WDAY: The News Leader

Published October 29, 2009, 07:33 AM

Bismarck home plans 1 last big Halloween bash

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The ghouls and gravestones have emerged from their storage crypts for one last big Halloween bash at 600 N. Washington St. in Bismarck.

By: KAREN HERZOG, Associated Press

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The ghouls and gravestones have emerged from their storage crypts for one last big Halloween bash at 600 N. Washington St. in Bismarck.

Jerry and Donna Woodcox, who have lived at that address since 1988, are selling the home in Bismarck's Cathedral District that has become, over the years, a go-to destination for holiday drive-by viewing and hordes of Halloween trick-or-treaters.

What started in 1989 as normal holiday decorating has grown into an immense undertaking in which the Woodcoxes, with the help of friends, light up the night with the house that everybody says "you must see." Traffic is sometimes bumper-to-bumper as people drive by to ooh and ahh at the eerie Halloween spirit.

It's become, as Jerry Woodcox jokingly puts it, "a monster." The displays devour probably $500 worth of electricity a year to run holiday lighting. It required the addition of a 35 amp outdoor connection, since the house originally had no exterior power source.

At Halloween and Christmas, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day, Easter and the Fourth of July, the community looks for a spectacular display at the Woodcox house, one of the showpieces of the Cathedral District. It's the perfect venue for outdoor decorating with its exterior of stucco, brick and carved woodwork, original leaded windows and shingled roof.

The outdoor decorating has become so extensive that Jerry Woodcox has rented a storage unit for much of his outdoor collection and spends a couple of weeks bringing the remainder down two floors from the attic, where it is stored offseason.

The Woodcoxes are the third owners of the house, built in 1936-37 by a doctor, and later owned by the president of then-Norwest Bank. The family has tried to keep the interior as original as possible, preserving the original woodwork, crystal light fixtures and golden oak hardwood flooring, hand-carved newel posts and balusters and numerous built-ins.

"You would not believe how many people come by," Woodcox said. People cruise by and stop to take pictures as soon as he starts putting up the props each year.

And every year, people will write notes and cards, call and stop him to say how much they appreciate all the effort that goes into creating the Halloween fantasy.

When they decided to downsize to a condo, the Woodcoxes sold their home to a Virginia couple originally from North Dakota.

With the moving process under way, Jerry Woodcox had thought that he wouldn't "do" Halloween this year. As people noticed the For Sale on the house, he received, by his estimation, at least 200 calls and requests from people who asked him, "You're still going to decorate for Halloween, right?"

So, one more year, he decided. One last blast.

And a blast it is. The couple makes a party of the preparations, having a dozen or more friends help out with hand-carving pumpkins for prizes and then dressing up on Halloween — they have about 20 costumes — and handing out candy to children.

Even during bad Halloween weather, the house will receive about a thousand "trick-or-treats" knocks. Two years ago, they counted 2,800 — and that's just children. With the parents who come along, they estimate probably 5,000 people come through. Over the past 15 years, that's pretty close to 35,000 people, Woodcox estimated.

The vehicle traffic on Halloween is sometimes bumper-to-bumper as people crawl along to get a long look at the house. To help people navigate the traffic jams, the Woodcoxes have friends dress up as Keystone Kops to help youngsters across the street and keep traffic moving, he said.

Part of why they do it, and what makes it fun, is the inspiration it gives other homeowners to start doing the same, and the "neighborhood" feeling that it fosters, he said.

And it's a thrill for little kids, creeping up holding Mom or Dad's hand, past the Grim Reaper, a life-size mummy in a coffin, a field of gravestones and a skeleton in an iron cage, a shivery twilight treat with a candy reward for those who come to the door, a fairy tale come to life.

And next year, when the leaves start to rattle down from the big trees along Washington Street, the new owners may feel a bit of peer pressure, Woodcox said.

A Halloween cluster — lock, stock and gravestone — will go to friends Jeff and Sue Cahill to continue the spooky tradition at their home. Sue Cahill has dressed up as a witch for at least the last 10 years for Halloween night, Woodcox said

And on Halloween Day, the remaining holidays' decor will be auctioned at the 4-H Building in Bismarck.