Drive past the home of Gene and Donna Crabtree on State Road 129 just north of State Road 250 in northern Switzerland County, and the couple’s love of Halloween is apparent.
Dozens of inflatable Halloween characters are on display around the home’s yard; and that’s just the outside of the home.
Inside, carved pumpkins and other Halloween decorations bring the home to life — a labor of love for the couple — and something that holds special meaning for Gene.
“Well, first of all, Halloween is my birthday,” Gene says. “I had an aunt who was born on Halloween. That’s when you know your Grandma and Grandpa Crabtree were pretty cool people, because they named her ‘Halene’. She was one of dad’s older sisters. She was a Halloween baby, too.”
Gene said that his love of the holiday goes all the way back to his childhood. His dad, Tom Crabtree, would become an icon here in Switzerland County from his time as the plant manager of the shoe factory, but before the family moved here, as a child Gene lived in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, where his dad worked at the shoe factory there.
“When we lived in Prestonsburg, Kentucky, we lived on a dead end street,” Gene said. “We were there from my third grade year through seventh grade. I’d grow pumpkins down behind the house, then I’d put them in a little wagon and pull them up and down the street. I think mom and dad probably asked the neighbors to buy them from me. I’d sell pumpkins; and they all knew that it was my birthday, too, so I’d always get a lot of candy, and then they’d have a big birthday party; so I had lots of candy and presents at the party, too.”
The love of Halloween followed Gene and his family here to Switzerland County, and now into adulthood and after marriage and two sons: Thomas and James, the holiday fun continues.
“When we moved here, they really didn’t have a lot of Halloween decorations back in the day. All you had was a pumpkin to cut out, and we did that religiously,” he said. “And when our kids were little, we did the same thing, we all got down on the floor and me and Donna and Thomas and James would cut pumpkins out. And then, with the modernization of inflatables, it’s kind of grown.”
Gene figures he’s got over 20 inflatables, including his newest addition, an 18-foot tall monster that is strapped securely and carefully to the front of the house.
“Good heavens, that thing’s big,” Gene laughs. “If the wind gets him, I’m going to lose a window and a gutter and two shutters. I walked into Lowe’s about a month ago and saw him standing there, and I laughed and said, ‘you’re going to be at my house before long — but you’re going to have to go on sale, first!”
There’s also plenty to see inside the house, as window screens, doors, and windows are covered with skeletons and other decor.
“The whole house in here is like walking through a Halloween maze,” Gene laughed. “Inside we’ve got pumpkins and we bought that big ghost and we also bought a Zoltron animated figure that has a crystal ball in front of him. He’s sitting in here. I’m trying to get the lottery numbers out of him!”
Gene said that some of his inflatables are getting older, which means problems getting the fans to work. He’s got some classic characters, including ‘Shrek’ standing guard, which Gene estimates is about 18 years old.
“I try to add one or two each year,” he says. “I try and catch them on sale after Halloween. I’ve just always enjoyed dressing up and going to Halloween parties; and doing a lot of decorating here at the house. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun. Mom and dad always made it special.”
Putting up all of the decorations requires a lot of time and work, but Gene says that thanks to all of the help from Donna, it goes up pretty quickly — but it’s also sad when it all comes down.
“It’s a team effort putting it up and taking it down; but as depressing as it is when it comes down, we usually move right on into Christmas — and that’s a whole other story, because we do a lot of Christmas decorating, too. We probably have about 18 totes of Christmas decorations. We’ve got 300 or more of those Hallmark ornaments.”
Gene says that he’ll be 54 years old next Wednesday, but even as he ages, he still cuts out pumpkins each year, even with the kids now grown; and dressing up in costume continues to be an annual event.
“We were over at the first Fritter Halloween event over the weekend, and I was Iron Man and Donna was Wonder Woman,” Gene said. “Last year we were both Minions. Every year we have a theme that we try to go with.”
Gene reports that his sons don’t seem to have as much fun with Halloween as their parents, but he marks that up to the fact that they don’t share the holiday with their birthday — but he says that the family still enjoys the holiday traditions.
“They don’t seem to want to dress up and stuff, but I’m still a kid — you’re as young as you feel!”