Homegrown Halloween Spectacle Sparks Scandal In Silver Spring (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

Transcripts

Homegrown Halloween Spectacle Sparks Scandal In Silver Spring

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
All right. We'll hop across the D.C. border now, and head to Maryland. More particularly, to Silver Spring, Md., where you'll find a garden that's chock full of ghosts and goblins and spine-chilling specters, but as Tara Boyle reports, this cornucopia of spookiness isn't what's haunting the garden. What's really haunting the garden and its owners is a less than supernatural scandal.

MS. TARA BOYLE

00:00:26
Rania Peet is a woman with a long to-do list. She's rummaging through big plastic bins she just pulled out of a backyard shed. And at the moment she's trying to find a working fog machine.

MS. TARA BOYLE

00:00:37
So what is all this stuff that we're looking at? I see a dismembered head. That I got.

MS. RANIA PEET

00:00:41
Spider webs, body parts, spandex, lights, fog machines, fog chiller.

BOYLE

00:00:45
Then there are jars full of eyeballs, plastic skulls, wigs.

PEET

00:00:49
Fabric, chicken wire ghosts, animated props, candles, extension cords and random things.

BOYLE

00:00:56
All this stuff will soon be put to use in the Haunted Garden, a sort of Halloween-on-steroids display Peet assembles every October in the yard of a single-family home on Worth Avenue in Silver Spring. This year, her signature installation will be a 20-foot-high witch that looms over visitors as they enter the yard.

PEET

00:01:15
We've been building this for months, actually, up at my farm in West Virginia. You know, we start from using wood, and we create an inner shell, an endoskeleton, if you will, for each of the pieces, and we cover them in chicken wire, and then cover that in cheesecloth, which then gets sprayed with a two-part spray foam system.

BOYLE

00:01:34
All this takes time, something Peet has found to be in short supply of late.

PEET

00:01:38
This year, not only was I working hard and stressed out about getting the production end done of it, but then I had to get sent into a whirlwind of media and press and interviews and backlash and court and running a campaign with the kids, and, yeah, it was complete insanity.

BOYLE

00:01:57
What she's talking about is this.

REPORTER

00:01:59
It's that time of year when neighborhood Halloween displays are popping up all over the country.

REPORTER

00:02:04
You could call this a fright fight in Silver Spring.

REPORTER

00:02:08
It's a neighborhood party.

REPORTER

00:02:09
But this fourth year of her haunted garden is coming to a screeching halt.

BOYLE

00:02:13
The Washington Post, Good Morning America, local TV and radio. It seemed everyone was talking about how earlier this month, Montgomery County was awarded a temporary restraining order that, at least for a while, halted plans to open this year's Haunted Garden to the public.

MS. DONNA KERR

00:02:28
It's been extremely stressful, just dealing with everything. And we're just still kind of amazed that people don't like it.

BOYLE

00:02:35
Donna Kerr is the Silver Spring homeowner who's hosted the event on her property since 2010.

KERR

00:02:40
We feel like it's a great event for the community. There's overwhelming support here for it.

BOYLE

00:02:43
But some people in the neighborhood are less than thrilled with Kerr's spooky spectacle.

MS. JEAN CAVANAUGH

00:02:48
This is not an issue of, do you like the Haunted Garden? That's not the issue at all.

BOYLE

00:02:53
Jean Cavanaugh lives just a few doors down from Donna Kerr.

CAVANAUGH

00:02:57
We don't have any problems with her decorations, etcetera. It's the insane invitation that basically invites tens of thousands of people. You know, in addition to the paper flier, it's the website. Now it's the news media. Everybody knows about it.

BOYLE

00:03:11
Cavanaugh says, for the record, that she loves Halloween. But in her opinion, neighborhood streets can't handle the hundreds of daily visitors who swarm to the Haunted Garden when it's open. People drive on residents' yards, she says, and she's even heard reports of public urination. County officials have definitely taken note of those complaints. Here's Montgomery County's director of permitting services, Diane Schwartz Jones.

MS. DIANE SCHWARTZ JONES

00:03:34
You know people, when they buy their homes and move into a community, are entitled to be able to peacefully enjoy their neighborhood.

BOYLE

00:03:43
Jones argues that the Haunted Garden is essentially a way for Kerr to promote her real estate firm, Pure Energy.

JONES

00:03:49
The issue, really, is not about whether or not anybody can decorate their home. Of course they can. The issue is about whether or not a business can begin to introduce extreme levels of traffic into a very small tiny neighborhood that's not designed to handle that kind of traffic. It's about public safety.

BOYLE

00:04:07
Pure Energy has publicized the Haunted Garden in its real estate fliers and online, and the company's staffers are among those working on the Garden. But Kerr strongly refutes the idea that the Haunted Garden is a business event. She says it's a way to give back to the community she calls home. Earlier this month, Maryland District Court Judge Patricia Mitchell tried to find a compromise between the two sides in the dispute, ruling that the event could take place on two days -- October 25 and 26 -- instead of the planned five.

BOYLE

00:04:42
And so back on Worth Avenue, the show is going on.

PEET

00:04:45
So I wrote a punch list for each exhibit. So we need to accomplish a bunch of tasks in five days and assign roles and -- hey, Kevin, what are you doing over there?

BOYLE

00:04:54
Rania Peet and her staff of helpers -- she calls them ninjas -- spent this week in a frenzy, hot gluing and cobwebbing and spray-foaming the displays in Donna Kerr's yard.

BOYLE

00:05:04
If this ends up being, you know, say next year, who knows what would happen, but if it ends up being just a few nights, is it worth all the time and effort you all have to put into it for two nights?

PEET

00:05:16
Always. Yeah, I mean, you know, it's a lot more than just the two nights of people coming. It creates art.

BOYLE

00:05:24
Down the street, Jean Cavanaugh is also thinking ahead to next year. And she says there's an obvious way for her neighbor to repair relations with people in the community.

CAVANAUGH

00:05:33
Personally, my ideal resolution to this problem would be for Donna to have a truly neighborhood event, and not advertise it. I don't know if we're going to get there.

BOYLE

00:05:46
The matter may be settled long before Halloween 2014 rolls around. County officials say they expect a judge to consider a request for a permanent injunction against Silver Spring's most controversial garden sometime in the next few months. I'm Tara Boyle.

SHEIR

00:06:03
If you'd like to check out the Haunted Garden yourself from the comfort of your own computer, you can see photos on our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:06:16
Time for a break now, but when we get back, haunting memorials to people who lost their lives in street violence.

MR. LLOYD WOLF

00:06:24
This isn't the story of one murder. This is the story of a city's coping with violence, and the scale of it.

SHEIR

00:06:33
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

ANNOUNCER

00:06:37
WAMU news coverage of labor and employment issues is made possible by your contributions, and by Matthew Watson, in memory of Marjorie Watson. And support for WAMU 88.5's coverage of the environment comes from the Wallace Genetic Foundation, dedicated to the promotion of farmland preservation, the reduction of environmental toxins, and the conservation of natural resources.
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and International law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.