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Halloween Spooktacular at the Carson Mansion


Carson Mansion in Eureka, California

Three stories, eighteen rooms, wide porches, grand pillars, stained glass, elaborate carvings, exotic woods, turrets, towers and lacy carving. William Carson said about his home, ” . . . If I build it poorly, they would say that I was a damned miser; if I build it expensively, they will say I’m a show off; I guess I’ll just build it to suit myself.” And in a Halloween photo retoucher’s challenge, I altered Carson’s house to suit myself!

Construction of the home began in 1884 and continued non-stop for two years. Cited on a bluff overlooking lumber yards and mills it was commissioned by lumber baron William Carson during a slump in business to keep one hundred of his workers employed. It is his initials that entwine with the Masonic shield above the front entrance. Carson family descendants occupied the home until 1950 when it was sold to the private Ingomar Club with the primary purpose to maintain and preserve this exotically beautiful residence.

Most photographed home in America

One of the most famous homes in America, the Carson Mansion is spectacular architecture. Inside and out it catches the eye and begs to be photographed. Newsom Brothers Architects used elements of Italianate, Eastlake, Slick, Queen Anne vernacular styles to embellish this Victorian masterpiece. On any given day its sidewalks swarm with tourists inviting a bit of hyperbole that the house is the most photographed home in America and maybe the world.

Carson Mansion Halloween

2011 photograph of the Carson Mansion:  copyrighted by Kay Gaensler

Basic Halloween Spooktacular contest rules

A photo of the building as it looks today accompanied an invitation to join in the fun of a bragging rights Halloween contest. The rules of the game reflect the sponsor, a photo retouchers’ website. Remove the logo from the entrance awning; I did that and then decided to remove the entire awning. Remove all of the street lights and additional buildings in the background. Add a graveyard and a moon, change the driveway to cobblestones.

Looking back at Halloween Past 

As I worked on my submission I thought about the Halloweens I experienced as a child and how–a sad circumstance to me–it has since been refocused as an adult celebration. When I was seven there were no Halloween trees to decorate. No one thought to prepare elaborate adult beverages or ghoulish hors d’oeuvres in the Martha Stewart style. We made our own costumes with minimal planning often executed within hours of heading out the door. As a youngster I was smitten with princesses and butterflies and ballerinas, never the ugly or scary things. I repurposed a dance recital tiger lily costume and another time my mother’s party dress. My last Halloween adventure of childhood was at age twelve and when the evening ended it was also the end of something else, the sweet shelter of a Midwestern childhood.

We were fearless in our pursuit of candy, we knew who gave the best treats and who dropped a princely nickle in your bag. We ate many treats before they could settle to the bottom. Our parents entrusted us to welcoming neighbors and kindly strangers. It was the one time a year when we were permitted to navigate the neighborhood streets after dark and well beyond bedtime. The echo of childish giggles and scared-happy screams filled the blocks around our home. The Jim Henson of my childhood was Burr Tillstrom and he lived just around the corner. Puppetry magic faithfully arrived on his doorstep every Halloween in the form of talking ghosts and swooping witches on brooms. We all knew Kookla, Fran and Ollie lived there in Tillstrom’s house and it disappointed us mightily that they never came out to play with us. Once we’d collected the best Nevada Street had to offer and, if it suited our parents’ plans, they sometimes drove us miles away to our grandparents’ homes where there were different and sometimes ethnic taste treats to collect.

In the context of a changing world my own children enjoyed Halloween in similar ways but safer too–no tripping hazards, never alone on the streets, candy bags searched by loving adults before eating anything. Have my children forgiven the well-intentioned household rule: eat all you want in the first 24 hours and surrender the rest after that?

For the photographers among you

Photo retouching is an art but storytelling is weightier. It’s interesting to know how others create their images, what stories might be hiding within. In this case, a Halloween challenge just for the fun of it, I imagined creating for a client looking over my shoulder with ideas of their own. That sparked inspiration for the witchly hand on a wicked crystal ball!