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Area residents go all-out on Halloween decorations

A large rooster will greet trick-or-treaters at the Alpert home on Roosevelt Avenue. Bernardine Alpert made the costume for Russ to wear while passing out candy. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)1 / 6
A black bird perches on a tombstone on the Guntermann front lawn. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)2 / 6
Russ and Bernardine Alpert's house on Roosevelt Avenue is lit up at night with Halloween decorations. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)3 / 6
Jack-O-Lanterns line the steps of the Alpert's home. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)4 / 6
Michael Meyers of "Halloween" fame is among the ghouls decorating the lawn of Annette Guntermann on Willow Street. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)5 / 6
A forbidding gargoyle perches on top of Annette Guntermann's house at 1010 West Willow St. in Detroit Lakes. (Brian Basham/DL Newspapers)6 / 6

Whether it's inflatable cartoon ghosts, life-size zombies and ghouls, piles of pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns, or just loads of autumn flowers, straw bales and scarecrows, people who decorate their homes for Halloween are in it for the fun.

The scariest house in town has to be at 1010 West Willow Street, where seven or eight life-size ghouls, vampires, witches, werewolves and monsters haunt the small front yard. A large winged gargoyle perches on the roof, overlooking skeletons and tombstones in the yard below.

You might think it would take a brave child indeed to pass those forbidding creatures and ring the doorbell, begging for candy, but Annette Guntermann says about 150 kids show up there on Halloween.

The good-natured Guntermann runs a daycare at her residence, and takes special care not to scare the little ones.

"Fear is a learned behavior," she said. She puts her Halloween decorations out in boxes at first and lets the kids play with them. Once they're familiar with them, she puts them up in the yard, makes light of them, and lets the kids know they're just friends and are nothing to fear.

But on Halloween, she likes to put a fright into older kids.

Her own kids, Crystal, Travis and Amber, ages 18, 19 and 21, live at home and sometimes Travis and his friends dress up, hide amongst the ghouls, and scare teenage trick-or-treaters on Halloween.

The days leading up to Halloween are part of the ritual. "It's fun to watch cars stop and take pictures," Guntermann said. "It's fun to watch everybody react to it."

One year, a group of school kids on a bus that stopped across the street made it a practice to scream in appreciation of Guntermann's creations every morning and afternoon.

Guntermann got a kick out of it.

"I miss that," she said. "It was just certain kids on the bus."

She has been decorating for Halloween since she moved into the house 11 years ago.

"When I first bought the house it just kind of looked like a haunted house," she said. "I wanted a special tradition for my kids, and it grew through the years."

She made the gargoyle herself, and uses a mixture of mannequins and other techniques to create her creatures. She won't say how. "That's a secret," she said with a laugh.

Some may be put off by the winged, horned gargoyle on the roof, mistaking him for the devil, but she says that's far from the case.

"They say the gargoyle is supposed to be the safe-keeper of your domain -- it's nothing evil," she explained.

The gargoyle stayed up all winter because the roof got snowy and dangerously icy before she could take it down last fall, and she decided to let it ride out the winter.

Guntermann usually has her home decorated for Halloween by early October, but she wasn't able to get things up and ready until late this month, because a rental home she owns in Lake Park was trashed by the occupants, and she has had to spend a lot of time on repairs and renovations.

But she's looking forward to the holiday, and invites people to "come and join the fun on Halloween night."

One secret to Halloween decorating she will share is to stock up right after Halloween, when everything is drastically discounted.

That's the same trick used by Russ and Bernardine Alpert, who live on Roosevelt Avenue near Detroit Lakes High School.

At night, the blue and purple lights match the purple cape on the giant inflatable Scooby Dooby Doo character in their front yard.

It's a touch that little kids can appreciate, along with three cartoon ghosts in an inflatable pumpkin, and -- the Pièce de résistance -- a skeleton in an inflatable chest that rises up and crouches back down as the chest lid opens and closes.

The yard is also festooned with a witch, skeletons and a small graveyard.

Unlike Guntermann, who largely limits her display to the outside, the Alperts carry the fun indoors as well. Those who enter the back door are met by a skull that plays funeral music, while a ghost rises and falls as the door opens and closes.

The couple moved to Detroit Lakes about eight years ago from Dickinson, N.D., where lots of people decorated for Halloween.

"We'd like to see more people do it," said Russ, who works for Modern Plumbing and Heating.

"Where's everybody's decorations?" asked Bernardine, who works at Wal-Mart.

They decorate for the fun of it, and "we get bombarded with kids because of it," Russ said. About 250 kids came trick-or-treating at the Alperts last year, up from just 21 the first year they lived in Detroit Lakes.

"We do Christmas pretty heavy, too," Russ added. In fact, the couple, who live with children Kathryn, 23, and Kevin, 27, won a beautification award for their Christmas display two years ago.

"We've been decorating for Halloween since our kids were little," Bernardine said.

"We just accumulate a few things every year," Russ added.

"Whatever was on sale after Halloween," Bernardine added with a laugh.

Russ dresses up to hand out candy. He was a bull-rider one year, a pumpkin last year, and this year Bernardine made him a rooster costume.

They'd like to set up a haunted house in the garage for kids on Halloween, but are concerned about insurance liability and haven't put the plan into effect.

Across the nation, the ghoulish economy has put a hex on Halloween sales, which are expected to drop more than 17 percent from last year, to $4.75 billion, according to a consumer survey by the National Retail Federation.

Nearly one in three people said the economy would impact their Halloween spending plans.

The retail federation predicts the average shopper will spend about $56 on candy, costumes and decorations, down from about $66 last year.

But for those who love the October holiday, it's all just water off a witch's back.

"We're big Halloween people," Russ said. "We've got four totes of Halloween stuff."

Now that's the spirit.