Haunted house a Healdsburg tradition
The scariest place to be in Healdsburg might also be the most fun. It can be found each October at the north end of Grove Street at Teresa Guerrero’s house.
Starting each year around mid September, Guerrero and her friend Gaetano Rocha-Sanchez begin the process of transforming their front yard into an intricate haunted house of ghouls and ghosts, witches and skeletons, cats and skulls and spiders, almost all of them ingeniously created from scratch by Rocha-Sanchez.
It’s been a tradition for the past 17 years, making the house an important holiday stop by locals and tourists alike, bringing scores of visitors to its display of figures, many that move and scream in the best tradition of Halloween.
“People stay at the Dry Creek Inn and they tell them about the house so they come over,” said Guerrero through an interpreter. A native of Mexico has lived in Healdsburg for six decades. “They take photos and videos and send them to me from all over the world.”
The 83-year-old Guerrero said she enjoyed putting up decorations for Christmas so much that she started doing it on Halloween too.
It was 17 years ago when she recruited her friend Rocha-Sanchez, 52, to help her put up a small Halloween display that consisted of one mannequin (which they still use each year) and some Halloween props. The next year, Guerrero wanted build on the display but discovered buying the mannequins was costly. So, Rocha-Sanchez set out to make them himself. Also a native of Mexico, he taught himself the skills needed to build them but what began as a hobby as turned into a full-time job.
“I think about each of them,” he said, also through an interpreter. “I enjoy it when people are entertained by them.”
In recent years Rocha-Sanchez, who has been unable to work due to a severe back injury, has been able to spend more and more time planning and designing his figures which can include many moving parts. He works year-round in a small workshop in the backyard and begins to put everything up in September. The Halloween display itself takes a month to put up.
“The work is very good for me,” he says. “It has given me something constructive and fun to do.”
He builds the figures from ordinary garden wire, constructing skeletons that he covers with clothes and masks he has collected over the years. He animates them using motors that he controls through buttons, remotes and even motion or sound. Once turned on, many of them are built to start moving when a person walks by or claps, which can be a scary treat for an unsuspecting passer by.
The motors run on double-A batteries, which Rocha-Sanchez says is his biggest annual expenditure. There’s a full-sized Zombie figure with a rotating chainsaw, a creature that pulls his own head off and on and one that sits in a cage moaning with red lights for eyes that flash on and off. There’s a spider that pops up, a witch, poker-playing skeletons and even a bloody bride and groom being married. This year alone, he put up more than 100 figures, about half that sway and shake, rattle and moan.
At night, the whole yard is awash in lights and come Halloween Eve from 7-9 p.m., they have a party for the neighborhood that draws a long line of costumed children form down the street for a chance to walk through the gauntlet of scary figures – their reward? Some of the more than 200 pounds of candy Guerrero says she gives out each year.
“They run, play and they laugh,” Rocha-Sanchez says. “The children come from all over.”
And as if on cue, a car pulled up in front of the house — Cynthia Mattson of Geyserville was driving by with her daughters, Natalie, 4, and Madeline, 2. She said the girls asked her to stop.
“We pass by here every day on our way to school,” said. “We see it every day. It’s really amazing.”
Natalie ran up to the life-size clowns lined along the driveway with a huge grin on her face. It’s exactly what motivates the two old friends to keep doing this every year.
“We love the children,” Guerrero said, matching Natalie’s grin with one of her own. “Every year we try to think of more things to add to make the experience even better.”
Rocha-Sanchez says he’ll even drive around town to see what other people are doing with their displays. It’s a lot of effort for one month every year but it doesn’t end with Halloween. Come November 1, the two friends turn their attention to a large Christmas display which includes an annual neighborhood Christmas Eve party where they serve homemade tamales and Posole, a Mexican hominy soup.
Even standing among his spooky figures, Rocha-Sanchez is thinking about Christmas. He’s figured out how to motorize his reindeer so they look like they’re flying.