Migdalia Mass felt like Auburn’s William A. Robinson House had been waiting just for her: its pitched gables, its smokey-gray board-and-batten siding, its ornate tower, with 16 gargoyles shaped into brackets and carved onto trim. She and her husband, Joseph, were living in Washington State when they bought the 1874 Gothic Revival, sight unseen, after viewing an online listing. “This is the house I’ve wanted since I was a little kid — all the nooks and crannies, the preserved pocket doors, the height,” says Migdalia, who, growing up in Puerto Rico and NewYork, dreamed of becoming a vampire and counted Halloween as her favorite holiday. Later, she worked for the Army — in mortuary affairs. Before closing on the home, she says, “I was thinking about all the Halloween dinner parties I’d host. And I didn’t even know about the gargoyles yet.”
Now, the Hollywood-level horror props she’s been amassing for decades have a proper resting place. During the last week of September, the Masses unleash the lot into every room in their home: 21 skeletons; 16 animatronic mannequins that scream, cackle, and warn of impending doom; nine life-size witches; two dozen skulls; a hunchbacked zombie-butler named James; a haunted dollhouse; a wooden casket; a half gallon of fake blood to be poured into goblets and splattered on props; innumerable creepy crawlies; glowing orbs; strobe lights; and, for the annual dinner party, a rubber corpse whose open chest cavity is stuffed with pork ribs charred by Migdalia.
Mass’s friend Tizz Crowley often joins her, donning period garb for events at the Androscoggin Historical Society. Crowley’s “Civil War widow” dress (top) enhances Mass’s morbid decorating vibe. Plus, Mass says, “She blends in with my witches.”
“I don’t plan,” Migdalia says. “I may have a general idea, but mostly I let things talk to me.” In years past, she has staged a Victorian funeral in the parlor with a corpse wrapped in a bloody blanket in the casket, hosted a wedding reception in the living room with zombies cutting into a “rotting” black cake (“They’re a beautiful couple. The guy kind of looks like Johnny Depp”), and installed a glowing ghost bride engulfed in swirling mist from a fog machine in the tower. She doctors her plastic skeletons with paint, synthetic skin, and a blowtorch to make them look freshly decomposed, builds cages for skeletons out of old screen doors, and creates “hocus pocus books” with plastic eyeballs protruding from faux-leather-bound tomes. Recently, she had a mason who was repairing the foundation in the home’s attached barn embed plastic bones in the mortar and a skeleton beneath the floorboards. “One day, someone will find him, and it’ll be my after-life joke,” Migdalia says.
The Masses do not open their home to the public, but they welcome trick-or-treaters. (Although the deadly makeup Migdalia wears has made some of them run in fear.) “Even if no one comes to the door, I still love it; I do it for me,” she says. “It’s fun, unless you’re my cousin. My husband puts up a camcorder when she visits. She cries, she screams, she swears. I used to force her to play funeral with me when we were kids, so she shows up already sweating, even when it’s like 10 degrees outside.”
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