Merry skeletons ride on a carrousel and a Ferris wheel, dance at a bandstand, and play the piano in Kirsten Snodgrass' living room.
Her front lawn holds eight tombstones, each measuring 4-by-8 feet; one is mounded with fresh dirt, and the others have color schemes of blue and purple, red and white, pink, and yellow. Next to one grave is a sunny funerary wreath with "Mom" on its ribbon - a Mother's Day gift from her daughter, she says with pride.
Ms. Snodgrass, 47, doesn't question the mystery of her passion for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). "I've always been into the art. And one day, I found out what it all meant, and so I just started to do it right that minute."
Dia de los Muertos - a celebration of the lives of departed loved ones - is observed in a number of countries, and increasingly in the United States.
In South Toledo, an annual exhibit of 11 altars made by artists and others may be viewed through Nov. 12 at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center.Three days after learning about Dia de los Muertos, Ms. Snodgrass, who is neither Mexican nor Catholic, fashioned her first altar from a TV tray and a couple of boxes. She researched the tradition over the next three years: She perused thousands of photographs of altars and the offerings placed upon them, studied the symbolism, and bought and made hundreds of items.
"It's the ultimate in romance and sentimentality," she says.
She made sugar skulls in molds, using a recipe for panorama eggs, and decorating them with the names of her deceased relatives and friends. "It's a well-known fact that the dead love sugar," she says.
She made crepe-paper flowers and arranged them in the shape of a large cross. This week, she will strew a trail of marigold petals leading from the cemetery on the lawn to her living-room altar, to guide the returning dead. She'll make chicken mole and place a serving on the altar one night, and cook her grandfather's favorite, chicken and dumplings, another night.
A dog skeleton reminds people to be kind to their canines, "Because your dog pleads your case to God," she notes.
A few figures represent the Grim Reaper, who guards the door between the living and the dead. A tall skeleton with birds on his sleeves reminds her that the women in her family have loved birds.
She's placed a loaf of pan de muerto, a special sweet bread, on the altar, plus fresh fruit and a glass of water. "The trip back here is long and exhausting and they'll be thirsty," she says.
This year, her altar is four levels of boxes covered with white sheets and heavily laden with items. It dominates an entire room in her South Toledo home. A semicircular grapevine wreath strung with skull lights representing heaven hangs above the altar.
As she did last night for the trick-or-treaters she invites in to see her shrine, tonight and tomorrow she'll light dozens of candles, many of which are in tall glasses bearing images of saints. And, she'll burn large chunks of aromatic copal resin.
And if weather permits, tomorrow, friends will join her to sit a while in her little graveyard.
Dia de los Muertos altars may be viewed through Nov. 12 at the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center, 1225 Broadway, South Toledo. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays. There is no admission but donations are requested. Group tours are available for a fee, and can be arranged outside of regular hours. Information: 419-241-1655.
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