This month, Sherry Ortega’s house plays host to the ominously titled Dead Pond Road Hospital, employer of dead doctors and sliced-up surgeons. Located up the quiet street from the jukebox dive Sweet Jane’s and right below Mafera Park, a front yard’s Halloween display tells a dark tale of scorned wives and poisonous revenge. Visitors are welcome to take it in before the month ends.
“It is said that the ghost of Mrs. Lux and the past inhabitants still roam the grounds of the condemned hospital seeking revenge for their untimely death,” a placard on Ortega’s lawn reads. On a bench leading to her door sits a corpse, slumped in a pink maternity gown and a rather regal grey wig.
They died in a sort of mass poisoning, the story goes. Following Mrs. Lux’s discovery of her husband’s affair with one of his nurses, named Jezebel, revenge was leveled on all in a kind of pyrrhic gesture. “Ideas just come to me,” Ortega tells Bushwick Daily.
“I wanted to do a hospital, but I didn’t want to do anything with mental health,” she adds. A friend had found a particularly spooky portrait of a woman in red and from there the legend of Mrs. Lux, a wife scorned, was born.
As a part-time nanny and a mother of four, Ortega has lived in Ridgewood for 25 years. She thinks about Halloween for much of the year. “Halloween was always a fun time in my life,” speaking with an air of self-possession and suburban humility, “I would have been a set designer in another life.”
Since her children left the house, her front yard has become a space for Halloween displays that grow more elaborate with each coming year. Last year had been a haunted carnival and the year before that had been filled with fake toxic waste. She is ruminating on doing something with aliens next year.
It is in peculiarity where Ortega finds her art. Advertisements from the 1940s are scattered in the ramparts she’s erected along with signs from a nearby shuttered maternity clinic. Kid’s alphabet blocks spell out D-I-E above the children’s ward. A medical cabinet of curiosities offers hints for the quizzical.
Ortega speaks twangingly. “I have zero percent skill in the arts, even if you really look closely, you’ll see that this is elementary school work,” a line that gives her display the practical quality of delicately unpretentious folk art. The nurse’s station – dotted with condemnation notices and a skeleton in a hospital smock smoking a long cigarette – was repurposed from a fortune-teller’s booth last year. She acquires these objects via Craigslist and through regular donations from a growing group of interested neighbors.
At the behest of her children, she took the project to Instagram.
“They go and tell me, ‘you starting already?,’” she says. “And then they come bringing their spooky paintings.”
“Halloween is booming,” Ortega observes. “100 candy bags I gave away three years ago. Last year, we gave almost 250,” she states, pinning the rapid growth on young families moving to the neighborhood. “The park’s never been as packed as it is now.”
“It’s not like I’m an artist trying to show off my own work, I’m just someone who wants to make everyone else love Halloween as much as I do.”
All photos taken by Andrew Karpan for Bushwick Daily
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