The dragon is back. It spreads its bright yellow wings in Blair and Alex Garrett’s front yard in Brookhaven. It’s been there since October flew in. Blair wanted to put the inflatable dragon out in her yard in September, but her husband said no. That was just too early, he said, to decorate for Halloween.

Don’t tell that to Anthony Cabrera. He spends the whole year planning his Halloween decorations and starts building stuff about Labor Day. “Over the course of the year, I experiment with stuff like, ‘What would make a good-looking wall in an asylum?’ he said. “The more time I have, the crazier it gets.”

Blair and Alex Garrett pose with the dragon in their Brookhaven yard. (Joe Earle)

Once the big day itself arrives, Cabrera, a corporate lawyer, expects hundreds to tramp through his home — so many, in fact, that he’s turned his annual display into a fundraiser to buy toys for patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Last year, 900 people stopped by to see his Halloween decorations.

The time has come again to dress up our houses for the holidays. Forget autumn leaves. Around here, the real sign of fall is the coming of the jack-o’-lanterns. October is the month when faded bedsheets turn into ghosts and hang in trees, suburban yards sprout gravestones and oversized spider webs, and green isn’t the color of the lawn, but of a witch’s warty skin as she pulls Reese’s Pieces from her cauldron.

In Sandy Springs, some of those witches gather at the Hammond Hills home of Sallie Duncan. She started her Halloween tradition shortly after she moved into the neighborhood more than 20 years ago. Now, Duncan attracts packs of trick-or-treaters every year. “It sort of developed and grew over the years,” she said. Does she plan to decorate again this year? “Do you think I have a choice?” she said. “If I didn’t do it, I think I’d get egged.”

Duncan says she waits until the last minute to set up her decorations. Through the years, she has pulled together a corps of friends who dress up as witches and help out by working the door and escorting trick-or-treaters through what Duncan described as “less a haunted house than a haunted dining room.”

“I think the adults like it as much as the kids,” she said.

Sallie Duncan’s “haunted dining room” in Sandy Springs. (Special)

Cabrera’s not satisfied with a single room of scary stuff. He uses the entire first floor of his Cobb County home and his garage for his homemade Halloween haunts, which he calls The House of Unhappy Pumpkins. Each year’s display has a theme: a haunted hotel, a swamp. This year it’s “Lily’s Sanatorium,” named for his 17-year-old daughter, he said. “My wife says this is pretty crazy,” he said.

But it can draw a crowd. Last year, visitors to the Cabrera family home at 1260 Grand View Drive contributed thousands of dollars for Christmas toys for young patients at CHOA, he said. To raise the money during “a dark holiday like Halloween, it makes us feel good,” he said.

In Brookhaven, the Garretts just enjoy watching neighborhood kids gather to watch the dragon. The Garretts live at the corner of Mathews Street and Thornwell Drive in a neighborhood with a lot of kids. They’ve decorated their yard with lights and a giant spider web and spider and a few gravestones, but it’s the dragon that pulls the crowds. “It’s kind of cool to have a 15-foot dragon in your yard,” Alex Garrett said.

The Garretts started decorating for Halloween shortly after they moved into their neighborhood about five years ago. “It keeps growing and growing,” Blair Garrett said.

They don’t have kids themselves (“That’s the biggest question we get: ‘Your kids must love it?’” Alex Garrett said. “Nope. No kids.”), so they say the monsters referred to by the sign next to their front door announcing “the home of the Wicked Witch and her little monsters” refers to their two dogs, Lucy and Charlie. And, yes, the dogs dress up for Halloween.

Blair Garrett caught the holiday decorating bug when she was growing up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Her mother loved to decorate for the holidays and her uncle strung colored lights on his fishing boat for holiday parades. “My family was really big into Halloween,” she said. “My mother was a schoolteacher. They’re really big into decorations.”

The Garretts work in finance. She analyzes businesses and he’s a financial advisor, so decorating the house gives them a break. “I look at spreadsheets all day, so I enjoy doing something creative,” Blair Garrett said.

It’s not just Halloween. October just kicks off the house decorating season. Thanksgiving follows and then there are decoration-friendly holidays lined up into next year and orange and black will give way to red and green.

“I go pretty much nuts during Christmas,” Blair Garrett admitted.

Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. If you know someone with an interesting story to tell who would make a good subject for an Around Town column, email joeearle@reporternewspapers.net.

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