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After 30+ years, Halloween yard display goes dark in St. Paul Park

Dawn Walker of Hastings checks the fog machine at her mother's home in St. Paul Park. This was to be the last year that Walker and her family build the elaborate display, which has been a neighborhood attraction for over 30 years. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
The Nelson Haunted House in St. Paul Park hosted its final Halloween display Oct. 31. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

ST. PAUL PARK — A neighborhood Halloween attraction signed off Oct. 31 after more than 30 years.

The Nelson family's tricked-out yard display in St. Paul Park attracted generations of costumed kids with its rows of tombstones, hanging skeletons and gallery of glowing jack o' lanterns. Family members would dress up as witches and vampires.

"I've never been at my own home for 33 years to pass out candy," said Dawn Walker of Hastings. "'Cause I'm the head witch here."

The home belongs to her mother, Sally Nelson. Nelson's husband, Russell, started the display. He loved All-Hallows, his daughter said.

Halloween afternoon, Walker stood in the front yard, adjusting tombstones, checking extension cords and making sure the fog machine inside a witch's cauldron was functioning properly.

She was awaiting the delivery of a coffin.

"My dad made it 30 years ago out of panelling," she said. "It's falling apart, but it will make it one more year."

Russell Nelson, would dress as Dracula and lie in the coffin for hours on Halloween night, rising occasionally to give trick-or-treaters a scare.

Nelson died 13 years ago, so now it's just a skeleton crew consisting of Walker, her sister Chris Carlson and niece, Sarah Hynes of Woodbury.

"It's just three women out here, we're talking 100 extension cords," Walker said. "I'm just tired."

They put their father's photo in the coffin. Some kids toss in candy as a tribute, she said.

As darkness fell and the yard took on an eerie glow, Walker and Hynes had already transformed themselves into witches. Neighbor Bill Farone, who is in his 80s, donned green greasepaint to play Frankenstein one last time.

"Back in the day, we used to have 60 some pumpkins out here all carved and lit up," she said.

They also used to light up the roof. The home, which is illuminated days before the big night, attracts more than 400 visitors a year, Walker said.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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