Apr 25, 2019

The Pumpkinrot Pilgrimage

If there's anyone that truly needs no introduction to the followers of this blog, it is home-haunting legends Rot and Bean of PUMPKINROT.COM.

I first came across Pumpkinrot in early 2010 at the tender age of 12. I remember trawling through the site like a treasure chest, completely awestruck at the tableau-like beauty of the annual installations, the sculptural detail of each individual prop, and the sheer originality of the entire Pumpkinrot oeuvre. I had only recently discovered the online world of home haunting, let alone begun to dip my toes in it myself, but it was immediately clear to me that this 'Pumpkinrot' existed in a league of their own. Haunting elevated to art - mysterious and magnificent and completely untouchable.

I became obsessed, a fanboy to the nth degree. So to say that Rot's work was a large influence on The House of Marrow is a colossal understatement. Every prop showcased on this blog is indebted to his innovations, from the torn-gauze finishing touches right down to the rolled newspaper bones.  But the inspiration was more than just practical - the works and images presented on Rot's blog and site fundamentally shaped my idea of what Halloween is all about. Growing up in New Zealand, many of the core elements of American Halloween simply aren't part of the equation - the falling leaves, the orange pumpkins, the creeping cold and the growing darkness. Reading Rot's blog every day not only fuelled my love for the holiday, it also helped me to see it in an entirely new light. And it became a dream of mine to spend a Halloween in the US.

Last October that dream became a reality - and if you'd told 13-year-old Marrow the reason why, he would've either laughed in your face or asked to be put into a seven year coma.

Several years after I stopped posting on this blog, Rot and I had got in touch over email, and although we weren't really in contact during my House Of Marrow days, it immediately felt like speaking to an old friend. A few emails ended up turning into a lot of emails, and by the time 2018 rolled around, we were scheming together on the theme for that year's Halloween display. At that point all we had was the name, but even the name alone seemed to promise something great and terrible and truly monumental: CHURCH.

We had talked before about how I'd need to fly over for Halloween one year in the future, but around April or May I started to think that it needed to happen sooner rather than later. There was no reason I couldn't come that year, so why wait? The tipping point for me was probably an email from Rot outlining the concept of the 'angels' - disinterred corpses with their ribs pried open and grave candles flickering in place of their hearts. At that point CHURCH became something too spectacular to miss, and before long I'd booked my flights.

I've tried many times to write this post since Halloween, and each time I've gotten stuck attempting to put the week at the end of October down in words. My thinking was that if my 13-year-old self knew that the mysterious and almighty Pumpkinrot had collaborated with another haunter, I would want to know every last detail. But after many lengthy and failed attempts at that sort of write-up, I've realised that perhaps those memories are best kept to myself. What I will say is that Rot and Bean are two of the sweetest, coolest, most generous and talented people I've had the pleasure of meeting. Bean wrote somewhere that the two of them "live and breathe Halloween"... and I can testify that this is no exaggeration. They are true keepers of the October flame, and there is absolutely no way that my first American Halloween could have been spent in better company.

Out of respect for their privacy (and in the interest of living in the moment and all), most of the photos I took over that week were of the mental variety - snapshots of late-autumn magic and home-haunting madness that will exist forever in my mind. But after the three-day construction of CHURCH was over, I did pull my camera out to document what had been created. Most of those shots are compiled here on Rot's blog, but I wanted to share three that didn't make it onto the official post. They're more on the behind-the-scenes side of things, but aside from what was mutually identified as The Money Shot, these three photos feel like some of the most special ones to me.

That third photo was taken in the early hours of November 1st, long after the last trick or treaters had come and gone. Rot and I had spent the final hours of Halloween eating leftover candy, nerding out over creating the perfect fog shots for the video, and just soaking up the atmosphere of the night. It was all putting off the inevitable - I don't think either of us wanted it to end, so shutting the lights off was a bit of an emotional ordeal. But as each bulb went out the atmosphere of the haunt changed, until the only ones left were the two blue 'moonlight' spots behind the kings, and the space took on an entirely new energy. Without the obligatory front lighting, the haunt felt dark and mysterious and weirdly real. We sat down on the porch and looked up at the dark silhouettes and beams of 'moonlight' and marvelled at this as a final private iteration of CHURCH... like the directors cut of a favourite movie or an alternate recording of a song.

On November 1st the display stayed standing, and on November 2nd we made some feeble attempts at beginning the pack-down before I had to say goodbye and head back to the train station to carry on with my trip around the East Coast. It wasn't my first time doing the silent undercover cry in the back seat of an Uber, but they were happy (silent undercover) tears. I left with a booklet of Bean's polaroids, a head from the Corn Witch display and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude to the universe and the gods of home haunting for allowing CHURCH to happen.

Usually the shine wears off from most experiences once a little time has past, but last Halloween has shown no signs of doing so for me. I remember thinking in the months leading up to October that the plane ticket price had already been worth it in the sheer joy it brought me looking forward to the trip. And now looking back on it is something even more special.

So here's to CHURCH and to Pumpkinrot and to this beautiful, bizarre, brilliant hobby. This is Marrow signing off for the last time (again). Happy Halloween forever and always!