For one North Bergen family, Halloween isn’t just about pumpkins and candy, but about embracing the holiday’s lore and scaring their neighbors.
After moving into North Bergen in 1999, Wayne Martin and Mark Rosenthal began to outfit their house and yard with sound effects and props.
Martin, who is originally from Nashville, had started the tradition years before moving north, but when they moved to their home at 7701 J.F.K. Boulevard East, they decided it was the perfect place to set up some frightful fun.
“The first year, basically all we did was buy a mannequin and stick it on the balcony, put a mask on, and put on the stereo for some sound effects. And the reaction from the kids was, ‘This is so cool. Everyone else has pumpkins and scarecrows,’ ” said Martin.
“People recognize that we do this just for fun.” – Wayne Martin
Marin said that instead of a group of five visiting them on Halloween, it became groups of 30. The North Bergen Police had to intervene so that people wouldn’t stop their vehicles in the middle of the street.
Around 300 people visit each Halloween.
“[Children] come up the stairs very hesitantly [to ring the doorbell], and all of a sudden, when we open the door, the fog starts coming out and the kids see us in costume,” said Rosenthal.
A few years ago, Martin, who is on the board of trustees for the Hudson County Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, and Rosenthal adopted two children from DYFS.
They said that their daughters, who wanted to be witches this year so that they could be scary, would rather have fun at their home on Halloween night than to go trick-or-treating.
For the most part, Martin said that his home serves as a destination on Halloween where parents can take their children.
“I think in urban areas, people are less likely to go trick-or-treating because they don’t know their neighbors,” said Martin. “When they see the repetitive nature of what we do and they come back year after year, they feel safe.”
For the 10th anniversary, they are making this year’s yard haunt the best yet.
There will be eight stereo speakers, three fog machines, props that range from mannequins to graveyards, holograms, and strobe lights.
Martin, who once was in the music business, mixed 188 tracks of Halloween-related music and sound effects on a six-track and recorded it professionally.
After Halloween, they go out and shop at Halloween sales. They usually start repurposing items and getting ready in August.
“I spend probably half the night hanging out of one of the [upstairs] windows and wait until they come up, and then I start moving and talking to them,” said Martin.
Due to props being stolen in the past, they do not decorate their home until Halloween day, which usually takes eight to 10 hours.
The festivities only take place in their yard, but there will be eight to 10 other adults at any given time on the premises in costume also watching. Martin said that if the sidewalk is clear for a few minutes, it’s likely that all of their volunteers will ambush the next person who knocks on the door.
“We’ve had parents that won’t cross the street,” said Rosenthal.
Last year, Marin and Rosenthal realized more than ever that their Halloween efforts had made an impact on their neighbors’ memories.
Rosenthal said that last year, around 30 North Bergen seniors showed up and asked if they could take a picture in front of their haunted home.
“[They said] ‘Would you mind if we took a picture in front of your house…well, you’ve been scaring us for eight years and we want this to be a part of our graduation yearbook,’ ” said Martin.
Martin said that professional photographers have also tried to shoot their efforts, but because of the fog and strobe lights, taking a good photo has proven impossible.
Regardless, Rosenthal joked that they must be in many a child’s photo album.
To attend this year’s haunted house, visit on Halloween after 5:30 p.m. Martin said that the special effects after dark are better, so try to arrive around 8 p.m. and in costume.
“People recognize that we do this just for fun [and] to see their reactions when they get here,” said Martin.