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Expressway: Ghosts and witches in my basement

A Bethpage Halloween, 1976: Regina McCaffery, left, daughter

A Bethpage Halloween, 1976: Regina McCaffery, left, daughter of reader Mary McCaffery, with friends Toni and Joe Astarita. Photo Credit: McCaffery Family

I love Halloween. I always have. My husband, not so.

He hates costumes, but I used to be able to cajole him into going to masquerade parties. Then one night when we walked around the block to a Halloween event -- he as a baseball umpire, me in a red Avis car-rental uniform I found in a thrift store -- the party house was dark. No one answered the doorbell.

"Wrong night," I said sheepishly.

"Never again," my husband replied.

Fortunately, my six children and 20 grandchildren share my enthusiasm for Halloween. Picking costumes, sharing candy, bobbing for apples, eating doughnuts on a string -- what fun we have had.

In the 1970s, as president of Walkabout, a group home for boys in Bethpage, I suggested staging a haunted house to raise money for the program. Walkabout was an old Victorian-style house with a lot of character. It was perfect. I had a couple of board members' support, enough to proceed.

One of my sons posed as the Grim Reaper, wearing his (God forgive me) hooded altar-server robe from church. Another son played a ghost who kept leaping out of a wooden coffin. My partner in crime on the board was a decorator for a department store. He provided all sorts of props, including Kabuki masks and some Spanish moss from Georgia.

Neighborhood kids loved it, but we did not make much money. The entrance fee was kid-friendly -- 25 cents. Though many kids went through multiple times, we made about $225. For years afterward, kids came to Walkabout's front door asking when the haunted house would be ready.

For Halloween 1971, we made our own haunted house -- a circular trail around the basement of our home in Bethpage. We set up stops with surprises -- a crawling hand, a toy rat that squeaked and scurried around, unidentifiable squishy things on the floor and a ghost who covered the kids with Silly String.

Each year we added a new attraction and, as the kids grew up, the older ones played scary characters and helped with the setup.

A few years ago, my husband and I built a summer house in Southold. All of our haunted house props fit nicely in the basement, and now we had plenty of room for exciting additions.

The kids and I scoured the Halloween stores that pop up at his time of year and picked out some wild attractions for the McCaffery Haunted House. We found a fogger to make the basement look eerie, a skeleton sheathed in gauze with outstretched arms and red eyes, a witch that cackled as she flew around the basement on a string, and an air gun to startle visitors.

For the older kids, we scattered clues around the neighborhood for a treasure hunt.

All too soon, the kids outgrew the haunted house. The props weren't scary anymore. Halloween became all about the treasure hunt and candy.

Then in 2012, we decided to have one last McCaffery Haunted House. My son bought a second fogger. The basement looked its eeriest. No sooner had the last person passed through the exit when the fog set off every smoke alarm in the house. What chaos! A perfect ending to the McCaffery Haunted Houses.

Reader Mary McCaffery lives in Bethpage. SEND AN ESSAY about life on Long Island (about 540 words) to expressway@newsday.com, or to Expressway/Opinion Dept., Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Essays will be edited and may be republished in all media.

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