West Hartford resident Matt Warshauer has created his most elaborate tableau ever as he tackles numerous current events in this year’s Halloween display at his North Main Street home.
By Ronni Newton
That’s not a typo in the headline.
Matt Warshauer, a professor and political historian at Central Connecticut State University who has become known for the elaborate and message-laden Halloween displays he creates on the lawn of his North Main Street home, intended to provide commentary on the “untied” state of our country, with his creation of the “Untied States Funhouse.”
“It took me a while to decide on this year’s theme,” Warshauer told We-Ha.com. “There’s so much going on I can’t even keep track.”
Last year he crowd-sourced ideas, and the feedback he received confirmed his original plan to focus his display on the war in Ukraine – complete with a tank.
This year’s inspiration followed a neighborhood happy hour during which he was brainstorming with some friends – including two engineers who asked if he had ever considered mechanizing his Halloween display– who offered to help. “The next day, I got it,” Warshauer said. With the help of his engineer friends, he built a 10-foot-by-10-foot working merry-go-round that actually spins.
It’s sliced up like a pizza, Warshauer said. “It has six different sections, each of which has its own theme,” and he said that gave him the opportunity to cover more than just one subject.
The name of the 2023 display – “The Untied States Funhouse” – is a nod to a gaffe the printer made on an order of pens for the U.S. Senate in 1999. And “untied,” Warshauer thinks, is a more apt description of the country’s current situation. He’s wondering how many people will actually notice the spelling and realize it’s intentional.
Warshauer said he chose the following topics, and there is a diorama of each in a section of the merry-go-round:
- “Trump obviously, and the indictments.”
- Gun violence.
- The Supreme Court. All nine justices are depicted as skeletons, and if you look closely you’ll find some blue tears.
- Ron DeSantis – who has been re-named “Ron DeSatan” – and in particularly his battle with DisneyWorld. The skeletons in this section are all wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
- The climate crisis.
- Stupidity. This one includes a whole series of quotes about stupidity.
The gun violence section is perhaps the most horrifying. There’s a panel with rifles mounted on it, and some skeletons, including one that’s child-sized, bleeding out. “The mental health of America’s gun violence epidemic is that we allow our children to be hunted on a daily basis,” are the words found on another panel in that section, noting that there have been more than 400 mass shootings in 2023, and gun violence is the leading cause of death among children and teens.
The climate crisis diorama shows the world on fire, but climate change includes other weather extremes, one of which perhaps had a direct impact on the display. Warshauer intended to have his entire creation, which is built in pieces, erected on Friday and Saturday – but for about the fourth time in the past few months West Hartford received an “unprecedented” amount of rain. He had enlisted six football players from CCSU on Friday to help him move the merry-go-round – which was built in a corner of his backyard – and that still happened, but it was covered with a tarp and the finishing touches were not done until Sunday afternoon.
But wait, there’s more …
In addition to the merry-go-round, the 2023 display includes eight 4-by-8-foot panels. “Because this is a funhouse, you have to have things to do,” Warshauer said, and this part is intended to be “super fun.”
Much of the display is interactive, and passersby can take photos of themselves in the “BOO” panel, and actually play skee-ball and pong. There’s a funhouse mirror, and two versions of a hammer strength game – one for kids and one for adults.
Flanking the front walkway to his house is a panel depicted an orange-haired Trump clown on one side, and Warshauer’s definition of the “GOP” on the other side (which includes a reference to a “fascist clown cult”), with a red-eyed sharp-toothed “Pennywise the Clown” on the arch linking the panels.
Some of the dioramas and other parts of the display are clearly going to agitate those who disagree with Warshauer’s politics, and he’s well aware of that. As he was finalizing the display on Sunday afternoon, there were plenty of motorists driving by and honking their horns and cheering in praise as they glanced at the display, and there were also a few jeers. But Warshauer said he challenges anyone “with a straight face to tell me that what Donald Trump is doing isn’t a threat to democracy. … We haven’t seen a threat like this since the Civil War.”
The display took months to build, with the mechanization providing the most challenging part of it. “How did I do it all – because I am a crazy person,” he said.
“All of the artwork is complements of my middle child, Sam,” Warshauer said. Sam, who has helped with the display in past years as well, is not just a visual artist, but has also just started a master’s in opera at Bard College Conservatory.
Warshauer used a GoFundMe campaign this year (which he had done once previously) and raised $1,500 to build the display. He re-uses a lot of the materials from past years, but this particular display required more plywood than usual and the costs add up quickly.
As has become tradition, Warshauer has left one panel blank, inviting comments from the public.
“I hope people enjoy this year’s display, because it’s probably going to be the last large political display,” Warshauer said. “This year is 20 years of ‘political Halloween,'” which started with a display about the Iraqi War in 2003. “It’s been a pretty good run,” he said.
“I’m not saying I’m not going to do anything for Halloween …” he quickly added.
As for this year’s display, “adults will love or hate the politics,” he said. But the kids should just love it.
Past years, and how to view the display
The 2022 display was the Ukraine War, and in 2021 Warshauer featured skeletons staging a simulation of the Capitol insurrection, which prompted quite a bit of commentary.
In 2020 Warshauer tackled two issues – which he said were both equally important and alarming – COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. Four of his previous displays, he said, were actually a prologue to that one:
- The 2019 display that had a SCOTUS theme, with images of all nine skeleton-headed justices peering down from behind a wall, with panels describing seven Supreme Court decisions that Warshauer considered to have had the most profound influence on our lives and the democracy.
- In 2018, the theme was the “death of democracy,” and for the first time Warshauer gave passersby a chance to comment.
- In 2017 there was a sinking pirate ship of state – the threat of tyrants, Warshauer called it.
- The 2014 display was the fall of Rome, and included a replica of the Roman Colosseum.
Of all his displays, Warshauer said the most complicated to construct was the pirate ship in 2017. The “Trump wall” in 2016 garnered national, and even international, attention.
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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