Halloween Queen

Halloween at Ann Sparkman’s house is an event for the ages

Story Micah Green | Photographs Micah Green & Luisa Porter

Photographed by Micah Green.

Photographed by Micah Green.

It all started with a stuffed witch. Well, sort of. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Ann Sparkman has always loved Halloween. She can’t pinpoint exactly what brought it on for her, but she said it was her late husband’s favorite holiday, too. “When Dave (husband Dave Thomas) passed away that October, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to take the kids’ minds off of everything, take my mind off everything.” That was nearly 20 years ago.

Around that same time, Ann received the abovementioned witch, and one of her grandsons, Lawson Peel, took quite the liking to it. A framed photo of 5-year-old Peel, now a senior at Ole Miss, squeezing the plush green-faced doll, sits among the dizzying array of Halloween decorations in place for Ann’s 2013 event. The photo was one of the first items Ann pointed out last October, while waiting for guests to arrive at the Columbus home she now shares with her husband, Jesse.

It would be hard for this date to sneak up on Ann; she’s been throwing this annual spookfest for almost two decades. The house has been prepped for weeks. The party is legendary among Ann’s friends and family. It’s a part of the fabric of the relationships they all share. At its peak, the party drew as many as 300 people.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

Photographed by Luisa Porter.

“This has been going on forever,” said Linda Rood, a friend of Ann’s since college, who has brought basil cheese balls this evening. “We all try to bring some food or help decorate or something, but this is her thing. We are just her sidekicks.”

Also on tonight’s menu are decorated cookies shaped like Frankenstein’s fingers or witches’ hats, blood-red martinis, pumpkin-shaped pimiento and cheese sandwiches, a cauldron of chili and even a hummus “graveyard” with pretzel tombstones and hardboiled egg specters.

And then there are the decorations. Sparkman’s friends and family don’t have to think too hard about what to buy for her, for any occasion.

“Even for Christmas,” she said. “I get Halloween-inspired gifts.”

Whether it’s a set of dishes clad with werewolves or cobwebs, or another small, creepily ornate house to add to the miniature Halloween town that sits on the sideboard in her dining room, finding Ann a gift that she’ll appreciate and use is like finding a straw of hay in a haystack.

“It’s pretty set in stone what you’re going to get her. I actually brought her a bottle of Ghost Pines Wine tonight,” said another friend and long-time partygoer Betty Waters. “I have always loved Halloween; my house is certainly decorated, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Ann’s.”

Waters has attended Ann’s parties since the beginning, but last Halloween was only her second or third time to attend the “adult” party. Which brings up another impressive point: Many years, Ann throws two parties. One party for the adults and one party for the children.

Photographed by Micah Green.

Photographed by Micah Green.

The children’s parties are now into their second generation of guests (the first ones being for Ann’s grandsons and their friends), and the third generation is on its way. The parties have been held on the same night most years, but in 2013, the event for the wee trick-or-treaters fell the Sunday before.

Superheroes and Monster High classmates alike enjoyed the Halloween-themed golf course, jump house and toilet-themed cornhole game in the backyard, while those in need of a sweet treat stopped by to chat with The Cat in the Hat, played by another longtime friend, Betty Clyde Jones. 

The kids’ parties inspired one of Ann’s more practical decorations — Halloween furniture covers.

“These kids would come in here with suckers and stick them all over the furniture,” she laughed. “I had to do something.”

At present, Ann said 2014 may be the last year she’ll do a kids’ party for a while, but she has no intentions of stopping the adult party.

There are many people involved in making Ann’s Halloween parties happen, but they all defer to the “Queen of Halloween.”

“It says a lot that so many people are willing to help,” Waters said. “Ann gets so excited about it and that spills over to all of us.

“When I think Halloween, I think of Ann Sparkman.”


POMEGRANATE COSMO MARTINI

2 cups vodka
1 cup Cointreau liqueur
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
1/2 cup Pom pomegranate juice
1/2 cup lime juice

• Mix and shake with ice.


HOLIDAY POPCORN

1 3-pack box regular non-butter microwave popcorn
1 24-ounce pack vanilla almond bark candy coating

• Microwave popcorn and check each package for un-popped kernels. Place popcorn on cookie sheet topped with waxed paper. (NOTE: It is easier to do this in thirds, one pack at a time.)
Melt candy coating (one-third at a time, or about four squares), being careful not to overcook.
• Drizzle candy coating over popcorn, using two forks to toss and coat. While coating is still “sticky,” sprinkle with colored sugar. Allow to dry and break up into smaller bites, if needed.

NOTE: Use black/orange sugar for Halloween, green/red for Christmas; red for Valentines, brown/fall sprinkles and yellow sugar for Thanksgiving, etc. You can also add M&Ms or mini chocolate chips to the coated popcorn, so long you have enough candy coating to “glue” what you add to the popcorn.


PUMPKIN TUREEN

1 6-pound pumpkin, washed and dried, with stem intact
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
9 ounces Swiss cheese, shredded
7 slices white bread, toasted (crusts removed) and crumbled
3 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
24 ounces half-and-half
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Cut a 2-inch slice from top of pumpkin. Reserve to make “lid.” Remove seeds and fiber from pumpkin.
• Blend oil and garlic and rub inside pumpkin. Place pumpkin in a roasting pan.
• Alternate layers of crumbled bread and blended cheeses inside pumpkin.
• Combine half-and-half, salt, pepper and nutmeg and pour over layers until it reaches the top.
• Replace pumpkin “lid” and bake 2 hours, gently stirring at 1½ hours.
• Serve with bat crackers or toast points.


BAT CRACKERS

8-inch flour tortillas (plain or flavored)
Olive oil nonstick cooking spray
Salt, to taste

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
• Spray baking sheet with cooking spray.
• Using a 3-inch bat (or any Halloween shaped) cookie cutter, cut one tortilla at a time into shapes. Lightly spray shapes with cooking spray and place on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt.
• Bake 5-7 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Cool completely. Serve with pumpkin tureen or favorite dip.