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4 Weeks of Fright: Spranza the queen of Halloween

Folsom resident celebrates the October holiday year-round
By: Brad Smith Telegraph Correspondent
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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a four-part series highlighting spooky tales in the area. For story suggestions, contact the editor at donc@goldcountrymedia.com. For many, Halloween comes once a year, but for Shelley Spranza, every day is like Halloween. “Of course, the actual day itself is magical,” she said. “The rest of the year, I keep some of that magic with me.” Spranza does that by keeping some Halloween-themed statues and artwork around her office and her home at 105 Swain Square in Folsom. She said that her love for Halloween started at a young age. “I was the geeky girl who spent her free time reading books instead of socializing with the other kids,” she said. “And, they weren’t your typical kids’ books. I was into reading about ghosts and paranormal stuff. Then I started to read about Halloween itself.” Spranza said she was intrigued as she learned about the history of the holiday. “Of course, Halloween was a big draw for me because it was a kids’ holiday,” Spranzer said. “As I grew older, I read more and learned about Halloween’s origins.” Spranza said Halloween has it ties to the old Celtic festival of Samhain or Samuin — pronounced “sow-an” or “sow-in.” “It was a festival celebrating the end of summer and it was also a time to honor a family’s ancestors,” she said. “It was a time when the veil between the two worlds — the living and dead — was thin and spirits would cross over and see their loved ones. I loved that idea and fell in love with all the other Halloween lore.” Her father was a special effects technician who worked on science fiction films and features such as 1984’s “Dune.” At the age of 16, Spranza found herself working alongside her father on that film. She said the experience was a “lot of fun,” working on the special effects and even meeting the film’s director, David Lynch. As she grew older, Spranza didn’t lose her enthusiasm for Halloween. In fact, it only grew stronger. “Yes, Halloween is a holiday geared for kids. It’s also geared for the kids in many adults,” she said. “Especially me.” Some people have wondered why she likes Halloween so much. “This is a time of year that’s all about fun,” she said. “Fun. There’s no pressure of buying presents or cards, there isn’t the stress of preparing a big family meal. It’s about having fun and that’s one reason why I love this time of year.” However, there’s a lot of work that goes into Spranza’s yard display. “When you drive by my house, you’ll see that I have a lot of props,” she said. “From grave markers to Stewie, my jack-o-lantern scarecrow. A typical prop can take me an average of 30 hours to make. A good haunter like myself refuses to use inflatable props.” Spranza is a haunter. Haunters are people who, like Spranza, have a deep affinity for the Halloween season. Some haunters like Spranza put on elaborate displays in their yards or inside homes and garages. Some haunters stage haunted attractions locally, using old houses, barns or even historic homes. “Then you have the professional haunters. Some travel to different places, staging haunted attractions,” she said. “Others actually own large buildings and use them for the haunted attractions.” This time of year, the Travel Channel broadcasts shows about major haunted attractions held throughout the United States. Spranza said the attractions can range from small productions using props, costumed actors and a few fog machines to large theatrical shows involving complex, detailed animatronic props. Spranza is very active with a group of haunters who live in the northern California region. She and other members of the group attend conventions, where they learn how to make new props and costumes or exchange ideas. Some conventions will attract haunters from all over North America. “The conventions are a good source of information for a haunter like myself,” Spranza said. “And, it’s always nice to be around people who share my love for Halloween.” The last Friday of each month, Spranza is on a haunter podcast called “Hauntcast.” Known as the Mistress of Mayhem, Spranza and fellow haunters discuss a number of topics, from how to script the haunted attraction’s backstory to where to buy the best kind of insulating foam that can be used to make props. “Sometimes we just share our favorite Halloween stories,” she said. Spranza is getting ready for this Halloween, putting finishing touches on some new props and getting the older ones ready. Stewie, the pumpkin-headed scarecrow, is the centerpiece of her yard display. “Stewie really draws the people in,” she said. “For an evil-looking guy, he’s so lovable.” Her husband, John, is supportive of her holiday antics. “He’s loving, patient and has a lot of fun, too,” she said. “I’m so lucky to have him in my life and to be able to share this with him.” Halloween never really ends for Spranza. She’s content to be surrounded by the Halloween artwork and knicknacks in her office everyday. There are the conventions and the Hauntcast. For her, Halloween and its magic never fades away. “I don’t want it to,” she said. “For me, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Her yard display isn’t a walk through, she said, but she is using it to raise funds for Vista del Lago High School arts programs.