COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — There's a lot of heart behind the haunting Halloween scenes at a Council Bluffs home.
Take a stroll past the west end home, inhabited by Council Bluffs newcomer Patti Butts and part of her family, and an extravagant holiday display awaits.
Passersby will hear ominous sounds — cackling witches and heckling skeletons among a bone-chilling sound bed — as they creep past dismembered heads, towering beasts and a vast assortment of other electricity-powered and still Halloween decorations.
It would appear that Butts' Halloween scene has it all; however, there's one thing, or person, missing.
Patti Butts lost her husband, Chuck Butts Sr., in April 2016, exactly one year after he was diagnosed with Stage Four lung cancer in 2015.
The Omaha natives met in 1987 while working across the Missouri River for North American Van Lines. He was a truck driver and she was a receptionist. It didn't take long for the two to start dating and, not long after, get married.
Butts told The Daily Nonpareil that the two bonded quickly after discussing their favorite holiday. To each of their delight, they found that they both shared a love of Halloween.
"That's when we knew we were good," she said with a laugh. "We were a match, that's for sure."
The two celebrated Halloween in grand fashion every year after that. From parties to elaborate decorations and costumes to watching horror flicks or visiting haunted houses, the Butts' love for the holiday was one of their greatest bonds. They went all out, especially when it came to decorating the yard.
In 1992, the couple moved to Wausa, Nebraska, to raise their four kids for 20 years out in the countryside. Once they had all graduated from high school and were out of the house, the Butts moved to Blair, Nebraska, in 2010, where the two each had family nearby. They lived there until Chuck Butts' passing, but Patti Butts said she didn't want to be alone after that.
"I just couldn't do it anymore," she said. "There were too many ghosts in that house."
Patti Butts wouldn't be alone, as the couple's children promised their dad that they would take care of her when he was gone, just as they did while he was fighting cancer.
With her eldest daughter, Michelle Mabbitt, living in Council Bluffs and having other family members close by, Butts chose to make the move to the metro area.
Butts found her home and moved in this past June. Joining her were her daughter, Erica, her son-in-law, Jorden Parker, and three of her four grandkids — Nicole, 12, Gage, 4, and Denver, 2.
Life has certainly changed for Patti Butts, but Chuck Butts' memory lives on. That's why, a few weeks ago, out came the incredible inventory of Halloween props and decorations Patti and her husband collected over the years.
"Every year, we just added and added and added to our collection," she said.
And her efforts aren't going unnoticed. She said there's always a crowd outside of her house. Ninth Avenue is sometimes backed up as motorists wait in line to turn south down 34th Street to catch a glimpse of the display.
"Every night we go out there and kids are posing next to it and having their photos taken, or you have people driving by recording videos," she said.
"It's great to see the feedback," Jorden Parker added. "It's really cool to see so many people enjoy what we've put so much effort into. And that makes you want to keep doing it."
And Butts said that she knows her late husband would be overjoyed to know that his family's Halloween tradition didn't end with his death.
"I think that he's happy and he's not suffering anymore," she said. "He's with us everywhere he go, and I know he'll be with us on Halloween."
What's more, the Butts' son, Steve, is set to marry his fiancee, Jessica Eberle, in Las Vegas on Oct. 31 for a Halloween-themed wedding. Eberle lost her mother, Maria, who also shared a love of Halloween, to cancer when she was just 18. Butts said Chuck and Maria's photos will be displayed and a moment of silence held to honor the two. Thirteen family members will travel out to celebrate new and old love alike, all while donning their best costumes.
Looking ahead to the special day, Patti Butts also reflected on life without her love. She said, during Chuck Butts' battle with cancer, that her husband often expressed that it was too early for him to go.
"I couldn't figure out why he had to go at 54 years old," she said. "Our life just started. We just raised our kids, so it should be me and him all over again."
Patti Butts knows life is all about "taking the good with the bad," and she keeps her and her husband's tradition going to remember the good times they shared.
"It's been tough," she said. "Chuck was our rock. So now we're just trying to keep his memory alive."
Information from: The Daily Nonpareil, http://www.nonpareilonline.com