The annual Halloween scene on the front lawn of West Hartford resident Matt Warshauer’s North Main Street home makes another overtly political statement this year.
By Ronni Newton, Photos by Joy Taylor
Even Matt Warshauer admits that he has outdone himself this year with the Halloween scene he has created on the lawn in front of his West Hartford home.
Warshauer, a professor at Central Connecticut State University and a political historian who has become known for creating elaborate and message-laden Halloween displays for well over a decade, built an elaborate and overtly-political “Trump wall” last year that garnered national and even international attention in the midst of a vitriolic election season. Past displays have included a Vietnam scene complete with a downed helicopter and the the Roman Colosseum.
It didn’t take long for Warshauer to get inspired for this year’s display.
“I got this idea earlier than I ever have – literally the day after the election,” he said. “It’s been disastrous on so many levels,” he said of the Trump presidency.
“I said to myself, ‘My God, the ship of state has gone totally off course,'” Warshauer said. “So I built a giant pirate ship.”
The ship is 50 feet long. The sides are 10 feet high, and the masts and rigging stretch 20 feet into the air. “It’s a bit of a feat of engineering – and mania,” said Warshauer.
He prefabricated the ship in pieces, crafted from cardboard attached to a lightweight wood frame, and staged the display in his backyard. It was ready to be screwed together and set up, as is his custom, on the last weekend in September. His three daughters, some of their friends, and some of his friends also helped and Warshauer estimates that he personally put in at least 80 hours this year.
The pirate ship appears to be wood paneling, but like the main elements in all of his displays it’s made from cardboard which actually holds up well in the weather. The masts are held together at six different points with rope rigging attached to steel stakes that he pounded into his lawn.
The giant pirate ship – the “U.S.S. Constitution” – now graces Warshauer’s front lawn where it’s the highlight of a display that’s already attracting plenty of observers.
Glance up at the crow’s nest and you will spy the likeness of President Trump, salvaged from last year’s display, but this year in the role of the “mad pirate king,” Warshauer said. “There’s a skeleton vulture sitting on his shoulder,” he said, an image of the “harbinger of death.”
There are an assortment of pirates and other Halloween-y characters, not all of whom are meant to symbolize anything in particular, but in addition to Trump there are plenty of other subtle and not-so-subtle political messages.
James Comey and a DACA child are walking the plank both bordered by Russian sailors. “I ordered the blue and white sailor shirts from Russia. They are literally dressed as Russian sailors,” Warshauer said.
Along with the ship’s pirate flag, a Russian flag flies from the ship. “It’s actually an old Soviet Union flag,” Warshauer said.
Warshauer said he saved the Hillary Clinton character from last year’s display, too. This year she can be found climbing onto the ship with a book in her hands entitled “Why I Lost,” a takeoff on Clinton’s recently-published book, “What Happened.”
The pirate ship has crashed, Warshauer said, into the “Rock of Republican Recalcitrance,” that he created from foam.
There’s also a graveyard where compassion and reason have been buried. The graves are replete with assorted messages: “Bring us your hungry and poor – just not those hungry and poor”; “Obama Policies”; “Democracy – Right or Responsibility?”
The display often extends into a cooperative neighbor’s yard, and this year that’s where one can find the dinghy that’s trailing behind the pirate ship.
The dinghy is named “Sorrow,” and sitting in it is Abraham Lincoln, holding a sign that reads: “What’s become of my party?”
Because he planned the display so early it doesn’t reference some of the more current issues like North Korea, but Warshauer said he had plenty of fodder to work with.
Warshauer has recently created his own website, The Mindful Professor, and said that for the first time he has decided that the display may serve more of a purpose than just public art. He’s hoping to get some donations, but not to any specific political causes.
Putting his professor hat back on, Warshauer said, “What’s my cause? History, Connecticut History Day.” The event has lost most of its funding from the state, and he hopes to raise enough to cover the cost of staging the annual event. “I hope people will do that,” he said.
The Halloween display really is all about inspiring conversation, about history and education, Warshauer said. While he does plenty of writing and public speaking, Warshauer said, “This [display] is a different way to get stuff out there. In some ways it gives me greater access to people. I’m making a serious point, but through humor.”
To donate to Connecticut History Day, or for more information about Warshauer’s other work, visit themindfulprofessor.org.
Warshauer’s wife, Wanda, created his website, and while she is patiently supportive of this year’s display she said if anyone asks what he’s doing next year to outdo himself, he should tell them, “Your wife says you’re not allowed.”
Warshauer’s house is located at 115 North Main St. in West Hartford, just north of Fern Street. There is no parking on North Main Street, but parking is available on some other side streets, including Hilltop Drive.
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