Couple made a village of the dead for Halloween, which looks a lot like a Christmas village
The village has all the elements of a normal town — movie theater, jazz club, train depot, the Black Cat Diner, radio station HOWL, a farm and carnival on the outskirts.
But get closer, and the townspeople don’t look well. A little pale. Skeletal, even. In fact, you could say that most of the residents of the Halloween village in Donna and Chick Dishong’s dining room are dead.
For 10 years, the Dishongs have worked together to erect a sprawling Halloween village in their home, including the last three years since retiring and moving from Maryland to Chick Dishong’s native Susquehanna Twp. It started when they went shopping for “a couple of pieces” for Donna Dishong’s birthday and spent twice their budget because “he fell in love with it,” she said.
“Donna started it, and we found that I liked it, and that’s what made it grow,” Chick Dishong said.
The village’s homes and occupants are manufactured by Department 56, famous for its Christmas village line, with personal touches added by the Dishongs over the years. On the north end of town, miniature trees purchased on eBay surround the ramshackle hut of the hermit in the woods. A stream made from glass pebbles leads to Dead Creek Mill and its spinning mill wheel.
In the center of town, a skeleton flies over the cemetery where another skeleton is roasting a rat, and a hearse has crashed into a tree filled with vultures. The Zombies are playing at the Voodoo Lounge. At the south end of town, skeletal sailors disembark from a ghost ship and head to Witch’s Brew Pub for a drink.
The “premiere piece,” Donna Dishong said, is Grimsly Manor, where ghosts and witches materialize through the windows. The Dishongs said they try to avoid ghoulish and cutesy extremes, and the overall effect is spooky fun.
“It’s not macabre,” Donna Dishong said. “It’s not bloody or anything like that.”
Over the years, the village has attracted friends and curious neighbors. One little girl who got a preview after peeking in the window returned on Halloween dressed as a skeleton — a costume inspired by the village’s flying skeleton. Visitors will examine the site for 15 or 20 minutes to find details such as the headless horseman who’s riding a Rottweiler.
“The longer you look, the more things you see,” Chick Dishong said.
Though many of the pieces have collectible value, Donna Dishong has no intention of selling, and said they wouldn’t fetch much money because “this stuff is well-loved and well-used.”
“It wouldn’t sell on eBay because I can’t say it’s perfect and not chipped or in a perfect box, but we enjoy it,” she said.
Chick Dishong said that he’s “kind of partial to the Dead End Motel.”
“That’s one of my favorites,” he said. “It’s a little unique. It’s got the flashing lights like the power’s gone out.”
Every year’s layout is a little different, depending on newly acquired pieces.
Previously, the Dishongs crammed setup into a weekend, but now that they’re retired — Donna from the insurance industry and Chick from Polaroid — they can take about 15 hours over three or four days at the beginning of October, “and we survive it,” Donna Dishong said.
Seven long power strips under the table power the layout. The village comes down a few days after Halloween. Storage boxes occupy an entire wall in the basement.
“We joked that we should throw snow on it and call it our Christmas village,” Donna Dishong said.