HUDSON: The Rolsens are used to people asking weeks ahead of time what special Halloween exhibit will grace the front yard of their Huntington Road home.
But they like to keep it a surprise until the unveiling.
It’s always something new — an original eye-popping project that has 30 days to make an impression, and then never is seen again.
Nancy Rolsen, the creative mind behind the tradition, spends weeks planning and designing and cutting.
Ken Rolsen and 18-year-old son Kennan are the brawn, wrestling into place whatever monolithic dream Nancy Rolsen has created out of plywood, fabric and paint.
“I started doing it when we moved here 15 years ago, when my son was little,” said Nancy Rolsen, a former woodworking teacher.
That first year, it was a simple ring of life-sized ghosts playing around an ash tree. The annual project became more elaborate as the couple added to their family and their passion for Halloween grew.
Daughters Karlen, 14, and Kaylen, 12, say their favorite year’s display featured a skeleton horse pulling a hearse carriage.
A fearful adult ghost and a smiling teen driver next to a sign that announced “Ghostville Driver’s Ed” hinted at the chaos in the hearse, where a coffin was sliding out the back doors while two wind-whipped ghosts barely held on.
“Sometimes people want to stop and talk about it,” Kaylen said of the displays.
Even before the feature goes up, everyone from family friends to classmates to her bus driver start asking, “What’s next?” Kaylen said.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, but many ideas derive from family experiences or activities.
After Kennan graduated from Hudson High School last year, Nancy Rolsen honored his years playing cello for the school by building a stage and filling it with the Ghostville High Chamber Orchestra — a ghost conductor leading musicians on plywood instruments, with a Phantom of the Opera soundtrack playing on key nights.
The city’s birthday celebration of the 100-year-old clock tower in the town square was the genesis for this year’s attraction. The Rolsen yard now features a 16-foot haunted replica.
Nancy Rolsen laughs as she notes the skeleton of a mouse she painted climbing toward the clock face. The creature has an arrow in its head.
It’s an homage to the Christmas mouse the city hoists onto the real clock tower every year — a decoration that almost always ends up with an arrow in its head before the season ends.
Ghost and skeleton faces peer out of windows on the tower, their eyes wired to light in the dark. And at a door on the base of the tower, a witch next to a sign that reads “School Tours” is welcoming a line of ghost children inside.
Nancy Rolsen spent hours tediously painting hundreds of bricks onto the plywood surface, and her husband and son spent two days raising and stabilizing the structure.
In another week, it will be little more than a memory.
“Yeah, it’s hard,” she admitted when asked about letting a project go.
She’ll find someone in need of the plywood — previous Halloween decorations are lining the interior of a friend’s barn — and turn her thoughts to next year.
She already has some ideas, but she’s not telling.