If Aaron Gundersen had a larger garage at his residence in Racine, perhaps what’s become a Halloween tradition in Kenosha’s Forest Park neighborhood would’ve moved a county north by now.
Fortunately for Kenoshans, Gundersen’s own garage isn’t nearly large enough to pull off his annual Halloween visual spectacular, so his tradition has stayed right here in town, at his parents’ home.
For some years now – he says he can’t even put a timeline on it – Gundersen has gone all out with Halloween decorations at his parents’ home in the Forest Park neighborhood. The main decorating eventually moved to his parents’ large detached garage, resulting in The Haunted Parlor, a garage full of one-of-a-kind Halloween decorations that’s now attracting hundreds of residents to enjoy some appropriately themed trick-or-treating.
Gundersen was working hard this week to put the finishing touches on this year’s display. The Haunted Parlor, located at 4451 67th St., will be open this year for three nights – from 4 to 9 p.m. each night – on Friday, Oct. 27, Saturday, Oct. 28, and Tuesday, Oct. 31, which is Halloween night and also the City of Kenosha’s trick-or-treating night, from 4 to 7 p.m.
While the city only designates one night for trick-or-treating, at The Haunted Parlor, Gundersen says visitors can enjoy three nights of it. And it’s completely free to stop by.
“I’m trick-or-treating every night,” Gundersen said on Wednesday night as he continued preparations at his parents’ garage. “We have candy, we have erasers, we have Play-Doh.
“So every night, the three nights I’m open, it’ll be like a big trick-or-treat.”
For providing the community with such a fun Halloween tradition, Gundersen has been named this week’s Kenosha.com Kenoshan of the Week.
Though he now lives in Racine, Gundersen, 38, was born and raised in Kenosha.
He attended Forest Park Elementary, just down the street, then McKinley Middle School and Bradford High School, graduating from Bradford in 2003. Gundersen then attended college at UW-Milwaukee and UW-Parkside, finishing with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design.
A master of the visual medium, Gundersen has found a perfect job as a Graphic Design Specialist for Kenosha Public Library, where he’s worked for eight years now.
“Every day’s different,” Gundersen says of his role at KPL. “Some days I’m working with architects, some days I’m picking carpet or finishes, some days I’m doing a vehicle wrap for a book mobile, and other days I’m doing printing material or newsletters or working on the website.
“So every day at the library is different for me.”
Gundersen has merged his artistic talents with a passion for Halloween and all the decorations and visuals that come with the spooky holiday.
When asked where his interest in haunted houses began, Gundersen said perhaps it was a trip to Disney World as a kid, where he enjoyed the famous Haunted Mansion.
“It’s everyone’s favorite ride,” Gundersen said. “I remember my dad handing me, like, a really old Hi8 Camcorder and taking video footage on the ride, and me coming home and playing it over and over again. Maybe that had something to do with it.
“But I enjoy going to haunted houses. For me, it’s just about, you go through the haunted house not to get scared, but to look at all the stuff. To look at the sets, to look at the technology.”
As you may expect, Gundersen began to decorate his parents’ front yard each Halloween with elaborate displays. But when the decorations began to require more electrical outlets, Gundersen’s dad had a suggestion.
“When the weather started to get bad around Halloween, my dad said, ‘Why don’t you do it in the garage?’” Gundersen said. “So I moved all the stuff in the garage, and what I had in the front, none of it’s in the garage now. It’s all different.
“… Now that we’re in, basically, a more covered space, I can have custom lighting and custom video work and all that stuff that I’m not able to do in the yard.”
And his parents’ garage has remained the perfect place for Gundersen to showcase his Halloween creativity, because his own garage is just too small.
“My garage is just about big enough to squeeze my vehicle in, and that’s it,” he said. “This space is kind of finished for The Haunted (Parlor), because all the lighting and stuff can stay in the ceiling.”
It takes Gundersen about a week to do all the decorating. He actually took off of work this week and began the process of moving things over to his parents’ house last weekend. At the end of the season, Gundersen says everything “gets broken down and put in a U-Haul and brought back.”
While Gundersen uses some common Halloween decorations – like a giant spider – in the front yard and outside his parents’ home, inside the garage you won’t find anything you can buy at a local Halloween store.
“I try to stay away from big-box stores,” Gundersen said. “Almost all the stuff in (the garage) is either from estate sales, thrift stores, stuff like that. I have a skeleton in there that a person who comes every year had in her garage that she made from scratch.
“The majority of the stuff is real, authentic old stuff.”
As an example, one piece Gundersen has on display in his parents’ garage is a skeleton/zombie-like item from the American horror comedy film series “Creepshow.” According to Gundersen, this item is actually the original prototype that an independent creator made and then used to make others for “Creepshow.”
Gundersen says he got this prototype from TransWorld in St. Louis, the world’s largest Halloween convention. These are the types of hard-to-find items that Gundersen likes to display at The Haunted Parlor.
‘It’s really detailed,” he said. “Back in the day, in the ‘90s, you could go to a store and get quality Halloween stuff. But not anymore.”
Additionally, Gundersen wanted to give a shout-out to Stacy Juga, who runs the Vintage Underground in downtown Kenosha, a vintage-item store that Gundersen loves to patronize.
Obviously, Gundersen is a horror film buff, but he says he gravitates more toward independent, non-mainstream works. He cited the 2016 film “The Autopsy of Jane Doe” and the Starz horror comedy television series “Shining Vale” as two of his favorites.
These types of works are reflected in Gundersen’s Halloween decorations. If you’re looking for gore or big scares, The Haunted Parlor isn’t the place for that.
“It’s a good place for people to come, because it’s not scary,” Gundersen said. “There’s no actors, nobody’s going to jump out at you, so it’s for all ages. It’s for kids all the way to senior citizens. Everybody comes.”
And, at least judging by the amount of candy Gundersen passes out, that’s quite a few people. Gundersen said in three days last year, he passed out 800 pieces of candy, and that doesn’t even include the patrons who stopped by and declined the candy.
It’s a Halloween tradition that Gundersen plans to keep on going – and we can all thank his parents for the borrowed real estate.
“I do it for all the people that come every year, for the community,” Gundersen said. “People come, people remember, and it’s busy.
“ … It’s just a good thing for the community.”