By Kathy Chouteau
The Standard’s recently launched series, “A Few of My Favorite Things” takes a quick look at some of this reporter’s top local treasures—be they food, drink, places or faces—from Richmond and beyond. Up this week: The Halloween House on Barrett Avenue.
As October 31 draws closer with each passing day, the anticipation rises for my family’s annual visit to our favorite haunt for scaring up some Halloween fun: The Talarico family’s “Halloween House” at 5468 Barrett Ave. in El Cerrito, near the cross street of Brooks Ave.
It’s there, at this beautiful house upon Barrett hill near the Richmond border, that the Talarico trio—mom, Amy, dad, Ross, and daughter, Elsa—have been conjuring up their special potion of Halloween magic for years, complete with next-level homemade decorations and a front lawn presentation that boasts some serious production chops.
“I think the main thing that sets us apart from other houses is that literally all of our decorations are homemade.”
Elsa, a 10th grader at St. Mary’s, recently told the Standard that her “parents have always been into Halloween” and that she and her father start decorating the front lawn in late September by tackling it little by little on weekends leading up to the big night. “The panic starts setting in by Labor Day,” joked mom, Amy.
“I think the main thing that sets us apart from other houses is that literally all of our decorations are homemade,” said Elsa.
A visit to the Talarico’s house on Halloween night is a scary spectacle to behold, with sights, sounds and sudden frights that are big on creativity and low on gore. Elsa’s favorite Halloween prop is Jack the Pumpkinhead, a glowing, pumpkin-headed figure with spindly fingers and a flowing white robe who towers over the front lawn as the centerpiece of the family’s décor.
Gravestones, skeletons and hooded figures, as well as little ghosts encircled in a game of Ring-Around-the-Rosie, also typically adorn the front lawn. If trick-or-treaters are lucky, they might spot my own personal favorite: Axeworthy, a small ghost-like figure suspended in the air who flies across the Talarico’s front lawn on Halloween night.
The nylon fishing line behind Axeworthy’s scarobatics frequently results in him “causing trouble” Halloween night, so his future at this year’s haunting is a little shaky, per Amy.
Whether or not Axeworthy makes an appearance, the show will go on at the Halloween House, as my family has come to call the Talarico’s home. Elsa relayed that a new, yet-unnamed character—a praying mantis in a tie dye—will be joining the front lawn fright-fest this year.
Also adding to the atmosphere Halloween night are colored lights, eerie shadows, spider webs, a fog machine and spooky sounds including dramatic moaning and thunder, which is closely followed by flashes of “lightning” that are queued up by Ross, who is at the controls. Amy said that they even have people fly in from out-of-town to be a part of their “scary props” as live characters.
She also shared that the family has a closely guarded code word if a little person is approaching their house so that they can “tone it down” on some of the scary sounds and live characters. In a non-pandemic year, the Halloween House welcomes about 1,000 trick-or-treaters, per Elsa.
“We are big Halloween fans and it brings us so much joy to see all of the trick-or-treaters come,” said Amy, who added half-kiddingly, “We kind of like to scare people too.”