A hi-tech take on Halloween
Those who decorate for Halloween tend to go for Jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and witches, tombstones, spiders, and skeletons.
Jeff Bartsch likes those, but he also throws in 50,000 lights that dance to music broadcast on FM radio, projectors that make creatures crawl across his (willing) neighbor’s house, and a 20-foot tall version of Psy singing that classic Halloween favorite, Gangnam Style.
The 215 Central Ave. house is a popular Halloween stop – less gory than a haunted house. “I used to do haunted houses,” Bartsch said. “It gets silly. This is much more fun and it’s family friendly.”
The show starts at dusk and runs through 9:30 p.m. Passersby with access to FM will be able to listen in by tuning to the frequency indicated in the yard.
On Thursday, the show will be more public.
Bartsch said he expects between 700 and 800 visitors on Halloween night. “On Halloween we’ll have speakers out,” he said. “We’ll have kids dancing on the sidewalk.”
The display is appropriate for youngsters, Bartsch said. “There’s nothing gory. It’s for young children and those who enjoy Halloween.”
There are five songs in the program, each with its own light show.
The lights went live on Friday and in the first three days his count was 345 visitors.
There are small dancing skeletons – “the kids love those” – and then there are the nine-foot tall versions. There are numerous pumpkins and tombstones, each fully lighted.
There are three “singers'” faces on the front of the Bartsch house. “Every syllable is enunciated properly,” he said.
These lights don’t come pre-programmed.
“To program one song it’s about seven hours,” he said. “The animated faces are by far the hardest. There’s a learning curve.”
For the faces, and most of the lights, there are only on and off positions for one color. Bartsch said he can fine-tune the lights to turn on and off for less than a tenth of a second.
“This is our first year with cosmic color ribbons,” he said. “Those will do two million colors.”
Those allow visitors to see Psy dancing, the devil playing the fiddle, and various other animations.
With storage needs, computer equipment, and thousands of cables, large sections of his house have been taken over by Bartsch’s hobby. In the basement, seven controller boxes are attached to a wall. “Each controller handles 16 channels,” he said.
Each cosmic color ribbon carries 150 channels. He has 12 of those. “We’re over 4,000 channels,” he said.
“Underground, there’s four and a half miles of wire,” he said.
Because the lights are LEDs, his power usage is not significantly different when running the light show than any other time. “You won’t even notice a blip,” he said.
Bartsch has been serious about Halloween for a long time. “When I was about 14 years old, I was doing this,” he said. It all goes back to a childhood memory. “One time, on Glade Avenue, this one guy had a speaker inside of a ghost head. It was so fun.”
Bartsch also decorates for Christmas and New Year’s, but Halloween is the major effort.
“Everybody comes home for Halloween,” he said. “This is a big deal at our house.”
Asked what his neighbors think of the show, Bartsch said, “I’ve got young neighbors. They love it.”
One time, a neighbor who volunteered his property if Bartsch needed overflow space came back from Trick-or-Treating to find visitors staring at two giant tarantulas crawling on his house.
Huge, creepy spiders… that’s Halloween. But what about Gangnam Style? “That’s just fun,” Bartsch said.