Dream of hosting a spooky to-do that runs as smooth as spider’s silk? Join us in the heart of the Old Village, where party maven Lisa Thomas of Out of Hand and Ooh! Events hosts her annual haunted house in the hallowed hood
*Editor’s Note: This feature was published in 2017. Due to the pandemic, we suggest you adjust Lisa’s fabulous ideas in accordance with CDC guidelines, such as social distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing hands often.
The word “maven” gets tossed around a lot these days, so it’s worth pointing out the real deal. Lisa Thomas—owner of the Old Village’s clothing and gift shop, Out of Hand; its beauty bar, Ooh! Beautiful; its floral biz, Out of the Garden; and its event design firm, Ooh! Events and the mastermind behind the block parties known as the Pitt Street Strolls—is a good-times maven to her core.
Whether she’s making someone’s big day a spectacle to behold; chic-ing up a blue-chip corporation’s dinner; or simply (ha, “simply” and Lisa don’t know each other) handing out candy come October 31, you can bet the happening is definitely happening. But more than just someone who can pull together pretty, Lisa pulls together people. “I believe that energy begets energy,” she says. “And to receive, you’ve got to give.”
Lisa, who moved to the Lowcountry in September 2000 as the Family Circle Cup’s tournament director, fell for the Old Village on her first drive-by. She and her husband, Pete, bought a circa-1880 diamond-in-the rough home and commenced to rehabbing it. “We were ripping off the siding during Halloween,” says Lisa, “and underneath was cardboard. The place literally looked like a haunted house, so I just went with it. I had no idea what was about to descend upon us: every morsel of candy was gone, everyone drank me out of house and home, and I laughed all night.”
Years later, their place is still the place in the Old Village to be on All Hallow’s Eve. Want some of that black magic for yourself? Read on to untangle Lisa’s web.
It Takes a Village
“Halloween in the Old Village is storybook,” says Lisa of the picket-fenced, cottage-ridden enclave East of the Cooper. “It’s very different from how I grew up in the Pennsylvania country,” where, she explains, they never got a single trick-or-treater. “Here, it’s like a Norman Rockwell dream. I see hundreds of children a night, and the costumes are amazing. The adults get dressed, the dogs even get decked out, and everyone is all kinds of sugared up, which in itself is entertaining.”
Hocus Pocus, Get The Party in Focus
■ Paint, don’t carve. Painted pumpkins last longer than carved ones in the Lowcountry heat and humidity. Because Lisa couldn’t find enough white pumpkins to suit her vision, she sprayed the standard orange variety—and a host of gourds—with high-sheen car paint.
■ Enlist the gang. “Get neighbors to participate and let each house have its own niche,” says Lisa. Bottomless chili, hay wagon rides, and decorated golf carts are some highlights from her corner of the Old Village.
■ Pace yourself. Follow Lisa’s game plan and put up decorations (pumpkins, statuary, curtains) in early October, then set up furniture and cut florals Halloween day.
■ Work with what you’ve got. Most of Lisa’s porch furniture is there year-round, so she simply accessorizes it for the holiday.
■ Divide and conquer. Sort out who’s hosting which zones. Pete works the sidewalk crowd, Lisa mans the candy dispensing, and family friends make sure porch pals have drinks and bites.
■ Make a rain plan. On dark and stormy nights, the action moves inside and trick-or-treaters take over the porch.
■ Kill the lights. “When we’re out of candy, we just go in and turn off the lights,” she notes.
Feast Your Eyes
Neither Lisa nor Pete knew a soul in the Old Village before they bought their place. “The first week we moved in,” says Lisa, “neighbors were dropping by with food and wine. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.” When it’s her turn to play lady of the (haunted) house, she offers libations and finger foods for the early arrivals-slash-helpers, then switches to candy and drinks in five-gallon urns for the trick-or-treating masses and their chaperones. Because Lisa and crew hustle to add special touches up to the last minute, she enlists pros like Harvest Catering for savory bites, ABCD Cakes for desserts, and Batch for specialty bar drinks.
Set forth One Spooky Spread
■ Plan a chatty menu. For your pre-party, serve finger foods that are easily eaten while talking, toasting, and setting up.
■ Give a spooky twist to old standards. Deviled eggs that look like little pumpkins? Soup with a crème fraîche on top in a pattern that resembles a spider web? Right on.
■ Accessorize offerings. Pump up the festive details with moody accents: nestle oysters atop black rock salt, send plastic spiders crawling on glass rims, and pour soup into charcoal-hued mugs.
■ Play the name game. What’s better than a Shirley Temple? A Shirley Temple of Doom, of course. Whether you create a sign or simply call out what you’re serving as you serve it, a little fun goes a long way.
■ Go for gore. Well, sort of. Fill a glass jar with chilled shrimp and cocktail sauce (Harvest Catering called that a “brain mold”); layer a cake with berry filling and ice it in tombstone gray so it “bleeds” when you cut a slice; serve bone-in “lollichops” as finger food.
■ Dabble with darkness. Black napkins are a given, but also use easy-bend copper wire from the craft or hardware store to make holders that look as crazy as the Bride of Frankenstein’s hair
Let Your Freaky Flag Fly
■ Get your Beetlejuice on. Why the striped curtains? “I thought they looked spooky,” says Lisa. Drama and theater rule this holiday, so don’t hold back.
■ Light up the night. Layer lighting for safety and mood-setting. Lisa and Pete combine lanterns (in trees and on the porch) with tiki torches (tucked in the hedges away from flowing costumes), candles (on the tables), and bulbs (in the trees). The more lit up stairs and walks are, the better, they say, for little ones stumbling around in masks and costumes.
■ Let the fun fan out. Cocktail tables are set out with stools so guests can visit without overcrowding the porch.
Can’t bear to play street party just once a year? Fear not: there are a few more of Lisa’s Pitt Street Strolls left in 2017. Mark your calendar for September 21, October 19, and November 30, the latter of which is known as “The Big Holiday Event.” Shopping, food trucks, music, and a friendly festival atmosphere await.