their treats. Out front, guests got to interact with characters such as Prince Phillip, Maleficent, a Fairy Godmother, Princess Aurora, King Hubert, Queen Huberta and another Prince Phillip, take their picture in front of Cinderella’s carriage and hunt for other surprises hidden near the castle. What a magical evening!
Some 850–900 trick-or-treaters descended on the Finding Nemo-themed 2010 Albertson Halloween House for a night that will not soon be forgotten. Visitors were greeted by Dory, P. Sherman, Darla, Squishy, a Crab, an Octopus and Nemo himself as they headed into the mouth of Bruce the Shark to get their treats. We gave out aquatic-themed silly bands and glow necklaces, courtesy of the San Jose Safe from the Start Program. We didn’t just have the ocean as a theme, but we also helped save it, as many of the items were recycled/reused. Poster tubes, water bottles, astro turf, tablecloths and even extra canopy frame tubes were used in the construction of the Finding Nemo house.
With a little coverage from the San Jose Mercury, crowds showed up in droves for the 2011 Albertson Halloween House. The theme was Asian Fortress and featured a tatami room, cherry blossom trees, bamboo and costume characters such as the Karate Kid, David Carradine (from the show Kung Fu), a sumo wrestler and the Kung Fu Panda! Some 1,200 trick or treaters and their families visited the house and made it a Shao-lin good time!
In 2012, the Albertson Halloween House was transformed into downtown Mos Eisley from the Star Wars planet of Tatooine, complete with cantina (where visitors got their treats), Docking Bay 94, moisture vaporators, Star Tours, and even the twin suns! Trick-or-treaters were greeted by Imperial Stormtroopers, Jedi, Jawas, droids, Padme, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Darth Vader and even Jabba the Hutt! A forcefully good time was had by all.
In 2013, visitors to the Albertson Halloween House found themselves in the midst of a Magic Kingdom: Disneyland! Trick-or-treaters walked up into the Enchanted Tiki Room to get their treats, snapped a picture next to Star Tours, watched as animated It’s a Small World characters danced in formation, listened to the spiel of a Jungle Cruise boat driver and interacted with costumed characters. Parents and friends enjoyed free popcorn from Main Street popcorn vendors and Tinkerbell even made her historic flight between the Matterhorn and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle! In total, 4,200 treats were given out to 1,100 trick-or-treaters and 500 bags of popcorn were handed out to adults.
Visitors in 2014 were treated to Middle Earth adventures at the Lord of the Rings themed Albertson Halloween House! Despite the rains (sent by Sauruman, no doubt!) some 750 trick or treaters greeted Hobbits at Bag End, evaded the eye of Sauron and entered into the mines of Moria to seek Dwarvish treasure! A life size Smaug the Terrible made an appearance letting everyone know just who was the real king under the mountain. Over 4,000 treats were given out, and let’s just say that a certain ring passed on to a new owner.
In 2015, the Albertson Halloween House’s theme was the Wizard of Oz. Some 900 trick-or-treaters followed the yellow brick road past Dorothy’s house (complete with moving tornado!), next to a Scarecrow-filled corn patch and into the Emerald City where they hoped to fulfill their dreams. Visitors also got to come face to face with the Wizard himself and interact with flying monkeys, Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, Aunt Em, Munchkins, Elphaba, and Gilinda.
A magical evening was had by many! Some 1200-1500 visitors walked the grounds of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry on Halloween night in downtown San Jose. They got a chance to interact with Headmaster Dumbledore, Professor Umbridge, Professor Severus Snape, Hagrid, Hermione, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Cho Chang, Mad Eye Moody and more! Guests were welcomed ‘into’ Hogwarts where they were given treats and were given a rare glimpse at moving portraits, horcruxes and other treasures of the magical world. Outside the castle, adventurous individuals pushed their carts through the barrier at Platform 9 ¾ and used the Aurasma app to see buttons and posters come to life.
Photos taken by Eric Albertson, Michelle Albertson, Bethany Lewis and Matt Bruensteiner.