There are some houses on Long Island that scream “Halloween” — and not just because of their decorations for the season.
These homes contain lancet windows, tall towers, steep staircases and history around every corner. One is located atop a tall hill, alienating itself from trick-or-treaters, and another shares its neighborhood with a cemetery.
Come autumn, these homes are in their prime, as the environment changes to match their moody aesthetic.
Skeletons in Sea Cliff
Daniel Flanzig and Adrianne Koster have been living in their Gothic Victorian home for 10 years. The couple fell in love with Sea Cliff, and the house’s unusual architecture sealed the deal for their move from Port Washington.
“It’s this dark, Gothic home that can be charming and creepy at the same time,” says Flanzig, 54.
Built around 1870, the house was constructed at a time when the village of Sea Cliff was just a Methodist church campground. It has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.
The three-story tower and long, pointed windows give the house its eerie flair. Flanzig's family leans into this annually by going all-out with Halloween decorations. Starting in early October, the front porch is adorned with screaming ghosts, animated monsters and even skeletons climbing the roof. Colorful lights, haunted music and scary sound effects bring it all to life, and this year a 12-foot-tall skeleton is making its debut on the lawn.
“Our decorations in the first years were minimal,” says Flanzig, a personal-injury lawyer. “Then we started adding to them, and it’s pretty significant now.”
His family has won the Sea Cliff Civic Association’s annual decoration competition twice.
“By October 1st, people are already asking where the decorations are,” he says. “But it’s not just Halloween. The month leading up to Halloween, cars are stopping in front of the house and people are getting out to take photographs early on in the month until the end.”
The home's antique exterior gives no hint to the gut renovation the interior underwent about a year before the family moved in. Although it's been completely updated, the four-bedroom, two-bathroom Victorian still has plenty of old quirks.
“So many things are mismatched,” he says. “The door frames and the window frames are mismatched. If we bought the house today I’d say, ‘What the heck did this builder do here,’ but there’s something charming about using different materials.”
And Flanzig feels that some of the house’s features — such as the arched windows and doorways — couldn’t be replicated today.
As for the decorations, Flanzig’s 9-year-old daughter, Shelly, and 7-year-old son, Andrew, are always thrilled to see them come out each year. His son tends to shy away from the animated monsters on the front porch, but this year he’s “no longer scared,” Flanzig says.
Flanzig is looking forward to a more typical Halloween than in recent years, with the COVID-19 pandemic feeling like it's winding down.
“Owning a home like this is a privilege,” Flanzig says. “You have to take care of it and maintain it for the next generation.”
A hidden hill in Port Jeff
Jennifer and Kevin Rotunno’s house stands boldly atop a hill in Port Jefferson. Access to the front door requires a trip up about a dozen steps, so they stick to the side door.
On Halloween they make sure to put candy at both doors, just in case. But trick-or-treaters don’t even approach, Jennifer Rotunno says.
“Nobody knocks on our doors,” says Rotunno, 51. “All these years, I always put the candy out in hopes that somebody will come up the hill and trick-or-treat, and they don't, and it's sad.”
Rotunno blames the steep hill. “And you probably get more bang for your buck in other neighborhoods,” she adds.
But she loves her house all the same.
The Italianate Victorian was built around 1873 by James E. Bayles and his wife, Rosalie. Bayles was supervisor of Brookhaven Town and a trustee of the Port Jefferson School District. But he and his father, James Madison Bayles, are best known for their shipyard, of which only a dock remains today.
According to a local newspaper of the time, a masquerade party was held at the house in January 1876 to celebrate the Bayles’ 10th anniversary, and was attended by members of the Literary Society of Port Jefferson.
“Our property is very tight,” says Rotunno, a girls clothing designer. “There are beautiful homes up here and beautiful people live up here. We’re all very close to each other in proximity, so you have to be a special person to appreciate living so close to everybody else.”
Inside, a winding staircase goes up three stories, and original flooring remains intact. Rotunno’s office has a stunning view of the harbor. Long windows and chandeliers make appearances throughout the house.
Rotunno, her husband and their twins moved here in 1999. She’s been living in the village her whole life but had never ventured up this particular hill. When she finally did and spotted a “for sale” sign, she knew the home would be hers.
“We feel very lucky to have found this home when we found it, and to have taken care of it for the past 24 years,” she says. “We’re trying to bring it back to its original state, with a few modern amenities.”
The witch hat of Patchogue
Loren and John Christie have been uncovering the history of their home since moving there in 2001. The Queen Anne Victorian was built around 1901 in Patchogue.
“I know a lot about the family that lived here in the '20s and '30s just from newspapers,” says Loren Christie, 47.
She has a scrapbook of old newspaper clippings about her home, from Long Island publications of the past. Through these findings, she learned that her block was once filled with chicken coops, and that someone stole nine hens from her house in 1926.
“It’s a simple farmhouse,” says Christie, who runs a religious education program at a church in Blue Point. “It doesn't have any bells and whistles. It wasn’t built by someone who was trying to show off their wealth; it’s a very simple house.”
A standout feature of the house is its turret on the right side — Christie says some people refer to it as a witch’s cap, and the resemblance is clear. But around this time of year, she readies her home more for the season than for Halloween.
"I'm more of a fall decorator than a spooky decorator," Christie says. "But I could really do a good job if I wanted to, as far as making it ghoulish."
The house also shares its street with Cedar Grove Cemetery. When Christie and her husband first moved in, she was “intrigued and bothered at the same time” by its proximity.
Now, she’s grown to love it.
“It has the most beautiful wildlife back there,” Christie says. “It’s undisturbed. Some people have said that it takes away from the worth of the house, other people think it’s the coolest thing. I think that because I love history so much, I appreciate that cemetery and I like being next door to that history.”
The couple has worked on their home for years: clearing out tons of debris, removing a plaster ceiling, opening up their front porch. Along the way, they’ve discovered some of that history up close and personal.
Christie found a spot in the floor where a chimney once went through the center of the house. They uncovered the porch ceiling and found it had been painted blue. And when the Christies purchased the home from a Russian seamstress, they learned she had fashioned fabric swatches and staples into wallpaper, likely around the '70s.
Of course, the eccentricities are what make the house special, and the Christies wanted to preserve some of them. They had a builder create a kitchen island out of their original porch ceiling and flooring from the 1930s.
"There was enough to salvage and build something," she says.
When she first looked at the house more than 20 years ago, Christie saw both the beauty in its roots and its potential for the future.
“This is what I had always wanted,” she says.
Babylon’s porch of frights
Jennifer Michael still remembers the first two months in her Babylon home.
“My husband at the time had a golf club next to the bed, because he always heard somebody walking up the stairs,” says Michael, 50. “And I was just like, ‘Go to sleep.’”
The Victorian home was built in 1885, towering at three stories high. Michael heard that the house was originally closer to the water, on Thompson Avenue, and was moved to its current location around the 1920s to avoid flood damage.
The home's maroon facade features rectangular windows and pops of black and white. There’s a cottage on the property that Michael has rented out.
Michael is a health teacher in the Deer Park School District, and gives readings as a psychic medium. She celebrates Halloween each year by covering her home with hair-raising sights: Clowns, zombies and spiders are the stars of Michael’s porch.
“With two people, I can get [the decorating] done in about seven or eight hours,” she says. “By myself, it can take up to 12 hours. And the inside is a little kooky, too.”
Trick-or-treaters would be surprised to see the light blue walls and beachy décor inside the house. There are some shout-outs to Halloween, but the laid-back vibe is a departure from its exterior. The house also contains its original heaters, flooring and bookcase, built into the living room wall.
Even beyond this season, “there are always people looking at the house,” Michael says. “I sit on the porch and people say, ‘I love your house!’ and then drive off.”
But when it’s decorated for Halloween, Michael is surprised that most children aren’t afraid to knock on her door.
“I would never in a million years approach a house like this, even without the decorations!” she says with a laugh. "Not even on a dare. Not doing it.”