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Scares go on: residents make changes to keep annual ghoulish home tours alive

Halloween isn’t a singular day for Joe and Susanna Vitale of St. Charles. During the entire month of October the couple turns their big blue house on a corner into a haunting display as they compete to out scare spectators in the park district’s annual Gallery of Ghoulish Homes Tour.

“This is the event everybody looks forward to,” Vitale said. "We look forward to this all year long.”

This year marks the 14th year he and Susanna will turn their lawn into a spectacle to frighten and impress guests.

In a year full of many cancellations the park district staff worked with long-time participants of the annual contest to keep the Gallery of Ghoulish Home Tour going this year, albeit with a few changes to maintain social distance and safety.

This year’s contest focuses on the outdoor displays and scenes, instead of utilizing actors and haunted experiences, explained Katie Miller, assistant superintendent of recreation for St. Charles Park District.

“This contest has been going on for nearly 20 years,” Miller said. “We’re excited to see what people come up with using the new categories including best use technology, best use of lighting and best use of pumpkins. We’re hoping to inspire people to do something different.”

Each year park district staff compile a list of participating homes and creates a tour guide map for spectators to plan their trips to see the displays Oct. 16-31. In addition to a formal judging, spectators can submit their vote for People’s Choice Award too.

In between managing their own haunted scene Vitale said he and his wife make time to visit the competition.

“We are fans and we go see every house to see what they’re doing, to see their creativity,” Vitale said. “It’s a lot of work and I like to celebrate my fellow community members.”

The home decorating contest is free to enter and the registration deadline is Oct. 11.

Mark Licht said he’s always enjoyed decorating his home for Halloween but he wasn’t aware of the contest until a friend suggested he enter his home in the tour last year. He won Rookie of the Year.

“I could not believe how much fun it was and how many people came to my house,” Licht said, adding that he enjoyed playing the character Michael Myers and scaring spectators with his chain saw. “I loved it.”

Licht admits he’s spent months planning for this year’s display, including spending his summer building props.

“I try to make a lot of my own stuff,” he said.

While Licht was the lone actor in his display, Danielle Sumoski said in past years they’ve relied on between 20-30 actors roaming their large property on a Friday and Saturday night to produce their awards-winning Haunted Trail, “Sumoski Erie Acre.” Danielle and her husband, Keith, are serious fans of Halloween, selecting the holiday for their wedding years ago and participating in the contest for the past 11 years.

While they won’t be able to have their usual haunted trail, the Sumoski family has been hard at work to build spectacular sets visible from the road.

“As hard as this is, it’s the right thing to do, keeping it safe for our family and the actors,” Danielle Sumoski said, adding they used to welcome 200-300 visitors a night to their property.

“We had to get more creative, but we love Halloween and we still get to do this and have something for people to look forward to, have a way to give joy back.”

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