To hear Gary Pankow tell it, he was born to celebrate Halloween.
Of course, part of that may be because he was born just a two days before the ghoulish day, and every year, his birthday parties were not only cake and ice cream and presents, but costumes and candy and all the lighthearted rituals associated with Oct. 31.
So those who drive into Pankow’s North Creek Park neighborhood just west of Mill Creek will be able to easily find his home. It’s the one with the graveyard, pumpkin patch and cider shack dominating the front yard and driveway.
“This is our third year in the house,” he said, “and every year we’ve gotten a few more people driving by.
“My oldest daughter (Kylara) is in fifth grade and her classmates always ask about when her dad’s going to put up his display.”
When Pankow and his wife, Molly, bought the two-story Cape Cod-style home, it gave Gary the opportunity to bring his dream of bringing Haunted Hollow to life.
Seasonal visitors to the home are greeted by a variety of artificial pumpkins at the foot of the driveway. Step into the driveway a few feet and off to the left, bordered by lighted pumpkins, is a graveyard of homemade headstones with funny epitaphs, such as “M.T. Grave,” “Died Laughing” and “Good Mourning.”
So where did Gary Pankow find such wit?
“Oh everywhere,” he said, adding that anyone can go to an online search engine and type in “funny epitaphs” and find several Web sites devoted to the topic.
The Internet has helped Gary tremendously in his quest to make Haunted Hollow bigger and bigger each year. He visits several sites run by regular people who decorate their houses for Halloween every year.
“They make me look like a painful amateur,” he says.
Visitors to his home, however, might disagree. Not only has creating Halloween decorations become a family activity, it’s even allowed Gary to hone his carpentry skills. To wit: He built a front porch for the home, and wanted it done by Halloween so he could use it as part of his growing display. And this year, he built a cider shack out of used and weathered wood pallets, framed by two-by-fours and covered with a tarp.
“I keep telling Molly that I want a boy so I can have help,” joked Gary, who has two daughters with his wife.
But there’s even more in his yard. There are fake spider webs, witches sitting on the edge of the roof, skeletons hanging from trees, even an old weathered wooden picket fence he found at a construction site. The one touch nature, not Gary, provided? Orange and yellow leaves on the grass that fell off the trees. He even admits that his newly-growing lawn, which was recently re-seeded, adds an “Eerie effect.”
Molly Pankow, meanwhile, has been what her husband calls a good sport about the Halloween decorating. She does, however, lay down some rules.
“I let him start decorating the first week of October,” she said. “He can prepare before that, but not put it in the yard. If I did let him he’d start in August.”
But in some respects, Haunted Hollow is a year-round hobby for Gary Pankow. He wants to build a gothic tower, perhaps 20 feet tall, to put in front of the garage next year. He’s even found a way to make his homemade headstones look like the epitaphs are engraved.
Pankow’s hobby has allowed him to keep alive the happiness he found in Halloween as a kid growing up in Kirkland’s Finn Hill neighborhood and attending Thoreau Elementary School. Each year, the school celebrated Halloween and even had a parade of costumes. One of his personal laments is that his daughters don’t get the same experience, since Oak Heights Elementary, where Kylara attends, instead has a Harvest Festival.
This year, Gary will top off his Halloween season by dressing as a character from the TV series “Stargate SG-1” and hosting a party where family friends with children come to the house and trick or treat around the neighborhood. He and Molly even plan to offer warm cider for trick or treaters on Tuesday night.
And for Gary, that is the best part of the season.
“Just being with friends, having everyone share in the experience, that’s the best part.”