MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
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
So what is all this stuff that we're looking at? I see a dismembered head. That I got.
MS. RANIA PEET
Spider webs, body parts, spandex, lights, fog machines, fog chiller.
Then there are jars full of eyeballs, plastic skulls, wigs.
Fabric, chicken wire ghosts, animated props, candles, extension cords and random things.
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.
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.
All this takes time, something Peet has found to be in short supply of late.
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.
What she's talking about is this.
It's that time of year when neighborhood Halloween displays are popping up all over the country.
You could call this a fright fight in Silver Spring.
It's a neighborhood party.
But this fourth year of her haunted garden is coming to a screeching halt.
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
It's been extremely stressful, just dealing with everything. And we're just still kind of amazed that people don't like it.
Donna Kerr is the Silver Spring homeowner who's hosted the event on her property since 2010.
We feel like it's a great event for the community. There's overwhelming support here for it.
But some people in the neighborhood are less than thrilled with Kerr's spooky spectacle.
MS. JEAN CAVANAUGH
This is not an issue of, do you like the Haunted Garden? That's not the issue at all.
Jean Cavanaugh lives just a few doors down from Donna Kerr.
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.
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
You know people, when they buy their homes and move into a community, are entitled to be able to peacefully enjoy their neighborhood.
Jones argues that the Haunted Garden is essentially a way for Kerr to promote her real estate firm, Pure Energy.
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.
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.
And so back on Worth Avenue, the show is going on.
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?
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.
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?
Always. Yeah, I mean, you know, it's a lot more than just the two nights of people coming. It creates art.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Time for a break now, but when we get back, haunting memorials to people who lost their lives in street violence.
MR. LLOYD WOLF
This isn't the story of one murder. This is the story of a city's coping with violence, and the scale of it.
That and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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