If you’d been living in Austin in the 1970s and ran with a certain crowd, you’d have gotten wind of a big party coming on Halloween at the house on Helms Street. If you happened to show up in your costume on October 31, 1977, a Monday night, you would certainly look askance at the fellow working the door. He is clad in a Smokey-the-Bear ranger felt hat bearing a gold badge, government-issue pants with a stripe up each leg, and a matching uniform-style shirt with epaulets, buttoned pocket flaps, and a Texas Youth Commission arm patch. He carries a realistic-looking pistol in a holster and a nightstick. You wonder, since when does Helms Street need police? [Note: The author was that cop.]
You wander in and avail yourself of a beer from the ice-filled washtub and some snacks laid out on a table. Choices include chips, pretzels, nuts, cookies, crackers, veggies, and various sauces. Uproarious laughter erupts from the structure itself, so you make your way inside. You’re impressed by both the haunted feeling of the house and the alternative lifestyle obvious to the place. Adjacent to the back door is the kitchen. Beyond that lies the big living room, entrance, and stairway. You do a quick 20-20 around this space, then venture up the wooden stairs to the second floor. This level consists of four big dormers, which seem to shrink the space the farther up you go. Here are four of the six bedrooms, and each is inhabited by different tenants and thus is distinctly decorated. Black light posters hang in several places, and folks are everywhere hanging out in their various costumes, if they’re wearing anything at all.
© 2014 Howie Richey
Howie goes on to describe the glory days of the Helms House sound tracked by the Grateful Dead's "Lady with a Fan." The house must have been foretelling as Kathleen Lucente, a self-proclaimed deadhead, stepped foot in the Helms House decades later to establish Red Fan Communications and continue the home's rolling legacy of creative inhabitants.
It you’d like to read on, “Party Weird” is available for purchase at BookPeople, Barnes and Noble and Amazon. We recommend picking up a copy to read more about Halloween at the Helms House and other festival and fringe gatherings, showcasing Austin in all its former and, well, current glory.