Good Bones

Good Bones

Cars slow and walkers linger in front of 1801 Whitney Avenue in Hamden. The home’s theatrical holiday displays are the talk of the neighborhood, and Halloween promises the annual chef-d’oeuvre. This year, a pair of skeleton horses and sentries will lure trick-or-treaters into a graveyard and through the front door of the “haunted” house. But some neighbors have already had a fright. In the light of day, they’ve discovered their own names carved into the tombstones, accompanied by the notation, “Died Oct. 31, 2021.”

In fairness, homeowner Eric Andrewsen’s name is on a tombstone, too, as is the name of his partner, Alfred Lee. And the neighbors were all consulted—sort of. Andrewsen called about 60 of them back in May—he plans his Halloween display more than a year ahead—and asked them if he could use their full names for a surprise “in the fall.” About 50 said yes; only six said no. “Only two of the six said, ‘Oh, I’m so glad I’m not on the stone,’” Andrewsen reports.

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Scrolls, skulls and crosses adorn the unique gravestones. A do-it-yourselfer with help from several friends, Andrewsen cut large foam insulation sheets into quarters, wrote the names with a soldering iron, aged the “stones” with a blow torch and sunk rods in the bottom of each to fasten them in the lawn. It took about four days to make each unique piece. The project is just one example of Andrewsen’s creative vision and the lengths to which he’ll go to entertain and delight. He promises more surprises for Halloween night.

The house at 1801 Whitney is one of the oldest and grandest in the neighborhood. Built in 1911 and located just north of the Spring Glen business district, it was originally surrounded by farmland, not homes, a synagogue, a church and Best Video Film and Cultural Center. Its first owners, Paul and Abigail Webb, moved in as newlyweds and went on to raise seven children there. The home’s second owners, Dwight and Louise Long, arrived in 1950 from Nebraska. Dwight was charged with bringing Mutual of Omaha insurance to the East Coast. He died in the house at the age of 104. Both the Webbs and the Longs are memorialized with their own front yard tombstones.

Andrewsen and Lee, the third owners, bought the house on its centennial in 2011 despite a doorstop of a report from the home inspector. It had been neglected in recent decades, and repairing it was “the biggest project I’ve ever taken on,” Andrewsen says. He and Lee lived in just one room as they gradually replaced the heating system, the roof, the windows. Eventually, they were able to tackle the interior, restoring it to the Edwardian period in which it was built. The house was “still kind of in shambles” on the couple’s first Halloween there. Andrewsen put on the porch light, but “no one was crossing Whitney Avenue… So I said, ‘I’m gonna fix that,’” he laughs. The next year, he added music, lights and fog and drew 50 or 60 trick-or-treaters. Six years ago, he upped his game. Now, in a non-pandemic year, he gets 600 or more visitors on Halloween night.

But Andrewsen’s vision extends beyond Halloween. The house is always decked out for the season. Thanksgiving—his favorite holiday—will be relatively low-key, a breather between the October extravaganza and Christmas, which always features a 25-foot tree sourced from Nova Scotia and decorated with 9,800 colored lights. It’s accompanied by different themed accessories every year—for 2021, candy canes. After the holidays, the tree is dressed down and becomes the woodland setting for a flock of lighted deer that graze in front of the house through the dark of winter.

Andrewsen used to welcome spring with 3,000 tulips in the lawn, which he dug up and replaced every year for maximum bloom, but eventually he realized the perennials planted along the lawn’s picket fence would do better without the constant disruption. Now he welcomes spring with a huge flock of pink flamingos that move across the lawn day by day. They’re followed by a series of flag-related holidays, beginning with Armed Forces Day in May, on which the branches of the military, the police and firefighters are honored with flags hung on the front of the house. “They risk their lives,” Andrewsen says. “It’s just my way of saying thank you.” The flag display evolves through Memorial Day, Flag Day and, finally, the Fourth of July, which one year included neighbor Bob Donahue, dressed in full historic regalia, giving a history talk and firing his musket—with police permission—for about 65 people on the front lawn. August and September are quieter months, a chance for the perimeter garden’s perennials to be the stars of the show.

Neighbors and passersby alike look forward to the change of seasons at number 1801. But Andrewsen insists, “It’s not about the recognition. It’s about the joy that it brings other people.” He and Lee take stewardship of their historic home seriously, and they’re taking care of a few artifacts that were given to them by relatives of the prior owners with the intention of passing them on someday to the next owner. “There’s a lot of good energy in this house,” Andrewsen says.

But it’s Halloween, and he can’t resist slipping in a little warning. Future buyers, beware: “If I don’t like what’s going on in this house,” he says, “I’m haunting!”

Webb House Halloween Display
1801 Whitney Ave, Hamden (map)
Free haunted house for trick-or-treaters on Oct 31

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1 features, from left to right, Alfred Lee and Eric Andrewsen.

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