October 31, 2014 / 11:07 AM / 4 years ago

'Tis the season: to tour Halloween light displays

NAPERVILLE Ill. (Reuters) - Breathtaking purple-and-orange light displays, zombie graveyards, mutilated mannequins and singing inflatable pumpkins are just some of the front-yard Halloween decorations that Americans are expected to spend $7.4 billion on this year.

A visitor to a house covered in Halloween decorations looks over the scene in the front yard in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Illinois, October 27, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Young

In the Chicago suburb of Naperville, the displays got so elaborate that Annette Wehrli decided to set up a tour.

Wehrli’s Naperville Trolley & Tours, which has run tours of Christmas lights for 19 years, put Halloween on the schedule at the suggestion of enthusiastic residents of the sprawling upper middle-class city of 200,000.

The tour, which costs $15 a head, ends on Conan Doyle Road, where Nick Thomas’ house with a zombie apocalypse on the lawn and a light show of singing skulls programmed to music has become a Youtube sensation.

“When the lights go on you can see it from outer space,” said Thomas, 60, a self-described kid at heart who began decorating his lawn 20 years ago when his children were small.

He has plenty of company if not at the same scale.

About half of consumers plan to decorate their home or yard each year and national spending on Halloween in 2014 is expected to hit a near-record at $7.4 billion, a National Retail Federation survey found.

“I’m the only freak who’s doing all this,” said Thomas, gesturing at a forest of gigantic ghouls, vampires, gravestones, pumpkins, corpses, wraiths and zombies.

Thomas and his former neighbor, civil engineer Steve Jandick, 25, spend every September setting up the display and getting ready for thousands of visitors.

Thomas, head of the arts and humanities department at a nearby community college, is also taking donations for GiGi’s Playhouse, which serves children and adults with Down syndrome.

His good-humored neighbors direct the snarl of traffic and donate candy for Halloween night. Last year volunteers handed out 500 bags of sweets to swarms of trick-or-treaters.

“Give me your phone, I want to take a picture,” one excited child on the tour said, tugging at the sleeve of his grandfather, 49-year-old Garret Tylka in Thomas’ yard.

Tylka, a software engineer, said he likes it that enthusiasm over Christmas displays has extended to Halloween.

“It’s all for the kids,” said Tylka, whose family has taken Wehrli’s Christmas tour.

The Conan Doyle Road display is do-it-yourself, but home owners also can turn to professionals.

Derek Norwood, owner of Holiday Creations Pro, got his first Halloween order nine years ago and this year installed about 40 big Halloween light displays - blinking “BOO” signs, purple bats hanging from the eaves - in the Chicago area.

Norwood charges first time customers on average $2,500 for products and installation and returning customers some $800 to set up their displays. After Halloween, a quick swap gets a customer ready for Christmas, he said.

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“I design it to be red and purple for Halloween, then put up red and white for Christmas,” he said. “I take the bats down and put the wreaths up.”

Of course, conspicuous Halloween spending strikes some as misplaced. Retired nurse Carole Bogaard of Oak Lawn wrote to the Chicago Tribune to appoint herself Halloween Grinch.

“I know the kids get a kick out of it, but to me it’s over the top. There are so many other places that money can be spent,” Bogaard told Reuters.

Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by David Bailey and Diane Craft

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