Villagers celebrate the spooky seasons

Mark “The Shark” Woodland and his wife, Denise, enjoy decorating the yard of their home in the Village of Gilchrist each year for Halloween.

Villages residents enjoy Halloween long before the last day of the month arrives.

Many in the community love to go all out when celebrating the holiday, from decorating their homes to buying up candy to coming up with crazy costumes — for both themselves and their pets. And they aren’t alone — the National Retail Federation annual survey found shoppers will spend an estimated $8.8 billion this Halloween season on things like candy, decorations and costumes. And 45% of those 65 and older who were surveyed said they planned to celebrate Halloween. Local residents already have started celebrating, with more to look forward to in the days leading up to the 31st.

LOCAL HAPPENINGS

The Nightmare on Meggison event at Brownwood Paddock Square is an old celebration with a new twist.

The event, put on by The Villages Entertainment, was previously known as the Brownwood Sleepy Holloween Town Event, said Chalsi Goheen, special events manager.

“Nightmare on Meggison has been reimagined,” Goheen said. “The haunted house has moved to Meggison Road and will be scarier than last year’s.”

The event is from 3 to 9 p.m. today  at Brownwood Paddock Square. There will be the haunted house and candy, as well as carnival games, a new corn maze and a hay ride.

“There’s going to be live music and performances as well,” Goheen said.

The Trunk n’ Treat candy event will still take place. Last year’s candy donations from the community filled 37 18-gallon tote bins, Goheen said.

Families who bring canned goods to donate will receive a biodegradable reusable bag to trick or treat with.

Spanish Springs Town Square will be the site of the Halloween Trick or Treat and Costume Contest at 3 p.m. on Saturday, which will include some friendly competition.

Entry fees for the costume contest are $1 for children, $3 for adults and dogs and $5 for families.

Registration begins at 3 p.m. at The King’s Gallery and ends at 6:15 p.m. Proceeds will go to the Southlake Animal League.

For those still looking to carve a pumpkin, stop by Uncle Donald’s Farm in Lady Lake.

Normally the farm’s hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. This Saturday, the farm is open from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. for its Fall Fun Night, featuring hay rides and more.

Other local events include: the Trick or Trot 5K family fun run, beginning at 8 a.m. on Saturday at Fruitland Park Elementary School, with day-of registration beginning at 6:40 a.m. for $30; the Lady Lake Not Too Scary Halloween party starting at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Guava Street Athletic Complex junior field, with a costume contest, food, crafts and games.

FRIGHTENING DECOR

Halloween gives Mark Woodland a chance to bring his yard and home to life.

Since 2015, the Village of Gilchrist resident has been creating decorative pieces to turn his house into a nightmare in the neighborhood.

“Decorating for the holidays has become sort of a hobby for me,” Woodland said. “Most of the characters I feature in my scene are created by me with some PVC piping and some chicken wire.”

Woodland said he enjoys when people stop by to take a look, especially children.

“I like to see the looks on their faces when they see the work I have done,” he said. “Some are scared, but the majority laugh. It is a great way to bring the community together because the neighborhood loves it and so do I.”

Woodland said he makes many of his props, such as the tombstones, and likes to add new things each year.

Village of Pine Ridge resident Sue Ankrum goes all out for Halloween.

Ankrum has been decorating for about six years. She spends about three weekends getting everything ready inside and outside of her home.

“Every year we try and change it up while also adding a new prop we’ve either made or bought,” Ankrum said. “It probably costs about $200-$300 a year, not including the batteries that constantly need to be changed out, to make sure the house is fully decorated.”

This year, Ankrum has added four witches around a cauldron holding hands as the newest prop, and she’s looking forward to reactions from people driving by.

 “It’s a lot of hard work, but the reactions we get make it all worth it,” she said. “I really do enjoy the holidays, and if I had more room, I would probably decorate even more.”

PET COSTUMES

Marleen Wiggins was shopping at a thrift store when a gold sled caught her eye, and the ideas started spinning. Mickey Mouse, her 11-year-old Yorkshire terrier, was going to be Aladdin riding his magic carpet and she would be Princess Jasmine for Halloween.

“Ideas just pop into my mind ... I just think it’s fun,” Wiggins, of the Village of Mallory Square, said.

Wiggins likes to give her dog a new look each Halloween. In the past, Mickey has gone as a biker, Yoda and a witch.

Nationally, pet costumes are growing in popularity. The National Retail Federation reports nearly 2 in every 10 people celebrating Halloween (17%) are planning to dress their furry family members in costumes. Twenty-nine million pet owners will spend an estimated $490 million on costumes, more than double the $220 million spent in 2010, when NRF started tracking these numbers.

Pet costumes are a staple for many dog owners in The Villages, said Carmen Tedrick, spokeswoman for the Dynamic Dog Club.

“It’s unbelievable how popular they are,” said Tedrick, of the Village of Osceola Hills. “... Especially here in The Villages ... It’s amazing what (creative costumes) you see.”

Top-ranking costumes for pets include pumpkins, hot dogs, superheroes, bumblebees and witches, NRF reports.

Tedrick plans to dress up Gidget, her 2-year-old poodle mix, as the belle of the ball. In the past, she’s dressed as a clown and a dog at the beach.

Sadie, Tedrick’s 9-year-old border collie, is just going to wear a hat this year, but in the past has dressed up as a witch.

“Gidget loves to dress up. Sadie doesn’t like to dress up, but she will do it,” Tedrick said.

The Dynamic Dog Club’s annual Howl-O-Ween party, open to all Village residents and their dogs, will be at 4 p.m. Oct. 30 at Laurel Manor Recreation Center pavilion and basketball court.

The fun will start with a doggie costume parade, a contest for dogs and owners alike. Winners will receive prizes.  Due to increased participation, costume categories have more than doubled in recent years, Tedrick said.

Morgan Jenkins and her 4-year-old German shepherd, Princess Leah, plan to attend in matching costumes.

“We won last year and I’m determined to win again,” Jenkins, of the Village of Springdale, said. “She’ll be a lobster and I’ve got a long yellow raincoat and a hat, so I’ll be the lobster fisherman. It’s just great fun.”

All dogs will get dog-friendly ice cream. For humans, refreshments will be provided with bring-your-own-beverage.

Dogs can enjoy the trick or treat area, in which dogs doing a trick will get a treat.

Doggie games include hula hoops, spoon and ball races and many agility courses.

“We’re going to have a (great) turnout,” Tedrick said. “It’s the perfect timing for all our part-time people coming down. This is a perfect welcoming party for them.”

HALLOWEEN PARTIES

Annual Halloween parties in the area showcase the variety of ways Villagers like to party.

The annual Witches Brew has a strict dress code: All must come dressed as witches. The event is hosted by Joann Cyr, of the Villlage of Tamarind Grove, and attendees are welcomed with a sign that reads “Park Brooms Here.”

In anticipation of the party, Cyr starts planning as early as the summer for her guest list of about 30.

“I enjoy seeing the ladies coming in and seeing (the house) decorated,” she said.

But it’s not only witches who have fun in the spirit of the holiday. Ghouls like to party, too.

Every Halloween evening for the past five years, a group of witches and ghouls participate in Drumming Down the Sun, a ritual led by Harlene and Duane Harm, of the Village of Bridgeport at Lake Sumter.

About 45 friends gather in the grassy area on the bridge near Lake Sumter Landing and beat away on drums as the sun sets on the lake. It’s a tradition they hope brings good luck.

“The main purpose is getting together and the drumming,” Duane said. “I think it’s lasted because it’s unique and silly; it’s meant to be silly.”

After the sun sets, the ghastly crew travels by golf cart to Mallory Hill Country Club for dinner.

For those with a stronger stomach, Barbara Grossenbacher’s dinner party includes devil’s eyeballs and toxic waste.

About 60 people dare to try out the dreadful delicacies at the party, which is in its eighth year.

Grossenbacher, of the Village of Buttonwood, is a sugar artist and peruses cookbooks six to nine months before the day for inspiration.

She goes for the “Oh no, what are you feeding us now?” effect.

“I’ll see something and think ‘How can I tweak that to make it for Halloween,’” she said. 

“I love Halloween,” she said. “When we lived in Ohio, we didn’t have 72 houses of friends. I told (my husband), ‘Once we move to Florida, I am having an adult Halloween party.’”

The Goofy Villagers also had a themed party in October when everyone dressed as their favorite Disney villains.

Bev Murphy, of the Village of Fernandina, organized a Halloween event on Oct. 16 for her social group, the Ladies Flockers.

“We had a “Witches Gathering,’” she said. “Everyone is all dressed up like a witch.”

This is the third year the group had a Witches Gathering. Murphy said she enjoys the silliness of the event and the decorations.

The food was spookily themed, with chocolate covered cherries that were made to look like mice and a witches’ brew punch.

Mary Rash, of the Village of Fernandina, had ghostly-white face paint to go with her witch costume.

“We like to go all out for this event,” she said. “It’s always so much fun.”

Staff writer Maddie Cutler can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5386, or maddie.cutler@thevillagesmedia.com.

Staff writers Andrea Davis, Julie Butterfield and Kristi Schweitzer contributed to this report.