Interview with Mr. Halloween

Chris Riddle, the official Halloween transponder for American Greetings, a major national manufacturer of Halloween party supplies and cards, has earned himself the nickname of “Mr. Halloween.” He has been a featured guest on HGTV, Fox News, and his Halloween Trend Observations, has been quoted in Time, USA Today, and The New York Times. We sat down with Chris to learn more about his cool job, his Halloween tattoos, and some of his favorite holiday memories. (You can also listen to this interview here.)

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Jason: Tell us a little bit about your job, what you do, and how you got to be known as Mr. Halloween.

Chris: Well, Mr. Halloween has followed me since my childhood. Being an artist I was always drawing, and it just so happened – this is a funny story – that way back, I want to say fourth, fifth, sixth grade, all the way through high school, they always had contests in Ohio where you would actually paint the outside of a business in any given city.

And so we’d start school and I was always sketching Halloween pumpkins and witches and all that. From fourth grade all the way through my senior year I won the contests for the school, and I was always out there painting Halloween stuff.

But I also have to thank my mom because she loved Halloween. Looking back on all the pictures that I have of the family, she was always the one that was most in-costume, with the biggest smile, encouraging us to carve pumpkins and make our own costumes at Halloween.

So, as you see all the time on TV with athletes, I’ve got to thank my mom. You know, it’s one of those things where it was real important. So that kind of followed me then when I started my career at American Greetings. Everyone found out that I was actually collecting Halloween antiques and that I had quite a history of that, and I have a couple tattoos that are Halloween tattoos.

It’s kind of weird. I like to play the scary one, so it’s been that way for a long time. In a sense, even though I started as an illustrator on the board at American Greetings and kind of worked myself up to an art director and all that, because I have such a love for the holiday and such an interest, they said, “Well, why don’t you help every year with trends? Think in terms of a year out, where we want to be in the way of color and subject matter. Work with as many of the staff as you need to to come up with new ideas based on a proven subject matter.”

So it was just the matter of then going out – it really starts about the end of August – and looking at a lot of different aspects. Mostly women’s fashion, because 95 percent of our products are bought by women. So you’re kind of looking at color.

We also have some color organizations in New York City that we are members of. We fly out to New York and look at the colors a couple years out at that point. But then you’re just projecting where you want to be the following year. I have a group of artists that do that, and it’s just wonderful to work with such creative people, but to also do something that is a part of your passion as well.

Jason: That’s cool. So what tattoos do you have?

Chris: Well it’s interesting. I also collect original turn of the century Wizard of Oz books, because I love The Wizard of Oz. In the actual second book, I think it was, Jack was a highly respected member of Oz, and so the tattoo I have on my leg actually has the pumpkin head of Jack and the symbol of Oz.

On my back I have a frowning and a smiling pumpkin.

And then I have the the pumpkin patch. The weeds and all the vines go down to other areas on my back. It’s something I’ve had for a while. But when you have a passion you don’t mind doing that kind of crazy stuff.

Well, my wife wasn’t happy, but hey, that’s just the way it is.

Kim: Oh, that’s so cool. Tell us a little bit about your antiques and memorabilia. How did that all begin and what’s your favorite item that you have?

Chris: Yes, it’s interesting. My parents passed away young and I inherited a lot of boxes. I found so much of my mom’s stuff that she had collected from the ‘40s and kept. I said, “Boy, now I know why she so loved Halloween as a family-oriented holiday.”

In my early 20s when my wife and I would travel around the United States, one of the first places I’d want to go visit would be the nearest antique store. Even though we might be at Mt. Rushmore or we might be in L.A., I was going through the Yellow Pages looking for antique stores. It just started clicking that way and it’s been probably well over close to 30 years that I’ve been collecting Halloween antiques, way before they got too expensive for people to do it.

So it’s just something I have up all year-round. I have display cases in all parts of the house, and I also have little sneaks of Halloween in the kitchen and the dining room and the bedrooms. When people visit, every part of the house is a little bit special about Halloween.

And from my standpoint, Halloween antiques especially are a little bit about the loving spirit of those people that actually kept that pristine Halloween antique over the decades. I end up getting something in my possession, and it brings me such joy because I know the love that that person had for the holiday has now entered my house and my collection. So it’s really special.

Jason: Do you have a favorite item in your collection?

Chris: Well, you know, I love my Halloween postcards and greeting cards, because that’s where it gets kind of personal. People are talking about the time of year and the harvest and missing the family, and “I can’t wait to see you during Christmas,” you know, things like that.

It’s interesting because the addresses are not like you have a long numeral address. It’s like 12 Central Street. I mean, that’s all it is, and even when they say “Give me a call,” the telephone number’s like three digits.

Kim: Wow.

Chris: Way back in the ‘20s and ‘30s, that’s all it was. So that kind of thing is very endearing to me because it was special enough that someone kept that close to their heart, and now I have it as part of my collection, so it’s wonderful.

Jason: So, as a trends person, how have you seen Halloween change over the years?

Chris: You know, I think it changes, but it changes fashion-wise, it changes in color. But I have to believe that everyone goes back a little bit to their childhood when they think in terms of Halloween. Of course, it’s like that as Christmastime as well. I think when you talk about Halloween to people and they bring up their memories about Halloween, they smile.

I think it’s a little bit about the fact that they remember when they were children and running around the neighborhood and getting candy. And going to school in costume and having a great time, and also the memories with their family at that time.

So when I talk in terms of what’s happening in the way of product, it’s a little bit of looking back, but looking back with an eye towards where color is going to be a year from now, or where styled art is going to be.

But yet, the subject matter and the warmth in the copy is always going to be there, and maybe a little bit from where you’ve come from. And in terms of what decade you grew up in. And then how can we put that into our product? So it’s a little about looking forward and looking back at the same time.

Jason: And it seems like adults really are taking Halloween back.

Chris: Yes, they really have. I mean, next to New Year’s Eve parties and Super Bowl Sunday, Halloween is the third largest celebration that adults involve themselves in. It’s become a $5 billion industry. You can just go through suburbia and people are decking out the outside of their homes with the lights and spider webs and all kinds of wonderful things.

And I think it’s just a wonderful release for people at this time of year with the pressure they have at work and all of that. They just kind of go back and say, “You know what? I remember how this used to be. And as an adult, and maybe part of a wonderful family, I’m going to continue to celebrate this.” So I think it’s just a wonderful time of year.

Kim: What was Halloween like for you as a kid? Obviously you say it was really great and you have some awesome memories. What do you remember the most?

Chris: Well, you know, it always started probably a week before when my mom and dad would get one of the largest pumpkins there were. All of us kids would carve pumpkins that we knew were going to be put out on the front porch. And of course you would have to make the yearly scarecrow in the front yard.

My mom would bake apple pies and things like that, so you’d have that smell in the house. And of course, it’s all about the smell outside, because with the turning leaves and the way that the light and the sun changes outside as well, it creates warm shadows at this time of year.

You can tell I’m excited just to be talking about it, but it’s what you see visually and the smells and everything else I think that gets you going. Then all of a sudden it’s a couple days before Halloween, and of course time has changed, so there’s no light out at 6:00.

You know, it’s the anticipation of going out and just running yourself ragged trick-or-treating with your friends. It’s just wonderful memories.

Then as you get older, instead of watching, going to the movies of course. And I remember as a child going to horror movies – they were black and white at that time – and being scared to death. And now of course it’s all DVDs and cable television but it’s just a wonderful time of year.

Jason: So what about these days? What do you do for Halloween? What’s your favorite Halloween activity now?

Chris: Yes, I have to say I’m running around now as an adult. I mean, there are probably three or four different neighborhoods that I need to go to, and I only have two-and-a-half hours.

And I have my video camera, my normal camera. My wife is with me, we’re running around, I’m trying to photograph families. I’m photographing the way people have decorated the outside of their homes. I’m invited inside homes now because people know I’m coming every year, so they need me to come in and they take pictures with me and their family.

Kim: It’s Mr. Halloween!

Chris: Yes. It’s kind of fun. But for me it’s always about going out on trick-or-treat night and just hearing the laughter of the children and the wind blowing through the trees. And hopefully it’s going to be a night where it’s cloudless and there’s a moon out casting a wonderful shadow on everything. Oh my God, it’s wonderful. I can’t wait!

Kim: It’s coming soon!

Chris: Yes, it’s coming soon.

Kim: Well, we always end our interviews with a question that gets you thinking back to childhood.

Jason: Which is not too hard for you at this time of year.

Chris: No, it’s not.

Kim: This is a very easy one, but what was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?

Chris: Well, there was a time in my life when I was a teenager where I’d get pretty decked out. And I think one time I was a werewolf, and I spent hours and hours and hours on it. This was before I really bought rubber masks and things like that.

I made myself up really, really good. I would actually be on all fours a lot and then come up to the door and I’d be on my haunches. But I was so good that I’d scare everybody away.

So I just had to go in the house at that point because my mom and dad were going, “You know, no one wants to come to our house this year.” And so I ended up having to go out because they didn’t want me around. But from my standpoint, I created such a buzz in the neighborhood and everybody wanted me to go up to their house.

Kim: It must have been pretty convincing if people were so scared of it, Chris.

Chris: Oh, I know, but it’s all about the trick and the treat. People don’t remember that, I would always tell kids when they used to come to the house, “So, what kind of trick do you know, because it’s trick-or-treat? Do you know why you’re saying trick-or-treat?” and all that. There’s a little bit of that history that a lot of kids don’t know.

Jason: So, tell us about that. What was the original concept behind Halloween?

Chris: Well, boy, Halloween goes back so far, but I would have to say it started way back in New England, way back in I want to say the 1860s. There were farms back then and people had a lot more parties in those days. You’d go to a barn party and you’d have to entertain in order to get anything, whether it be the food or it was part of the harvest festival. So people put on skits, and actually had to do things. They just couldn’t come. You had to come with something in the way of an entertainment.

So it’s a little bit about the “trick” in treat-or-treat and you’d get a treat. In New England, they kind of said to people, “Well, is it a joke? Do you have to come in and say something? Something to make them laugh? What kind of trick?” You’re doing something magical or something when you ask for a trick-or-treat, and you have to do something in order to get a treat. So it kind of goes back to that, and I don’t know if people even know that these days. But it’s so funny to hear kids going “trick or treat.” They usually don’t want to do it anymore.

Jason: It’s all about the magic words. I guess kids will do whatever they can do to get candy!

Chris: Absolutely, yes.

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