Last year's Halloween tableau at the Warshauer's 115 N. Main St. home got its goriness from Civil War battle scenes that included "spilling entrails and fake blood."
This year's theme continues the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with a "re-creation" of the 1862 Battle of Antietam.
"To this date, the Battle of Antietam was the single bloodiest day in American history," said homeowner Matt Warshauer, a professor at Central Connecticut State University who is also co-chair of the state Civil War Commission. "It changed American history," he said, with 23,000 killed or wounded that day.
Warshauer said the Battle of Antietam, which occurred near Sharpsburg, MD, on Sept. 17, 1862, was a watershed moment in the Civil War, because of the carnage as well as because it prompted Abraham Lincoln's Jan. 1, 1863 Emancipation Proclamation.
"This has become more and more a blending of my love of Halloween with an American history lesson," said Warshauer, who has been decorating his home with the help of his family since he moved to N. Main St. 14 years ago.
He said this year the display offers a bit more reading, with anecdotes about Connecticut soldiers who fought at Antietam. There's also the "Tree of Presidents" which contains quotes from the first 16 presidents about the "importance of the Union and the problems of political parties," Warshauer said.
Like always, Warshauer adds in a bit of contemporary political commentary, this year with likenesses of Pres. Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney playing "tug of war" with an American flag.
Warshauer admittedly favors Obama, in front of whose likeness is a sign that reads, "I'm sorry I didn't fix a generational economic problem in only four years with no help from the Republican Party. My bad!!" Romney's sign reads, "I'll say anything to be President."
Warshauer's display spills over onto his next-door-neighbor's property as well, and when he first put it up this fall it also included a banner advertising a huge Civil War encampment that was held in Wickham Park in Manchester.
Warshauer starts preparing for the display about two weeks before it goes up, then sets it up in the driveway and puts it together with the help of his friends and family, including his three children who are now 8, 11, and soon-to-be 13. Many of the elements are recycled from past years, but Warshauer said he always adds some new stuff.
The display is usually taken down and packed away in a loft in his garage right after Halloween, although Warshauer said he will sometimes leave it up through the election. He hasn't made a decision yet about this year.
The display was still standing when a freak snowstorm devastated West Hartford and the rest of the area right before Halloween last year. Warshauer said he was really lucky to salvage nearly everything. "Our trees rained down limbs but only two gravestones were broken. It was unbelievable," Warshauer said.
People eagerly await Warshauer's display each year, and it has become synomyous with the start of the Halloween season for many West Hartford residents. He said his daughters and their friends were thrilled to see that an article about the display was one of Patch's top stories for 2011.
Warshauer said that he spoke to some history classes at Hall High School last winter at the request of Social Studies Department Supervisor Steve Armstrong. The kids didn't seem all that interested in Warshauer's credentials, he said, until Armstrong told them he was the owner of the N. Main St. Halloween house.
"I've never had a greater moment of 'Aha!'" said Warshauer. "I've been doing this for so long that the high school kids have seen it as long as they can remember."
Warshauer hopes residents and passersby will take the time to visit his display. You can't really appreciate everything just by driving by, he said, but you can park on Hilltop Dr. which is just north of his home and spend some time walking through. He often comes out and chats with people, and this year his daughters have crafted a secret hiding place in the display where they can watch visitors and may also try to startle them.
"My main goal is to have fun enjoying Halloween, and to also offer political commentary and historical education."