Last year, Joe Allocco announced that he would no longer be creating his Franklin Square Horror House — where trick-or-treaters could make their way through a haunted house complete with actors dressed up in scary costumes — as he had for more than 20 years. He had a miniature stroke, he explained, and building the attraction on the side of his Norbay Street home would be too arduous a task.
But with everyone stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, and after his neighbor, Tito Roman, died suddenly in July, Allocco decided to revive the award-winning display.
“Tito was always involved with the Haunt from the very beginning,” Allocco, 55, posted on Facebook on Oct. 12. “It didn’t and wouldn’t feel right to continue without him here. But, in the same breath, I know he would say, ‘Are you crazy? You have to do something! You’ve done it for 23 years.’”
The tradition started one Halloween when Allocco dressed up as Leatherface, from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” and revved his chainsaw when neighborhood children passed by. They told their friends, and the following year, almost 1,500 people made their way to the dead-end street to see the Franklin Square Horror on Halloween night, Allocco previously told the Herald. As it grew, Allocco said, he decided to build his first miniature haunted house for guests in 2001, and it has since attracted nearly 2,800 people to the neighborhood each year.
The street is usually filled with spectators by around 7 p.m., at which time Allocco, his family and his neighbors walk down the street in their costumes. Those that are waiting to enter the haunted house would then see Allocco emerging from the fog in his signature Leatherface costume every minutes, and when he would get tired of running around with the chainsaw, Roman would take over the entertainment to give him a break.
“He had such a good heart, and he always did that for me,” Allocco said of Roman, who also enjoyed scaring children as the Goatman; hiding in the corners of the haunted house and whispering “I see you” at children as they walked by; or standing in a cage in the last room of the haunted house and reaching to the passersby. “He was a very big part of keeping everybody occupied with scares and smiles on their faces.”
Roman died on July 17 at age 38. His family is still waiting for the autopsy results from the Nassau County Medical Examiner’s office to determine the caused of his death.
“I cry almost every day when I think about him,” Allocco said, noting that he had watched Roman grow up across the street, and considered him something of a younger brother.
Roman took care of dogs for different agencies and “loved all the kids on Norbay Street,” Allocco said. He would also tell his friends, “Don’t worry about it, I got you” whenever they had a problem, and would always be there for someone in a time of need.
And on Halloween, Allocco said, Roman would spend the entire night entertaining the crowd. In 2017 he dressed up as the evil clown Pennywise from the movie “It,” and walked down the street with a neighborhood girl who wore a yellow jacket and held a red balloon.
“He was unique and very creative with his characters” over the years, said Allocco, who would choose a theme each Halloween, usually based on popular horror films that were released that year. The themes included “The Nun,” “Tomb of Madness,” “Leatherface’s Lair,” “Zombie Quarantine Zone,” and a funeral in which guests walked through an embalming station and into a funeral, complete with zombie mourners.
This year, guests will not be able to walk through a haunted house with characters reaching for them or whispering to them because, according to Allocco, it would be too difficult to construct in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control’s and New York state’s coronavirus guidelines. Instead, he said, he bought a four-foot-tall black wrought iron fence to enclose his property, and all of his Halloween props and decorations will be on display. Live actors will still walk around the premises, he noted, but they will not be able to interact with visitors.
“It won’t be the same as it always was,” he said, “but it will be something for everyone to do, as long as they maintain social distancing and stay safe.”
He added that 2020 has “been a very difficult, painful, sad and heartbreaking year for so many of us” and, “I think that creating the haunted house again in a safe and socially distanced environment will help a lot of us.”
The Franklin Square Horror, at 1148 Norbay St., will be open on Halloween night from 6 to 10 p.m.