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The Legend of Hendersons' Hollow
By Kathryn Guta
We all know that the biggest holiday in San Francisco is not Thanksgiving, New Year's, Christmas, or Rosh Hashanah. Our biggest holiday is Halloween, the night when the city turns campy, frilly, and scary. We enjoy nothing better than to drop our everyday identities and dress up like monsters -- Dracula, the Bride of Frankenstein, Jesse Helms, Linda Tripp.
But there's one family in Noe Valley that's turned Halloween into a fine art. Some might even say they're possessed. This family has held a haunted house in their cellar for so many years they can't remember when it started.
Who are these Werewolves of Noe Valley? The Hendersons of 30th Street -- and 14-year-old Brad Henderson is the leader of the pack.
Over the next few weeks, Brad will be busy transforming his basement into a fiendish nightmare guaranteed to scare even the most jaded of guests. "We get creative. Each year we add a little bit more," Brad says, his eyes glowing. "It's a community project."
Before the big night, the neighbors help move the regular basement stuff out into the back yard -- the golf clubs, camping gear, and bikes. But some of the junk stays behind because it might be useful. "That duffel bag might get a bloody arm tossed into it. Or you could use that toolbox as a casket," says practical Brad.
When designing a haunted house, "always look for holes in the walls or little openings," Brad counsels. "They are the perfect places for ghosts or scary things to pop out of."
To illustrate, he points to a three-foot door in his basement that holds a kite bearing his sister Sadie's name. Brad opens the door, leading to a little crawl space between the buildings. This is the site for this year's spooky installation at the Henderson house. Perhaps it will feature a tortured hanged man or a bogeyman reaching out for a victim's doomed leg, he says comfortingly.
Brad's brother and sisters -- Sadie, 12, Devin, 8, and Marta, 6 -- all join in the fun of making the scare house. Like Brad, they've had a lifetime of experience in conjuring up thrills and chills.
But Brad claims that most of the inspiration for this madness comes from his mom, Teri Cahill, a registered nurse at San Francisco General Hospital. "Every year we say, 'It's so much work, maybe we won't do it.' But Mom starts up and then we all pitch in," Brad says.
Teri admits she loves Halloween. "It's a time to be anybody you want, a time to laugh and be silly and scary," she says. Halloween has been such a big part of her family, she says, that they'll probably keep doing the haunted house until they're forced to give up the ghost.
Brad's dad is Gerry Henderson, a San Francisco firefighter. Gerry really gets into the spirit of Halloween, too. And he can attest to the macabre realism of some of the city's Halloween antics. "One year we got two 911 calls about a man who had 'hung himself' on a scaffold in the Excelsior District. We had to ask the owner to take the installment down. People forgot it was Halloween."
Still, he and Teri and the kids enjoy pulling out all the stops. The doors of their haunted house usually creak open in the afternoon. Their coffins close about... well, let's just say you should leave long before midnight.
The scene that greeted visitors last year was spine-tingling: Cobwebs dripped from the ceiling. Candles sent flickering lights into the spooky darkness. Three skeleton pirates played a leisurely game of cards in the corner. A bloody baby sat under the front wheel of a slug bug. (The poor thing had been run over by a pair of careless gremlins.) Ghoulish laughter howled into the night.
Brad says 40 or so friends and neighbors crowd into the basement, all wearing elaborate disguises. Although they see each other all the time, it's hard to tell who's who when they're in costume. Says Brad, "The scariest monsters are those with arms and legs completely covered and wearing masks or face paint -- especially if they don't say anything."
A few years ago, Brad came as a three-legged man, and he thought he'd topped everyone. But next-door neighbor Daniel Amend came with an ax through his head. (It's enough to give you a nervous twitch.)
Monsters and witches often arrive with plates of creepy cuisine in their warty hands. Brad says the kids love scary red jello with eyeballs floating in it made of olives and cream cheese. Gummy worms squirting out of a cauldron of chocolate pudding are another favorite. Plain noodles on a bed of potatoes become "brains on the half-skull." Tater tots dipped in catsup look like missing fingers.
When it's time to trick or treat, the Henderson Haunted House shuts down and the entire gang moves into the street looking for "good" houses for candy or horror. "We take the same route up to Sanchez Street every year. We all know the way, so the big kids and little kids can all go at their own pace," Brad says.
One of the highlights in past years was a house on Harper Street. It featured a head in a toilet bowl and a dentist dressed up like a skeleton using a hand drill to work on a patient in a chair. Brad says a nurse slammed a real hatchet next to any little hand reaching into the candy bowl. Now that's scary!
The teens usually finish their route before the little kids and eat their treats at the end of 30th Street on Billy Goat Hill. Favorite treats are Snickers, Star Burst packets, and suckers. Brad says they always bring toilet paper to play tricks but have yet to unfurl their white flags through their neighbors' trees. He says the kids have been too well treated by the dozens of haunted homes they've visited over the years to do any real mischief.
As the Noe Valley Vampire went to press, Brad was still debating what to wear this Halloween. "My favorite costume of all time was the Werewolf -- I liked having hairy hands and feet!"
But he might go as Mr. Sandman. "I'd wear a body suit with sand and glitter glued on over it. I'd also have a gold wristband that would make people fall asleep as they touched it."
So if you see a silent Sandman wandering around 30th and Dolores this Halloween, keep your hands in your pockets and your eyes wide open. You sure don't want to get lost at Hendersons' Hollow.
How to Have a Hair-Raising Haunted House
Here are some tips on how to celebrate Halloween, dug up by Brad "The Werewolf" Henderson:
* Get in the mood by going to see a scary movie. (Brad recommends H20.)
* Carve up a pumpkin, put a candle inside, and put it at your door.
* Remember, masks look great but they are often uncomfortable. The eye holes are cut too small, and the whole thing can be hot and sweaty. Good alternatives are funky hair and face paint.
* To make your house haunted, it needs to be really dark. To create an eerie effect, cover your light fixtures with colored plastic. Place spotlights on scary scenes for added emphasis.
* Buy a tape of monster music and ghoulish sounds.
* Use newspapers to stuff clothing, or make a torso out of a rolled poster board. A blown-up balloon fitted with a mask is a good head. Stuffed rubber gloves become a pair of hands. Voila! a dead body.
* Use your imagination. It's better than store-bought items, which can be hokey. Ask yourself: What would scare me the most? Then do it!