The annual Halloween scene on the front lawn of West Hartford resident Matt Warshauer’s North Main Street home makes an overt political statement this year.
By Ronni Newton
The political nature of Matt Warshauer’s past few Halloween displays have been somewhat subtle, but this year the 8-foot-high, barbed-wire covered, gated, and soldier-guarded wall across his North Main Street lawn is much more overt.
“It’s a presidential election year – but it’s also that this is an insane year,” said Warshauer, a history professor at Central Connecticut State University who has become known for creating elaborate and message-laden Halloween displays for well over a decade.
As a political historian, Warshauer said he can’t remember an election year being this bad, and he honestly fears that the election might not be decided by the Electoral College, throwing it over to the House of Representatives.
“It’s not that I am a Hillary fan,” Warshauer said. But he said he finds Trump so scary that when it became apparent Trump would be the candidate, he knew he had to have a wall in his Halloween display.
“Trump represents nationalism and fascism, and when you combine those things it’s very dangerous. What does ‘Make America great again’ really mean?” said Warshauer. And calling whole groups of people the “others” scares Warshauer. “I keep coming back to the word dangerous.”
Hillary Clinton bothers Warshauer, too, he said for many of the same reasons she bothers others. “She acts like [the presidency] is owed to her, like it’s her turn. I don’t think anyone should behave that way,” Warshauer said.
The entire election is scary this year, perfect fodder for Warshauer’s creative public art.
It’s hard to take in the entire display in one glance, so viewing the display as a pedestrian is the best way to see all of the elements.
In addition to the wall, there’s “Trump Tower” with a image of Donald Trump, hands in the air, that Warshauer carved from styrofoam. Note the “tiny hands,” Warshauer said of one of his favorite and most humorous parts of the display. The hands, which are definitely minuscule compared to the head, originally belonged to a baby doll that Warshauer purchased at a dollar store.
Hillary Clinton, wearing very patriotic tiara rides a donkey that she holds with a chain. She’s in front of a sign that reads “Crooked vs. Crooked and Crazy.”
Bernie Sanders also makes an appearance in the display, too. He’s locked in “DNC jail.”
There are also the requisite zombies that are included in all of Warshauer’s displays, each making their own statement this year.
Lyrics to a song that Warshauer really likes appear on a tree. He purposely didn’t identify the name of the song or the artist, but said the words “speak a lot of truth about the social and political world we live in and cuts to the core of where we are. Love will breed more love. Hate will breed more hate,” he said.
“I’m trying to be both serious and comical,” he said. The history professor said that caricatures, effigies, and cartoons about politics go back to the Colonial period, and he uses them in his classes, too, as a way to understand the mood of the time.
Also included in the display are paintings by Hall High School art students recruited by one of his daughters. “Welcome to the Circus” was created by Rachel Glucksman and Jimmy Zhao, and “Republic of Trump” was painted by Daniele Weinberg. (Images of both paintings appear below.)
Warshauer has three daughters – two at Hall and one at King Philip Middle School – and although all were very involved in last year’s Vietnam War scene, one of his daughters said she didn’t want to help this year because she didn’t like his message. “But she also asked me what we would do if Donald Trump wins, if we would leave the country,” Warshauer said. He told her that citizens can’t just leave when they disagree.
Warshauer said his wife likes this display better than some in the past. “But she still goes in through the back door during October.”
As much as the display is anti-Trump, Warshauer stressed that he isn’t promoting Clinton as a candidate. “I thought Bernie spoke far more truth than Hillary, and he was trying to tap into a spirit and an energy. He got people talking and thinking,” Warshauer said.
Two years ago Warshauer’s Roman Colosseum display attacked the failure of the political system, and he continues to be critical of today’s two major parties.
“We make the mistake of thinking our two parties are public entities, but they’re like corporations. They do what’s best for themselves,” he said, adding that although not all of his ideas could have worked he thinks Sanders addressed the real concerns that middle Americans have.
“I’d love to have people vote their conscience, not their party,” he said.
“The Republican party is no longer the party of Abraham Lincoln. It’s not the party of Teddy Roosevelt,” Warshauer said. “Abraham Lincoln showed amazing racial compassion at a time when doing so was very difficult … It was really all about black lives matter.” Teddy Roosevelt, he said, showed “tremendous business common sense in the face of the excesses of capitalism,” and implemented regulations regarding anti-trust, monopolies, healthcare at every level of society.
Warshauer said that he still wants to make a few additions to the wall, including a bit of graffiti, but the weekend’s rainy weather got in the way. The display appeared on Saturday, Oct. 1, although the wall construction began the previous week. Warshauer said that’s not his usual style, when the complete display goes up seemingly overnight in “Disney-esque” fashion, but he wasn’t able to take any time off from work last week to do it.
This year’s display was much simpler to create than last year’s Vietnam scene and the previous year’s Roman Colosseum, Warshauer said. “One of this year’s challenges was figuring out where I could purchase barbed wire,” he said. A tractor supply store in Farmington sold it, but Warshauer had to purchase a 1,300 square foot spool when he only needed a few hundred square feet. “If Trump is elected, I can barbed wire my house,” he joked.
Will the display stay up through Election Day? “Absolutely,” Warshauer said.
As a political historian and professor, Warshauer will willingly engage and wants people to pay attention and to think, and come up with their own interpretation of the display.
An older couple with a young child in hand was walking by over the weekend and stopped to chat, Warshauer said. “The man told me he was from Germany. ‘I know about walls,’ he said with a somber look. I’ve always thought Americans tear down walls,” Warshauer recounted.
Warshauer also shared an email he received Monday morning, right after this interview concluded:
Dear Dr. Warshauer,
I hope you are well and enjoying the beginning of fall. I saw your Halloween display and I like it. It sends a very powerful message. It made me think a lot.
The wall reminded me of Lincoln’s quote, “A house divided against itself can not stand.” It feels like there are walls everywhere because of this election. It’s disappointing and a little scary to see people so divided. And building an actual wall between two countries is not right. People need to come together to be stronger.
I hope your wall teaches people that they should be more united.
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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