• Teresa Nguyen

Cyndie Hoiberg

Queen of Halloween


Interview by Teresa Nguyen

October, 2022

Early Family Inspiration


I originally came from Rockton, Illinois. Around 64 years ago, at age 7, I started decorating big for Halloween with my dad. He was really into decorating the yard and my mom was really into the costumes.


One day, about 30 years ago, my dad talked to the museum curator of Midway Village in Rockford. He got him to allow my dad to rent out a miniature house just so we could decorate it and have the kids come and trick or treat. It cost him $1,000, just for Halloween. That was a lot of money back then! But he did that for me for six years while I was growing up.

As a child, at Halloween I enjoyed giving candy out, rather than dressing up and going out to parties. That was my favorite thing to do.


My husband and I lived in Beloit for 17 years in a haunted house...literally. There were ghosts that would appear in the house; an old man, a woman and a little one named Jeremy. My son was young and when we were about to move, he asked me, “What about Jeremy?” He and my foster son, who I took care of, had never talked to each other about Jeremy.


Later, they compared stories and it all lined up! They both saw Jeremy! When your covers would fall off, they would be pulled up over you. It was like he was watching over us.


Once, a reporter came to the house. We were standing outside for the interview on a dark, fall evening around Halloween. Then, he asked about my little boy. I told him, “Sir, my son is a grown man, living somewhere else.” He then pointed to an upstairs window and said, “I mean that little boy.” There was a figure of a child in the window, and I certainly didn’t have a child at home! We never really found out the origins or stories of the ghosts.

We moved to Orlando, Florida for a while, but then returned to the area and settled in Janesville.


Clown School


I attended clown school in La Crosse in the 90s and I was over the moon! It was a 10-day course to earn certification. I had wanted to juggle, but wasn’t very good at it. I learned how to do balloon animals, pie fighting, all sorts of things. I got a job in Baraboo at Circus World as a professional clown.


When I was pregnant with my son, I was at work in a clown outfit and it seemed I was going into labor! I had to be rushed to the hospital. But it was a false alarm, as he was born a few weeks later.

At school, some of the popular clowns, who later became famous, gravitated toward me and we became friends. I had many clown friends from school.


Free to be Me


After a while, my husband, who was very controlling, became very jealous of my popularity. He burned all my clown outfits and anything associated with it.


He was eventually diagnosed with extreme bipolar and then went into a nursing home. He died last year. We had stayed together, in spite of everything, and had been married for 42 years.


You know, you can forgive but can’t forget what has been done to you. I had suffered from abuse in that relationship. And my children suffered, as well. People will say, “Oh, children are resilient.” Yes, they are, but the hurt can still affect them and last for years. So many in abusive relationships think they are alone. I used to think that, too. But now I know I am not alone. (For those experiencing domestic violence, contact YWCA Rock County for assistance and resources.)

Today, am free to make my own choices. I do all of this, and I have pink hair. It may be age inappropriate, but in these last couple of years, I’ve been able to live as I want to, to just be myself!


And, in honor of my previous career, I have quite a clown collection today.


The Hoiberg Haunt


My grandson originally helped me design the yard décor. Because I had been a professional clown, he really wanted the world to know about Grandma. That’s is what inspired him. It was originally decorated as a circus, but it has evolved over the years.

It wasn’t until I was in this house that I could really go all out. We’ve been doing this for 25 years now!

Erin Rose Hoiberg

Our whole family is into the decorating. I have a brother and a sister who would decorate and even her son was into it for a while. I have a son, DJ, and a daughter, Erin Rose.


My daughter’s apartment looks like a Halloween Museum, including the bedroom and the bathroom! She is the Assistant Manager at Spirits Halloween and loves the job. She also owns her own business, Kooky Spooky Art. She is my supporter and truly the best. I’m not just saying that because she’s my daughter! She really is.

My son DJ lives on the south side of Janesville. His son, Branson, used to live nearby until he moved to the Carolinas. I also have a young granddaughter, Willow. Willow loves Halloween. She grabs her coat and says, “Let’s go, candy!”


Usually, I do the yard all by myself. My grandson used to help before he moved south. Then, in 2021, I had some health issues.


My birthday is near Thanksgiving, so I’ve never had a birthday Recently, on my birthday, we were in Florida and went out to celebrate. Well, a woman, who was texting while driving, hit me and I broke my neck. It’s getting worse and worse, and though I’m not confined to a wheel chair, I can’t do much without my walker. I used to go out dancing and played tennis. I had been a very active woman.


I feel like I’ve had a great life, but with my recent health issues, it’s been frustrating. My daughter encouraged me and told me I can’t give up! I was feeling down about things, but my children and friends all came over to help decorate. That was so special and heartwarming.


We always put up the displays on September 18th, in honor of my father, who passed away on that date. We don’t take it down until the weekend after Halloween. It’s up a long time.


Favorite Decoration


My favorite piece is the headless horseman. When I was a child, my grandpa Carl, who was my best friend ever, would read me the story of The Headless Horseman. He would take our old horse, Pete, and go out into the woods at night to scare me.


My sister once hired an actor, who played the real headless horseman, to come to Midway Village on the 27th of September, which is a special day for me. My family and friends call it Mammy Pajammy Day. That’s my nickname. I’m also called Granmammy by my adopted daughter. It’s our family tradition that “The Great Pumpkin” comes and gives you a present on the 27th. We hide presents under the pumpkin leaves every year. My mom started that. So, that year I had such a cool gift with the headless horseman!

Photo by Teresa Nguyen

The headless horseman decoration piece in my yard has three little pumpkins in front of it with projectors, and it tells the story.


The indoor décor is almost all Halloween, too. I love my village, which I’ve collected. I have around 50 or 60 bobbleheads. I like to switch it around sometimes. My favorite clown in the collection is the Killer Clown. My grandson got that for me before he moved away.


The Pets


I had always wanted a cat and thought it would be nice to have a black cat. My friend came by one day with a little black cat and gave her to me. So, I named her Elvira. She is only a year and a half now and loves attention. I was worse than an old cat lady, I adored her so much. At Halloween, when Elvira would sit in the window, she looked like one of my props! Recently, I gave Elvira to my granddaughter.



Zoey is my dog. She loves being in her costumes. When she was little, she would go to her ‘wardrobe’ and would want me to change her. She won’t go outside without her costume; she is such a diva! She’s been like that for 13 years! The wooden house in my collection was Zoey’s. It was her sleeping place when she was little.


Now I have another little one, Woofie. He’s Erin’s dog, and I help take care of him.


The Trick or Treaters


The week before Halloween, I get all hyped up to get things ready and completed. I have loads of little plastic pumpkins, which I’m filling with candy, then I’ll send them down the candy shoot. My son, DJ made that for me. The kids love it!


During the snowstorm of 2019, we had 608 children! That was the only year that I got emotional and cried thinking no kids would show up. It was line after line of kids! It was a little overwhelming! During the pandemic, it was slower, but I still had 486 children come to the house. In 2021, I had 886 trick or treaters! And with all the publicity, we could hit over 1,000 this year!


We even had a grandma and grandpa dress up – their whole family was dressed in Wizard of Oz costumes.


Once, we had a stretch limo pull up with a whole family who came up to the house. We’ve had people come from everywhere. I had a lady from Germany visit. In 2021, we also had 24 dogs, as I always give out dog treats.


There are some who have a fear of clowns, who won’t come up to the house. But, if they find the courage to make it here, they’ll find it’s a welcoming place. I talk to the visitors, hundreds of people. They like to stop and talk.


By midnight on Halloween night, I feel kind of down that it’s over. When my grandson was here, he would start planning for the next year.


Generosity of the Community


One year, a little boy, who loved my carrousel, was sad that it had broken. He said it was his favorite thing in my display. I told him it would cost a lot of money to fix it, so he went home and borrowed money from his grandmother, bringing me $16. That was so sweet. It was going to cost me $300 to fix!


Another time, a child wanted all my skeletons turned on. I told him that I only do that near Halloween night because it’s a lot of batteries. He left and returned with 120 batteries!

A woman from Milwaukee stopped by and then came back ten minutes later and handed me a $100 bill. Such kindness!


Another neighborhood family brought me a set of Halloween dishes. They have a little dog who carries a balloon in his mouth wherever he goes. I’ll never forget seeing them coming with that cute little dog, bringing me that gift. It meant so much to me.


My husband passed away in August of 2021. His birthday was on the 29th of October. On his birthday, some friends of ours brought their Ghostbusters Ectomobile (Ecto-1) car over to surprise my daughter. I got to ride in it and everyone was waving at me. That was fun.


The other night, I found a couple of huge bags of candy on my doorstep. People have been so good to me.

Cyndie and the Ghostbusters car

Nature’s Destruction in 2022


This year, the winds were terrible. They were bad when I was trying to put up the display in September and then, about a week before Halloween, more strong winds and rains destroyed my displays! There were “bodies” all over the yard. It looked like a clown apocalypse! The tent blew down, it was terrible. I just looked out my window and cried. I had worked so hard on the display this year.


It was the first time in 65 years, since I'd started decorating with my dad, that our display wasn’t up and in good shape for Halloween.


Well, next thing you know, Trisha and Janet Hartman of Haunt at Hartman Manor on the west side, who also have amazing Halloween displays, came to the rescue!


They were absolute angels! They came over to help us clean up the yard after the storms. They helped put the tent back up, fixed things and helped us set up the new blow-up Ice Cream Truck that Erin got for me for my Great Pumpkin present.


We are so grateful to the Hartmans and all the other kind people who have helped us over the years. My daughter, Erin says, “The Halloween community is full of the most amazing people ever!”


In early November, I take the outdoor things down, but my indoor decorations stay up all year, 24/7. I have a little snowman Christmas tree, but have no room for it!


Our Christmas is usually a smaller, family gathering. And our gifts are usually Halloween related. My daughter has a Christmas tree that looks like candy corn. We’re a little crazy. And I think my grandson is more into it than I am!

Hoiberg Haunt’s Costume Drive


One day after Halloween, a little boy came by and said, “My cousins wanted to come to your house so badly, but they couldn’t because they didn’t have costumes.” I told him, “Honey, that wouldn’t matter.” He said, “No, they tried to go out last year, but people told them, ‘No costume, no candy’.”


That broke my heart. I told Erin that we have to do something. We had been talking about this for a while before we started. I really didn’t think it would work. Originally, we thought we’d just have kids come to our garage and pick out a costume a couple of weeks before Halloween, but it snowballed with donations! We hope to distribute costumes to needy children before Halloween of 2023. We are looking for a facility to make this possible.



So far, we were able to spend $250 on $2,500 dollars’ worth of costumes! We are grateful to Katie Myers at State Farm, who helped us out with the project. She has been sponsoring us and guiding us. Many of the costumes we found were discounted, 90% off! We shopped in both Janesville and Rockford.


In 2021, we started with 42 brand new costumes from new-born baby size to kids’ large. We didn’t want to limit the giving within a specific age group. Someone could be a young adult with special needs who would love to trick or treat. So, there are a few larger costumes in the bunch.


We have already given some costumes out for this year, as well, and people can reach out to us if they have a need.


People can either donate money for costume purchases or donate costumes. The costumes can also be dropped off at 3515 Randolph Road. Next year, I’d like to rent a facility, like the Warming House at Traxler Park, for distributing these costumes to needy children. Maybe we’ll have some fun Halloween activities for kids, as well.


The Publicity


Between my friend, photographer Kim Hoholek, Katie Myers and my daughter, Erin, we’re getting the word out about the house and the costume charity. Kim’s photos are beautiful! She has really helped to promote me.


The woman from Germany was a reporter back in her country. She was going to try and get an article about me in her German publication. She took photos and everything.


Last year, there was a tourist bus that drove by. The driver stopped to let me know that the passengers wanted to take pictures and such.


I’ve been interviewed in a variety of newspapers, as well.


Future Plans


My grandson comes home in summer. My granddaughter is still young, but I’m training her! They call my daughter, Erin, the Princess of Halloween and she said that since I’m known as the “Queen of Halloween”, that if I have to sit in a wheelchair, we’ll decorate the chair like a candy throne.

I plan to keep doing this. It’s an obsession, but I love it! I can’t seem to retire from it.


I’ve had heart issues in the last few years and tend to overdo it every year at this time. I told my kids that if I die in the yard, they can mummify me and I’ll be a new Halloween piece!


 

Visit and like the Hoiberg Haunt Facebook page for updates and fun photos. To follow Kim Hoholek’s photography and see more spooky and fun Halloween photos, visit and like the Kim Hoholek Photography page on Facebook


Cyndie doesn't like to ask for help or donations for displays. However, Janesville Area Stories would like to suggest that if you’re interested in making a donation specifically to the Hoiberg Haunt, you can contact hoiberghaunt@yahoo.com.