Ghosts and Ghouls: Why this Brooklyn neighborhood goes crazy for Halloween

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Every year, Park Slope goes nuts for Halloween. Residents decorate stoops and houses with pumpkins and ghosts, witches and ghouls–the half-dead and the haunted.

Thirty years ago, when I first moved to this neighborhood, I was struck by all the quirky, homespun Halloween decorations that sprang up like mushrooms in early October. My favorite decorations were always the ones that local residents dug out of their dark imaginations. Like Darth Vader draped over a gas lantern, its hollow eyes spookily glowing; and the handpainted tombstones in a front areaway announcing the death, resurrection, and final resting spot of its occupant.20171012_163817.jpg

This year, I thought some more about why Park Slope is so enamored of Halloween. To begin with, there’s the obvious presence of families and children, of artists, writers, and musicians; and the less obvious presence of Wiccans and clairvoyants and of longtime residents with memories stretching back generations. After living here long enough, I’ve heard tell of spirits that move among us. More sensitive neighbors have reported ghosts wandering bloodied and bandaged in Long Meadow, or staring ghoulishly at night from the top floor windows of Litchfield Villa.

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A cursory internet research on “Ghosts of Park Slope” confirmed what I’d already suspected. The casualties of war–both the Battle of Brooklyn fought on this soil, and the Civil War, which left many families grief-stricken when young sons were lost–may well account for both the ghostly activity in Park Slope and for our enduring fascination with Halloween in this Brooklyn neighborhood.

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How do you celebrate Halloween in your neighborhood?

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I’d love to hear what you think.

 

 

Expect the Unexpected from Children’s Book Illustrator Tomi Ungerer

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IMG_20150506_050515.jpgIn the 1970s, talented French illustrator, Tomi Ungerer was living in New York City. I still remember his brilliantly funny ad campaign for the Village Voice: Expect the Unexpected. Ungerer’s posters featured images like a stork delivering a baby to an elderly couple—the man was wheelchair-bound. Another showed a bare-chested man wading in the ocean and holding an open-mouthed fish that was about to swallow a yellow submarine.

 

Tomi Ungerer was born in Strasbourg, France, during World War II—a traumatic childhood, to be sure. I know this experience shaped Ungerer’s artistic images and sensibility. There’s an edge to many of his works—even his children’s books, like No Kiss for Mother, which is full of dark humor and pathos. Ungerer was also known for the public relations campaign he did for his native city, wherein, he produced scores of startling images like the famous Strasbourg Cathedral turned upside down to form the heel of a fashionable shoe!

A few years ago, I spent an exhilarating hour at the Tomi Ungerer Museum in Strasbourg, which, according to the website, opened in 2007 and houses 8,000 pieces of his work, including children’s books like Flix (cover art shown above), and Ungerer’s collection of antique mechanical children’s toys (below). IMG_20150506_050057.jpgThe museum, also known as Centre International de l’Illustration exhibits Ungerer’s erotic and semi-pornographic works like Kamasutra des Grenouilles (Frogs’ Kamasutra), as well as works by fellow illustrators Saul Steinberg, Ronald Searle, and André François.

 

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While majoring in Illustration at Parsons School of Design, I was a great admirer of Tomi Ungerer’s expressive line, his bold palette, and daring sense of humor. Expect the Unexpected pretty much sums up Ungerer’s entire oeuvre, and his illustrations still make me laugh!

Do you have a favorite illustrator who has captivated you? I’d love to hear your comments.

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