Ahhh….Halloween, that most festive of fall holidays. If you know me personally, you’ll know (or maybe you don’t know) that I am a Halloween freak! I don’t mean that I like to dress up in costumes and run around getting candy on Halloween night. I don’t even mean that I like going out and partying during the “Halloween season”.
I like decorating Palmer House and dressing up in such a way that it scares the snot out of little kids and automatically becomes the coolest house in the village! Seriously, I’ve made little ones cry…and then I DO feel bad, but for the most part the kiddo’s have a lot of fun with it!
I have animatronics, low laying fog machines, strobe lights, zombies, graves, skeletons…the list goes on and on! Last year, I made my most exciting purchase – a projector. This baby projects from inside my house onto mesh fabric hung in my window and makes my house look like it’s haunted.
Halloween baller status all up in Palmer House!
Halloween prep for Palmer House starts in August. That’s when I start going online and looking for new props, special effects and DIY projects. I make sure that I have the day before, the day of and the day after Halloween off from work, purely for set up and put away reasons. I never leave my Halloween decorations up for an extended period of time. Number one, I don’t want them getting ruined by weather. Number two, I don’t want anything stolen or vandalized. Number three, and most important in my book, no one wants to look at Halloween decorations past November first. No one.
I cannot tell you how excited I was to decorate Palmer House the first year that we were in the house! Prior to that, we lived in a town house and we got zero trick-or-treaters for three years. For some that would probably be heaven, but for a Halloween lover like me, that just plain stinks. So my Halloween decorations stayed packed up in my parents attic…alone, scared…wondering when they would be able to bring joy and terror to little kids again…
Yes, I’m sitting here laughing at myself.
Anyways, the first year at Palmer House on Halloween was a blast! The neighbors had told me to expect between 300-500 kids, and they weren’t far off! If I remember correctly, that first year we got 535 kids (And I STILL had candy leftover!). Our house was a hit! Even the adults got a kick out of the decorations! However, there was something overshadowing all that fun and excitement for me…the front steps.
When I started getting all excited about actually being able to “haunt” Palmer House, Chris stopped me in my tracks and said “Well you’re going to have to send the kids to the family room door.” What?! The family room?! When we have this amazingly deep front porch that will protect the animatronics from the rain and let the low laying fog spill over onto the ground creating an incredible and terrorizing effect?! No way! We were totally sending the kids to the front porch.
Besides, we had no outlets for all that stuff at the family room door! Sheesh…
“Those front steps are an accident waiting to happen. Some kid is going to fall down them and hurt themselves.” ………..What?……….No they won’t……….They’ll totally be ok………. “The tread’s are half the size they should be and the railings are starting to rot.” Well, crap. That was going to throw off my whole plan for everyone having a great time getting their candy. So I decided that not only would I be playing the part of the candy passer-outer, I would also be playing safety officer and reminding the kids to be careful and not run.
So that was that. Mind made up. So all night I stood at the door, admiring costumes and encouraging kids to actually come up the walkway and not worry about the seven-foot tall grim reaper standing on the porch while reminding them not to run and to take their time.
And then it happened. A little one, probably only about six, slipped on the second step and slid down the rest of them onto the walkway, landing on his bottom. I was mortified. I ran out to help him but he had already popped back up, no tears to be seen, and started running towards the next house. I asked his parents if he was ok and they laughed and said he was fine. Then, it happened again! Right at the end of the night! By now, all that were left out were the teenagers that were too old to be trick-or-treating. But hey, free candy – am I right??
This kid was probably fifteen and dressed in some kind of slasher costume that made no sense to me (but whatever), and the exact same thing happened. His foot slipped on the second step and he slid down the rest of the stairs on his bottom. He also popped right back up and said he was fine, but the jeering from his friends definitely bent his ego slightly. However, after two falls, it was clear that the front porch steps had to be re-built before the next Halloween.
I wish I still had a good picture of the front steps…again, playing catch-up on two year’s worth of changes on the house means that sometimes you don’t have “before” pictures! First, before we talk about how tiny these stairs actually were, a little education for those who don’t know: A stair tread is the horizontal part of the stairs that you step on, while a stair riser is the vertical part of the stair that supports the stair tread. In the United States, a stair tread is typically a minimum of ten inches. That’s big enough to fit any size foot in any size shoe, boot, heel, sandal, what-have-you. A standard US stair riser is no more than seven and three quarter inches. That helps prevent tripping going up or down the stairs.
In the picture below, my dad had gotten to the old stairs too quickly and I missed a good “before” shot, but you can see how deep the stringer (The supporting member running the length of an incline stair upon which the treads and the risers are mounted) is – which is to say, not very! The treads were about eight inches deep. You would think that two inches wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but to give you a better visual: When I went up and down those stairs to water my plants in the summer, I was waddling up them with my feet turned out like a penguin. No wonder I had two casualties that night! You can also see in the picture how the stringer and base were rotting away because the lumber wasn’t pressure treated.
Dad bought and assembled a whole new support structure out of pressure treated wood and extended the tread to the proper ten inches it should have been. We chose to use the same material the porch was made out of for the tread and to cover the riser and the stringer – Trex flooring. Not exactly period correct, but I wanted everything to match and I never wanted to have an issue with rot again. We installed new hand railings (White plastic. Again, not period correct or what I would have wanted ideally, but I can keep them clean and since they will be out from under the eaves and exposed to the elements, they will stand the test of time. Whenever we renovate the front porch, they might be replaced with wood…maybe), which also brought the railing height up to code, which it wasn’t prior to this.
I love my front steps now. They are easy to spray down and keep clean, I have no worries about anyone tripping or slipping on them, and the railings are sturdy and supportive. Our second Halloween was an even bigger hit than the first with no falls down the stairs. These littler projects aren’t the most exciting, dramatic things you could do for a home, but sometimes getting the projects done that are the “back burner” projects feel the best because you know that they will keep falling lower and lower on the priority list. Our front steps were one of those. But shouldn’t the front steps of your home – the thing that welcomes friends, neighbors, and family into the place you spend your life – be the most sturdy, reliable, functional part of your home to carry you over the threshold?
“My soul can find no staircase to heaven, unless it be through Earth’s loveliness” – Michelangelo