Haunted night lights in the neighborhood

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Margaret Plevak | October 17, 2013

Christmas may take the lights when it comes to holiday decorating, but look around local neighborhoods, and you might think Halloween comes in a close second.

Among the more creative holiday light displays around Walworth County is the home of Rich and Kari Schroeder at 843 Chelsea Drive in Elkhorn.

This is the second year for the Schroeders' Halloween lights and the third for their Christmas lights. Both displays have become a popular tradition for viewers.

And—since these are charity light shows for which the Schroeders accept donations—they've also become a way to boost funds for needed equipment for the Elkhorn Area Fire Department, of which Rich Schroeder is a volunteer. All the money goes to the department, Schroeder said, noting that over the last two years, they've raised more than $800.

The holiday displays are a collection of lights synchronized to music that viewers can listen to from their cars.

This year's Halloween show, already in progress, runs nightly until October 31. It features two "talking" faces made from lights and a six-and-a-half-minute music montage that's a mix of old Halloween classics and contemporary pop music.

Rich Schroeder, a licensed insurance underwriter, got the idea for the display about five years ago after seeing similar light shows on YouTube.

“I thought this looked like fun,” he said. “And since it's customary to have a donation box for charity, we do that, too.”

As much fun as the shows are, they're also an effort to create.  Schroeder and his wife started hanging lights Oct. 1.

“We've got it down to a science,” he said, estimating it took the two of them about 35 hours to set up the display, which features some 10,000 lights.

The Christmas display—which the couple will begin working on November 1, after the Halloween decorations come down--uses 40,000 lights, so it takes longer to set up. For that one the Schroeders enlist help from other volunteers.

The thought of handling all those lights might bring flashbacks of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and character Clark Griswold's mishaps in decorating his house for the holidays. Thus far, Schroeder has avoided falling from gutters or overloading circuits.

Surprisingly, too, he said his electric bill went up only about $60 during the height of the holidays.

Schroeder also spends about 20 hours programming the music for the display on his laptop computer. He and his wife sat down weeks ago, deciding which songs to pick for the Halloween montage. Their two sons, 6 and 4, offer their input as well.

His kids were very excited when the displays first started, but now, he said, they've kind of come to expect it.

But over the years, Schroeder has noticed the numbers of viewers to the displays growing, although his only advertising is through word of mouth.

The Halloween light show begins at 6:30 p.m. daily, ending at 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and at 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

Does the nightly traffic upset the neighborhood?

“The neighbors are used to it,” he said, noting that some neighborhood kids like to stay up and listen to the music. He added that mixed among the recorded songs are “commercials” reminding viewers to be nice to the neighbors—not to trample over lawns or litter.

Most viewers simply watch the lights, entranced.

“My favorite thing to do is to be outside, behind the scenes, but listening to the kids singing along with the songs in their car, or hearing the giggles, and the oohs and aahhs,” Schroeder said. “That's really neat.”

See more photos of the display on the Walworth County Today Facebook page HERE.

See photos of other Halloween decoration displays around Walworth County in the October 20 print or e-edition of Walworth County Sunday.

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