Halloween decoration sparks controversy, spurs conversation on race

A skeleton decoration hangs from a tree in Fitchburg.
A skeleton decoration hangs from a tree in Fitchburg.(WMTV/Lou Thao)
Published: Sep. 30, 2020 at 10:18 PM CDT
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FITCHBURG, Wis. (WMTV) - On the corner of Williamsburg Way and Frontier Lane, a skeleton hung by its neck in a tree.

“I condemn this,” Fitchburg mayor Aaron Richardson wrote to NBC15. “I find the imagery disgusting and it has no place in our community.” He further explained the issue Wednesday in a press release, after a photo of the display circulated on social media.

The “concerning ‘decoration’” as Richardson called it in his release, hung on the other end of the homeowner’s lawn, packed with Halloween-themed props. The skeleton has been removed as of late Wednesday.

Michael Johnson, the CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, shared a photo of the display, initiating a conversation about race. “Given the times that we’re in and given what nooses represent to African Americans and their families in this community, it could be traumatizing,” he said. “On top of that you have people who have lost loved ones from hanging themselves.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, said more than 4,700 lynchings occurred in the United States between 1882 and 1968. Nearly 73 percent of the people lynched during the same period were Black.

“Especially here in a district that is predominantly made up of people of color, that can be a trigger for folks,” said Alder Joe Maldonado, who represents the neighborhood where the incident occurred.

But neighbor Nicholas Schoenick described the homeowner to be “big on the holidays,” that he “is not the type of guy who’d intentionally do anything racially insensitive." Schoenick continued, "I think he’s just trying to stick with the Halloween theme.”

According to the release, Fitchburg police spoke with the homeowner and requested a removal of the decoration, despite violating no local laws. “The resident was completely understanding of the concerns and stated they had had no ill intent behind the decoration,” the mayor wrote.

NBC15 watched a man drive up to the home and take down the skeleton. He said he was not the homeowner and declined to comment any further.

NBC15 also reached out to the homeowner directly but did not get a response to questions.

“I’m going to give this gentleman the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he did not know and hopefully he’ll use it as a teachable moment,” Johnson said, adding, “I’d caution people putting up Halloween displays.”

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