BENWOOD, W.Va.: In Pamela Apkarian-Russell's world, it's always Halloween.
Jack-o'-lanterns glow in the heat of summer. Witches steer their broomsticks as the snow flies. Ghosts appear in broad daylight.
This is Castle Halloween, a shrine to the autumn holiday tucked along a back road just outside Wheeling. In this converted schoolhouse, Apkarian-Russell displays the Halloween memorabilia she's amassed over more than 40 years the largest such collection in the world, she says.
There are costumes and candy dispensers, plastic pumpkins and tin noisemakers. Many of the items are vintage collectibles, although such contemporary representatives of the supernatural as Harry Potter and Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas share space here, too.
Apkarian-Russell and her husband, Chris Russell, opened the museum in 2005 in response to countless requests to see the collection. Known among Halloween collectors for her expertise, she's written four books on the holiday and has even trademarked the name Halloween
The Russells moved from New Hampshire just for the building, a decrepit former grade school the Russells are still struggling to repair.
They bought it, she said, because they thought it would be spacious enough to house her 35,000-piece collection.
''Well, it's not really big enough for the museum,'' she said. Consequently only a portion of her treasures is on display. The rest remain in storage. ''They're in drawers. They're in cabinets,'' she said.
History, not gore
Apkarian-Russell said she wants Castle Halloween to be a place to educate people about the history and traditions of the holiday, but the museum lacks any sterile academic feel. It's more like a loosely organized flea market, a place where visitors can immerse themselves in nostalgia and delight at discoveries.
She also wants the museum to be fun, not a haunted house or a celebration of gore. ''The chop-'em-up and blood all over the place, I can watch the 5 o'clock news and get all that,'' she said.
That's not to say Castle Halloween is without its creepy aspects. One room, called the Crypt, is devoted to funerary items and decorations associated with Mexico's Day of the Dead. Among the eerier displays are coffin salesmen's samples and memorials featuring the dearly departed's hair, made into jewelry or fashioned into swags that sometimes frame a photo of the loved one laid out for viewing.
Ugly jugs of the South
There's also a folk art room lined with face jugs, a peculiar form of Southern pottery adorned with grotesque faces. The jugs, also called ugly jugs, held moonshine and bore their frightening visages to scare away both the devil and the revenue man, Apkarian-Russell explained.
The bulk of the collection, though, is devoted to the fantasy side of the holiday. After all, that's what she loves about it, she said.
The themes of the displays range from the sweet to the sinister. Children's dishes rimmed by Halloween figures and old boxes that held Halloween candy are displayed near ashtrays decorated with devils and souvenirs from Salem, Mass., home of the 17th-century witchcraft trials.
Many of the items are reminders of a time when Halloween was principally celebrated with parties, such as homemade crepe-paper and cloth costumes from the early decades of the 20th century. Some teach of other countries' traditions that became incorporated into our own, such as the figures of Scandinavian Easter witches who were said to protect the homes of the houses they landed on. Others, like the vintage paper lanterns fashioned like jack-o'-lanterns, are reminders of a time before fire-retardant materials and safety warnings. Not surprisingly, few of those flammable lanterns remain.
The collection includes items with significance to pop culture for example, a Zoltan fortune-telling machine similar to the machine featured in the movie Big and a poster promoting Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF, adorned by a photo of a preadolescent Liza Minnelli. It also includes artwork with Halloween themes, such as a signed silkscreen portrait of Dracula by Andy Warhol, Harry Roseland paintings portraying fortunetellers and contemporary folk art by Debbee Thibault. One of Thibault's figurines, the Halloween Queen, is named for Apkarian-Russell.
Some of the items have special significance. One of her oldest is a poster from 1833 called the Prophetic Messenger, which contained predictions for the coming year. She also displays a giant pumpkin mask that was her first big purchase. ''Way back when, to spend $250 for a pumpkin, you had to be out of your mind,'' she said.
For many of her visitors, nostalgia is a big part of the museum's allure. They remember the boxed costumes that used to fill dime-store displays or the accordion-paper decorations that used to hang on their walls.
Collection for all ages
But it's not just grown-ups who appreciate her collection. She smiled at the memory of a boy of about 7 or 8 who pointed to an item on display and declared excitedly, ''I had one just like that when I was a little kid.''
''Every generation, every decade, has their nostalgia,'' she said.
Apkarian-Russell's own memories of Halloween didn't include trick-or-treating, since she lived in a rural area. But she's always loved the fall, she said, and she's drawn to the whimsy of the holiday, its vibrant colors and the simpler time it represents.
Despite the money she and her husband continue to pour into the building and the aggravation of repairs, Apkarian-Russell still finds the museum a magical place.
Sometimes at night, she said, she'll look down on the displays from a window above the auditorium and take in all the colors and lights and fantasy below. ''And I'm thinking, this is the fairy tale I'd like to be in.''
Castle Halloween is open year-round by appointment. Admission, which includes a tour, is $6.
The museum is at 577 Boggs Run Road in Benwood, W. Va., just south of Wheeling. Take U.S. 250 / West Virginia Route 2 south from U.S. 470, exit at Boggs Run and turn left. The museum is about two miles down the road on your right. It's not marked well, but look for an old school with Halloween decorations outside.
Information about the museum is at http://www.castlehalloween.com The phone number is 304-233-1031.
Mary Beth Breckenridge is the Beacon Journal home writer. She can be reached at 330-996-3756, or at firstname.lastname@example.org via e-mail.