‘Blight Upon the Land’ haunts Anoka property, seizes first-place prize

For nearly a year Dan Wiswell imagined haunted spirits circling his Anoka home. Last week he was named winner of the 2013 Anoka Halloween/US Bank House Decorating contest.

Dan Wiswell poses with a farmer working rows of corn. Photos by Sue Austreng
Dan Wiswell poses with a farmer working rows of corn. Photos by Sue Austreng

“I just wanted it to be something fun, something interesting for folks to see. Nothing violent or frightening – I don’t want to scare kids, just give them something different,” Wiswell said.

In Wiswell’s mind’s eye, skeletal farmers planted corn in his yard and a giant pumpkin king guarded the fruitful stalks in the crop.

His front yard set the stage for a dozen tombstones in Resurrection Cemetery, each with the inscription of epitaphs warning of the deadly forces that drew them six feet under.

And then, with the surreal scene of “Blight Upon the Land” securely set in his mind, Wiswell went about bringing about its grim reality.

Now, rest easy, dear readers. The life-long resident of the Halloween Capital of the World didn’t rob any graveyards or cause the early demise of any unsuspecting souls.

No, like an expert set designer or a crafty prop master, Wiswell carefully created each element of the award-winning Halloween scene on his Anoka property.

Repurposing PVC piping, water noodles, small engines, foam board, an old ceiling fan – even dryer lint and a few old softballs – Wiswell crafted each character and every one of the detailed components that make up the scene.

“I’d think of something I wanted to make and then try to think of how to do that with something I already had,” Wiswell said, a courier by day, a molder/sculptor/builder/creator by night.

Wiswell found inspiration with nearly every conversation he had over the past year and with nearly every step he took along the way, he said.

Take this for example: He was walking his dog around the neighborhood when a piece of fabric softener sheet blew across his path. Of course, this made him think maybe he could use lint to make tongues for a few of his zombies.

He collected lint from his clothes dryer, fashioned it ever so carefully, wrapped it, shaped it and painted it to be inserted as a dried up tongue in a mummified mouth.

Acrylic teeth (used to make dental prosthetics for living people) were aged and colored and then placed in zombies’ mouths to bring a ghostly grin to the dead figures standing in Wiswell’s yard.

Wiswell even repurposed the leather skin of old softballs, distressing them and using them as scarred patches of skin on decomposing heads.

And the corn field? No, he didn’t plant corn on his residential lot on 38th Lane. He purchased dozens of corn stalks from a local farmer then injected each stalk into the ground.

As for the monuments and tombstones in the cemetery, those he made of foam board, cut and scrolled and painted and textured to resemble aged stone. The monuments he fashioned from old Styrofoam coolers, stacked and painted and embellished with angelic accent pieces.

The epitaphs are phrases found in classic literature, mourning psalms, or horror movies. And Wiswell etched each letter of each word of each phrase on each grave marker.

Much detail went into the creation of Wiswell’s depiction of “Blight Upon the Land” this year.

Last year, Wiswell decorated his yard with a “Witches Hollow.” The year before that his yard set the stage for “Zombies Renewal of Vows.”

Anoka Halloween/US Bank house decorating contest winners

The homes at the following addresses were named tops in the annual Halloween decorating contest:

First place:
981 38th Lane, Anoka

Second place:
1909 6th Ave. S, Anoka

Third place:
1300 4th Ave., Anoka

Honorable mention:
1603 9th Ave., Anoka

Honorable mention:
15780 Potassium St. NW, Ramsey

Dan Wiswell poses with a farmer working rows of corn. Working overtime, a pair of the walking dead plow ahead. Pumping blood into tin cups, Resurrection Cemetery caretakers take a break. Working among the tombstones, a zombie tirelessly sharpens his sword. The Pumpkin King guards the cornstalks in the gloom of night. Methodically kneading the soil, an undead masseuse emerges as foggy vapors veil the ground.
Methodically kneading the soil, an undead masseuse emerges as foggy vapors veil the ground.

Sue Austreng is at [email protected]