Home & Design

Green Acre #216: Boo! and a Book

The competitive decorating hasn’t even started yet on Walter Street SE in DC, but the little porch hints at the beginnings of a “Wizard of Oz” theme. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.


THERE ARE 50 houses lining Walter Street SE, a one-block stretch of 10-foot-wide porch-front homes on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill. Possibly the most close-knit block in this close-knit neighborhood, the street offers weekly porch-front happy hours, a Christmas tree lighting and holiday celebration, hot dogs on the 4th of July, and odds and ends of what-not in between. When the plague precluded a fancy venue, one neighbor chose to be married in the middle of the street this past summer, surrounded by neighbors rocking on porches and jumping up to cheer.

Clearly, Halloween is special here, with pumpkin patches and ghosts and bats winging here and there, a giant spider that crawls up one of the few big houses near the corner. Everyone comes out to porch-sit, drink wine and hand out candy to a steady stream of little masked monsters.

This year the entire block will be transformed into a set for the Wizard of Oz. Jennifer Cates, who is heading the extravaganza, said the details are cloaked in darkness, but there will certainly be witches and flying monkeys, Dorothy and her friends and a yellow brick road.

Wicked Witch, anyone? / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

In the offing is $1,000 check for the best Halloween display in the neighborhood, which will be gifted to their neighborhood school of choice.

There’s some hot competition.

Called A Literary Pumpkin Walk, and sponsored by the Capitol Hill Community Foundation, this will be, perhaps, a one-off event.

It’s a Covid stand-in for the Capitol Hill Literary Feast, which has been a major fundraiser for local schools since 2006.

The original idea was simple. A dozen or so neighbors would donate their time and dining tables and prepare a meal with a book theme for eight or so neighbors—no reading required. The $75 (minimum) per-person tab would go to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation* for support of local schools.

In those early days one might have got away with pairing The Old Man and the Sea with Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks, it was, after all a charitable event—and when was the last time you had fish sticks anyway? Probably in the grammar school cafeteria.

Then, just when I was going to volunteer to do Catch-22, starring mutton with a side of spam, things got complicated.

By last year there were 37 dinner parties, each more elaborate than the last. Live music, petite filets, fine wines—it became a game of can-you-trump-this. You should pardon the expression. Some $40,000 was raised.

The advance speculation over who was doing what was rampant, and the post-dinner reviews breathtaking. Such became the competition in what was, in theory, a completely non-competitive event.

It would be no stretch to say someone might be plotting to import wild boar and an Italian chef this year to prepare a proper pappardelle al cinghiale to gastronomically illuminate Under the Tuscan Sun. There might be a lighting designer involved as well.

Walter Street SE in DC is waiting for your visit. (Hmm, is that Walter, and has he been waiting too long?) / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Instead, we have the Literary Hill Pumpkin Walk, where neighbors pick a book or favorite literary character and decorate  their yards and gardens accordingly. While the guidelines suggest you can carve a pumpkin or stuff a scarecrow, and I’m sure there’ll be some of those, who wants to bet, with so many cunning minds strangled at home for months and months . . . this thing is going to go over the top.

Among the 24 selections already registered are children’s books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Make Way for Ducklings, and Harry Potter this and that, the last of which I’m sure will attract a trove of tiny witches and warlocks. Some homes have selected single characters, like Anna Karenina—that should be a toot—and Neil Gaiman’s graveyard boy “Bod.” Even the Folger Shakespeare Library is getting in on the act—with Macbeth, what else? With their own costume and stage production shop, they have a bit of an advantage.

Personally, I’m salivating over the “Mike Pence version of Lord of the Flies” and the “Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut.” The list of home addresses is at www.literaryhillpumpkinwalk.org,

There is no fee for participation, though donations are welcome. Everyone is invited to vote on a winner, who will get $1,000 for a neighborhood school of their choice. The extravaganza will be unveiled October 24 and remain in place through All Hallows’ Eve.

There will be an armed guard at the ballot box, signature matching, and beheading for any hanging chads.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” leaves her backyard periodically.

*Sign up by email to be included in the Literary Pumpkin Walk Registry and be eligible to win $1,000 for a Capitol Hill school of your choice. Email your name, theme and address to grants@capitolhillcommunityfoundation.org. Don’t worry, no names will be published on the map . . . just the home address and theme will be shared.


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