As master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe makes a natural Halloween muse. Books feature the celebrated author's tales, setting the tone of our party. A vintage typewriter puts an exclamation point on the literary theme.
Before dinner, let guests mingle around a wickedly indulgent wine and cheese spread, including black fruits, crackers and breads. Play classical music in the background. (Try a web search for "somber music." Our pick: Bach's "Come Sweet Death.")
Squat, stemless Cinderella pumpkins work great as pedestals for cheese trays. We chalked our own black labels for cheeses and wine bottles. Let tarnished silver pieces add to the dark ambience; use them as unique perches for small pumpkins. Spray-paint branches white or black and anchor them in tall cylindrical vases for eerie accents. Last, coat an old mirror with torn book pages and layers of decoupage medium to reflect ghostly images of your guests.
We made easy place mats by taping together Poe book pages. Layer black dessert plates (paper plates work, too) and napkins on top of your own dinnerware. A pressed leaf, topped with a personal take-home gift, adds fall color.
Give guests pocket journals, with the first page of a different classic Poe tale (such as "The Pit and the Pendulum") attached. At dinner, have guests recite a selected paragraph of their tale out loud. The horror-filled fables are certain to spark interesting conversation. Then ask them to write their own true-life scary stories in their journals for a fun roundtable recitation later.
In the chandelier, a raven looms over the dinner party. We painted flea market chairs to match our black table. (But another decor option is to wrap chair backs, or drape the table, with inexpensive black fabric.) Stacks of used black books form the centerpiece. Throw pillows continue a color scheme of rust, dark green, cream and black that we pulled from various pumpkin species.
Used bookstores offer a wealth of inexpensive titles. We chose only black tomes and stacked them all over the house. On the dining table, they became varied-height pedestals for pumpkins and vases of dried flowers.
After dinner, move the storytelling away from the table with a tantalizing sideboard of dark and decadent sweets. We used a tiered server (stacked cake plates or plates on pumpkins would work as well) to offer black jelly beans, votive cups filled with licorice sticks and wrapped dark chocolates. Framed and scattered colorful dried leaves add an easy and cost-free decorative element.
Send your guests home with mini takeout boxes tied with string and topped with "skeleton leaves" (all available at crafts stores). Fill each box with pretty fall-motif cookies, one last Poe tale and chocolates (hearts reminiscent of Poe's "Tell-Tale Heart," perhaps?) to remind guests of the spooky evening's events.
Have you hosted a great Halloween party for adults? We've love for you to share your ideas in the Comments section below, or upload photos in the Decorating section of our Photos area.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2009.)