Week in Ornaments

by Deborah Marini & Alina Kulman

published November 1, 2019

BRAINTREE's Monster house


Halloween is under siege, and it’s a whole lot more personal than Starbucks’ red cups. The battleground for this year’s War on Halloween was Denise McDonough’s lawn display in Braintree, Massachusetts—her neighbors called the cops over the tackiness of her decorations.

McDonough, with the help of her children, placed a faux graveyard, sheet ghosts, and mummy statues in her yard, along with a 12-foot tall inflated tree with hands for branches, ready to swing at and terrify any passerby. The decorations covered her front lawn, and projections covered the house with images of ghosts and witches. The elaborate display capped off with three talking pumpkins. Surround-sound speakers loudly projected to the whole neighborhood the pumpkins’ conversations: somewhat disturbing recordings of deep chuckles and Halloween puns about “Ghoul-Aid.”

Braintree residents began stopping by with their children to look at the display. However, McDonough’s next door neighbor, Beverly Darch, was not pleased about the hulla-boo-loo. Darch filed a noise complaint with the police, which was promptly disregarded. Darch was furious: “Why don’t you spend more money on taking care of your lawn,” she told WBZ-TV, the CBS affiliate in Boston, “as opposed to making the neighborhood look cheesier?” Darch added that the lawn looks “terrible during the day,” because the pumpkins and trees deflate “so the yard is a mess.”

Darch lays claim to the aesthetics of Braintree, alleging that McDonough’s spooktacular display drags down the entire neighborhood’s appearance. In Paul Fussell’s 1992 book Class, on the importance yet invisibility of American class distinctions, he describes the American obsession with keeping clean-cut lawns. Fussell notes that families who step out of line—whether with grass that is too long, or decorations too garish—can invite “terrible retribution” from their neighbors, which has brought “more than one to a nervous breakdown.” While Darch may have wanted to start a movement to spook her neighbors into shuttering their display, she couldn’t convince her other neighbors to join the war effort. Their kids—the actual target audience of the bewitching display—love it. One Braintree resident on WBZ-TV said she stops every time she drives past the house with her son because of how excited he gets.

It seems clear to the College Hill Independent that Darch is trying to punish her neighbors for not complying with a strict vision of refined adult Halloween decor. Perhaps in her ideal world, her neighbors would replace their tacky front yard inflatables with a modest selection of artisanally carved pumpkins instead of their creepy jack-o’-lanterns with menacing teeth. But if Darch thinks it’s worth it to criminalize her neighbors’ elaborate-yet-kitschy Halloween decorations, she could perhaps first consider a whole host of other Halloween-related offenses, like people who dress in culturally appropriative and highly offensive costumes like ‘sexy Pocahontas’ or geishas.

Ultimately, members of the McDonough family were entirely unphased by their neighbors’ public criticism. In response, the McDonoughs put up even more decorations, publicly refusing to accommodate their neighbors’ drab aesthetic sensibilities. They also added a face painting booth and a cotton candy machine. They even started a Facebook page, “Halloween Joy On Liberty St Braintree Ma,” where they post daily to invite everyone to experience their display. We on the Indy hope that last night, the Darches and the rest of their neighbors got in on the joyous ghostly spirit, too.







In 2005, the Providence State House’s holiday tree lost all of its needles after being doused with flame retardant. In 2007, a “sickly tree” had to be secretly swapped out. For nine years, things seemed okay between the city and her tree, until 2016, when the tree was too small, according to Governor Gina Raimondo’s staff, and had to be replaced. In 2017, the State House’s overheated and underwatered tree lost all of its needles again.

After taking time to recover from these burns of the past, the hopelessly romantic midsized city of Providence, Rhode Island, is, once again, putting herself back out there. While sites like timbr, OKCutepine, and eharmontree are fine for long-term commitments, the city chose to utilize the latest trend in ephemeral online dating: a bulletin posted to by the Department of Art, Culture, + Tourism. The personal ad is seeking tall, sturdy, and local spruces and firs for the annual tree lighting ceremony atop the steps of City Hall—the true heart of Providence. The conifer’s swan song will be accompanied by a swath of lights, baubles, and tinsel, all to mask the slow decay from the lighting on December 6 to its removal later in the month.

For a tree to be in the running, its “horticulturist” must submit a headshot and a short description to the Deputy Director of the AC+T Department, whose chic & modern “+” emphasizes that the Department, and Providence in general, is hip to this new-age dating world and ready to branch out and have a good time. For the steps of City Hall, the city is looking for a tree somewhere between 35 and 45 feet tall (approximately one telephone pole, six-ish festivus poles, or seven male Poles of average height). Dabbling in polyamory, Providence is also looking for two 15- to 20-foot tall trees for “holiday displays” at the Roger Williams Botanical Center and the Providence Rink.

The competition is stiff, hard, and very wooden. According to an email from the AC+T’s Deputy Director “from my iPhone” to the College Hill Independent, the department gets anywhere from seven to twelve submissions a year. Although these spruces and firs are the roots of the enterprise, the owners of the winning trees reap the most benefit: free tree removal, the pride of saying, “that’s my tree!,” and a picture with Mayor Jorge Elorza in front of the tree (or, as the bulletin is quick to point out, “tree(s),” on the off-chance that someone hits the jackpot and has multiple winners). However, eager arboriculturists should not overthink the bulletin’s language, because it does, at one point, refer to the tree as a “star sapling,” yet a sapling is, by definition, cursed to fall short of Providence’s goals.

The Forestry Division of the Department of Parks and Recreation, fueled by secular tax dollars, is in charge of the cutting and hauling of the tree, while Stanley Tree Service is donating a crane to help with installation in return for some positive press. The local business has been recently blighted by bad reviews, ranging from Doug W.’s “Very Unprofessional” to a number of anecdotes involving damaged property and unreturned phone calls.

The use of government funds during this process sheds light on the city’s awkward balance of church and state—something Providence, founded as a haven of religious tolerance, seems to have jumped the gun on many years ago by simply being named Providence. Yet former Governor Lincoln Chafee was still met with 3,600 phone calls and a number of in-person protestors in 2011 after he called the State House’s tree a “holiday tree,” which is what his Republican predecessors called it as well, to significantly less fanfare. Roughly 2,900 of those phone calls came from out of state after Fox News published his office’s phone number in a piece about the tree controversy—calling it a “War on Christmas.” Peace was found once again in the city in 2013, when Chafee subtly called the tree a “Christmas tree” and handed a much needed win to the heavily-persecuted holiday.

The deadline for tree submission is Tuesday, November 19, which gives Providence tree-owners a generous expanse of time to spruce up their firs for the pining of Providence—a city in want of arbor ardor.