For the past three years, 17-year-old twins Georgia and Grace Sarrategui have celebrated Halloween in their hometown of Chelmsford by visiting the Loiselle family’s elaborately decorated house at 36 Cloverhill Drive.
More than a dozen static scenes remain on display through Oct. 31, but the full show takes place every Friday through Sunday, 6:30 to 9 p.m., complete with fog machines, strobe lights, more than two dozen animated figures, and numerous holograms.
“It definitely gets you in the Halloween spirit,” said Grace Sarrategui, “which is why we usually bring a lot of our friends.”
In a year when the coronavirus pandemic has placed many Halloween traditions off limits, the Loiselle family’s socially distant production is more enjoyable than ever.
“They’re cool and interesting,” Georgia Sarrategui said of the decorations, which have expanded, with permission, into a neighbor’s yard this year. “I really like Halloween because it isn’t religious, or about politics, and you don’t have to buy things.”
Chris Loiselle, a software engineer and Air Force veteran, said the tradition began five years ago when he displayed a trio of singing pumpkins at the home he shares with his wife, Melissa, and their 13-year-old son, Christopher.
“I like watching kids enjoy things when there’s no stress, nothing to worry about. Just fun,” Loiselle said. “My family encouraged me, so I added some inflatables and life-size creatures, and then some moving things. It kept growing until it took on a life of its own.”
As the crowds grew through word-of-mouth, Melissa Loiselle suggested that they collect donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which had been the beneficiary of a fund-raiser through their son’s taekwondo studio. In 2019, they raised $5,335 from 2,830 visitors – plus $1,050 from other fund-raising sources, including collecting donations at their Christmas-themed home.
To date, according to Chris Loiselle, approximately 1,000 visitors have donated $1,574 this Halloween season toward the family’s $10,000 goal.
Joe Durkin, New England regional executive director of ALSAC – the fund-raising and awareness organization for the Memphis, Tenn.-based hospital – commented on the fund-raiser by e-mail. “We’re thankful for the support of the kids of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital," he wrote. "We encourage everyone who participates in this year’s Halloween display to stay safe by practicing social distancing and wearing masks.”
Loiselle said the feedback from visitors and neighbors alike has been universally positive.
“We’ve tried to create an atmosphere where people can walk around in a safe manner and see all different things, depending which way you look,” he said.
While the fan favorite is typically the trio of singing pumpkins, Loiselle most enjoys talking into a microphone and watching reactions when his voice is “spoken” by a figure holding its detached head.
“I have way too much fun with it. I listen to the parents talking to the children, and then as they walk by, I say, ‘Joseph, how are you?’” Loiselle said with a laugh. “I’ve got it down pretty good. I’ve had quite a few screamers.”
Other attractions include characters from the movies “Coco” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” a witch with a smoking cauldron, a graveyard of ghouls, and a selection of photo backdrops set up in the driveway.
Those who dare to venture past the pirate ship manned with skeletons encounter Beetlejuice, a dragon, werewolves, and the projected image of a dinner party whose attendees switch between human and skeleton form. Special “live” guests have included costumed contortionist Catherine Conte of Chelmsford.
The electronics portion of the show is weather-dependent, with updates posted at www.facebook.com/HalloweenOnCloverhill. Yet even having to disassemble more than two dozen creatures nightly to protect them from the elements doesn’t deter Loiselle.
“I do this to make people smile while raising money for a great cause,” he said. “For a few minutes, you’re not thinking about politics or COVID. It’s just Halloween.”
For the Sarrategui twins, whose birthday falls on Oct. 30, nothing could be better.
Cindy Cantrell may be reached at email@example.com.