For the past ten to 15 years, Katonah’s Terrace Heights is the place to be on the night of October 31st. With hundreds of trick or treaters roaming the street, Peter Linz’s home is often the number one destination for kids and adults alike. And it’s hard to miss.
Linz, a professional puppeteer who is most well-known for his work as Ernie on Sesame Street and Walter in the 2011 movie “The Muppets,”decorates his front yard with strobe lights, skeletons, branches and spooky music, transforming it into an authentic haunted graveyard. And, he also transforms himself, becoming “Creepy Pete” for the evening.
Linz has built his haunted yard over the years, adding a little here and a little there when needed. But some years, the additions are so dramatic that they become part of what makes Creepy Pete’s such a destination. For example, his massive monster mouth that encompasses the entire door frame of his porch is what most visitors remember most, but its original purpose was for something quite different.
“The monster mouth on the house was originally built for my son’s seventh birthday party,” Linz explains. “He had a monster-themed party, and I remember realizing, ‘Oh, I could probably use this piece as a Halloween decoration next year.’”
How it all began
In 2000, Linz read an article that explained how to create decorative headstones for Halloween, and the idea excited Linz. “Excitement” wasn’t a feeling he associated with Halloween as a child, so it inspired him.
“As a kid growing up in Atlanta, Halloween wasn’t that exciting,” he says. “I was always disappointed there weren’t more frequent trick-or-treaters. We’d get two or three, or maybe five on a good year.”
But that singular article encouraged him to change his view of Halloween, and he began decorating.
“I took the article’s advice about how to carve headstones out of Styrofoam insulation, and then I added what I know from being around films and TV and made about a dozen gravestones in various sizes and shapes. They were all out in our yard, but the kids ran right past all the beautiful headstones and came right to the door – my heart sank.”
“So the following year, in 2001, I put a bunch of leaves in the yard,” he continues. “But the kids ignored those, too. They just ran right through the leaves. So the first year of getting branches, which made an impact, was in 2002.”
Once Creepy Pete’s took off, Linz says there was no turning back.
“Yeah, it definitely felt like a snowball,” he says. “I feel like, for five to 10 years with some exceptions, we’ve had between 2,000 to 3,000 people come through on Halloween.”
Some of Linz’s main attractions have become standards, like the bride and groom skeletons, which he says he’s very proud of, as well as the skeletons with the smashed pumpkin heads.
It’s a neighborhood thing
Creepy Pete’s has grown over time. He says that when he first began decorating, it wasn’t anything “revolutionary,” but as the years went on and his imagination grew, the house’s popularity grew along with it, and his neighbors joined in.
“My friends across the street have always done some sort of decorating in their yard,” he says. “I don’t recall exactly when they started going more over the top, though.”
“In fact, we have one neighbor who said that one of his reasons for moving to our street was to be near Creepy Pete’s, and he went all out for two or three years,” Linz continues. “But then, he was just so overwhelmed by it all that he stopped cold turkey. He doesn’t decorate at all anymore.”
Linz’s property is a well-known local attraction, with a line typically spilling into the street as people wait to tour the graveyard. He says he’s often blown away by the positive response.
“The number of people who stop by is incredible,” he says. “There are people who live in town and even friends overseas who will plan their trips just so they can be here at Halloween. And, of course, I get an awful lot of thanks from parents and kids alike for doing it every year. I even had a friend of my son’s, who lives in Los Angeles, tell me that he flew into Katonah for Halloween just so he could come to Creepy Pete’s. I thought that was pretty amazing.”
While most people love Creepy Pete’s, there have been a few complaints over the years.
“There is someone down the road who complained because they didn’t like all the Halloween traffic coming by their house,” he says. “And there was one year the music was on too late and someone was a little annoyed by the noise. So now I don’t play music very loud past nine o’clock.”
How does he do it?
Linz says he receives lots of questions about the decoration process.
“It takes a couple of weeks,” he says “and there’s not really a plan.”
With this attitude, Linz adds and removes elements every year, especially the branches that line the pathway to his door. This allows for a similar look each year with different aspects.
“It’s a lot of work,” he says. “There’s always a bit of dread about the work to come, but what makes that a little better is finding something new. I always love and get excited about adding something new to the graveyard. That keeps it really fun.”
Linz does have a team of volunteers who help create the haunted graveyard each year, but it still takes several weekends to complete.
And as his children got older, they began to contribute. When his son was in high school, his band or his friends’ bands would play at Creepy Pete’s on Halloween.
“In more recent years, my daughter, who is now an adult, has helped me gather branches from various locations in town,” he says.
And because the setup is so much work, Linz says the best part of creating the graveyard actually comes once Halloween is over.
“The actual cleanup is enjoyable because it gets done so quickly,” he says. “I get a big group of volunteers who help me tear it down. We get the whole thing down in about three hours.”
What the future holds
Linz currently resides in both Katonah and Los Angeles, and he says he’s not sure what the future holds for Creepy Pete. For now, he wants to “follow the work and the weather.”
This article was published in the September/October 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.