PEORIA – While an extra special Halloween has long been a tradition at the castle on Grandview Drive, the current owner of the house is going above and beyond.
This year’s event, the ninth hosted by Peoria dermatologist Dr. Carl Soderstrom, will feature an extensive set featuring actors re-enacting scenes from the movie “Beetlejuice.” The free event is regularly attended by some 3,000 trick-or-treaters.
“The amount of work and time that goes into this is about the same as a theater production,” said production director Travis Olson, a board member of Peoria Players Theater who has directed more than 100 community theater productions over the years. “We have been planning this for about a year now. We started brainstorming ideas on November 1 last year. In the summer we started building props.”
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The crafty details
After walking past the fire-breathing dragons at the end of the driveway, a feature that greets trick-or-treaters every year, visitors will walk into Dante’s Inferno.
“If you know the movie, Beetlejuice dances for it, so we blew it up to life size. We have a giant tombstone that replicates what’s in the movie, and we have other actors doing things that are reminiscent of the movie,” Olson said. trick-or-treaters received a candy bar via a long parachute — a feature left over from last year’s event, when COVID-19 social distancing measures were strictly enforced.
“This year we are doing a social distancing event where we are still aware of COVID. All our actors will wear masks and this year we will be using the candy canes again. You will receive your candy bar through the arms of Beetlejuice,’ Olson said.
In addition to trick-or-treating, visitors can also enjoy a drive-by event from Wednesday through Saturday. A professionally designed projection will illuminate the castle, while music and fire-breathing dragons complete the picture.
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Netherworld help from Peoria Players
For the past three years, Peoria Players has been running the Halloween extravaganza at the castle.
“The first few years we did it ourselves, and the decoration and costumes, everything, got a little overwhelming,” said Steve Soderstrom, son of Carl Soderstrom, who leads the event. “Peoria Players Theater specializes in all this stuff, sound and lighting, costumes, actors, music, and I’d done some musicals there and got to know the people really well, so we decided to let them arrange Halloween, and then we would make a donation every year.”
Previous owners of the castle established the Halloween tradition, which the Soderstrom family loved to continue, said Steve Soderstrom.
“They were known for giving out pencils because there was a fear of the candy sometime in the 1980s, so they started handing out pencils,” he said. “They would have their friends dress up random costumes and decorate the place, and have as many trick-or-treaters as possible. We knew we could see as many as 3,000 people get there on a good-weather night, so one thing we knew for sure, or whether we did something or not in the castle, a few thousand people would show up, so we had to make it special.”
The first year that Peoria Players took over production, there was snow. The second year was almost canceled due to COVID-19. This year’s prediction is for a perfect Halloween. With temperatures in the 50s and the threat of infectious disease tempered by vaccines, planners are predicting a big night.
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The castle is located at 4717 N. Grandview Drive in Peoria Heights. Trick-or-treating starts at 5pm on Sunday and lasts until 8am. Participants are asked to wear masks, according to COVID-19 protocols. The drive-by event begins at sunset on Wednesday, October 27, and continues through Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Leslie Renken can be reached at (309) 370-5087 or [email protected] Follow her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.