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A Skeleton Masquerade Makes for One Magnificent Birthday Party

A Skeleton Masquerade Makes for One Magnificent Birthday Party

The premise is bone-chilling: Guests arrive in their gothic best for a six-year-old's birthday celebration that's guaranteed to become the stuff of legend—that is, should anyone in attendance live to tell the tale.

Meet Your Haunting Hosts

Don't be frightened by the trio dressed bare-boned before you. The Von Eschens are a family of familiar faces, having hosted an October birthday party for their son Eli with jaw-dropping otherworldly themes—namely, lumberjacks lost in the woods and swashbuckling pirates in years prior. Eli's mom and planner of the party, Shannon Von Eschen, says that this year's theme was inspired by a photograph that still haunts her: a single balloon covered in black tulle. "It was enough to spark a whole rabbit hole of inspiration for me that turned into what was, eventually, an amazing Skeleton Masquerade Party!" she exclaims. "And as Eli and and I have always loved all things Halloween, using our beloved 'Bones' (the decorative skeleton) again was just a ton of fun—a skele-ton!" 

 

Pictured here: Shannon, husband and father Jason, and the six-year-old birthday boy Eli, all dressed for the occasion in "black tie."

Enter an Eerie Abode

Where to host such a masquerade? The event was housed at the historic century-old Valmont School House, which is owned by the family and hidden in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The weather itself seemed to cater to the affair: the forecast was dark and dreary. "Mist," Shannon says, "actually fell from those low-lying clouds that day."

R.S.V.P. or R.I.P.

A childhood friend of Shannon's, Cassie Jahn, hand-painted the invitations to bear smoky, ink-spilled designs, the silhouette of a jiving skeleton mid-step, and a promise of hors d'ouerves all in stark black and white. Each one was packaged in a black envelope, closed with a golden wax seal, and mailed with a mix of stamps both vintage (from Virginia Sauder) and new (from Zazzle). Upon further read, they invite the recipient to, "now come shake your bones."

A Ghoulish Guest List

Even for the macabre, it's essential to invite the life of the party. Over fifty guests were asked to don their finest masquerade attire for the evening: bedazzled skull jewelry, black ties, ethereal tulle skirts, and top hats. After all, who says one must forgo luxury in the afterlife?

  • Mystery Man
    Mystery Man

    Frank Crabbs (Shannon's father and Eli's lovingly nicknamed "Papa") arrived in a dapper suit jacket and top hat. A long-nosed Venetian mask was his chosen disguise, and when he revealed himself beneath the mask, they realized: "And he, my father, painted his own beard black so he could truly fit the vibe and character of the party. We all just about died when we saw him walk in!"

  • Bone-ified Beauty
    Bone-ified Beauty

    Kendall Von Eschen (Eli's aunt) transformed herself, from head to toe, into a skeleton. A draping tulle skirt and top hat completes the elegant ensemble.

  • Double Trouble
    Double Trouble

    Everyone in the family was gifted with a skeleton shirt. These two merrymakers arrived to the door in matching outfits (and matching smiles).

  • Bone-ified Beauty
    Bone-ified Beauty

    Kendall Von Eschen (Eli's aunt) transformed herself, from head to toe, into a skeleton. A draping tulle skirt and top hat completes the elegant ensemble.

  • Mystery Man
    Mystery Man

    Frank Crabbs (Shannon's father and Eli's lovingly nicknamed "Papa") arrived in a dapper suit jacket and top hat. A long-nosed Venetian mask was his chosen disguise, and when he revealed himself beneath the mask, they realized: "And he, my father, painted his own beard black so he could truly fit the vibe and character of the party. We all just about died when we saw him walk in!"

  • Double Trouble
    Double Trouble

    Everyone in the family was gifted with a skeleton shirt. These two merrymakers arrived to the door in matching outfits (and matching smiles).

Dark Disguises

Upon arrival at the door, guests could pick from a closet fully stocked with masks, hats, and party props. Eli's uncle Alan Crabbs designed and printed a batch of skeleton shirts, one for each member of the family. "It was an amazing sight to see," Shannon says, "and we all looked like we'd just hopped off a fancy horse and carriage to a night-time haunted party of dancing fun!"

Dearly Departed Musicians

A masquerade ball is nothing without an orchestral set. Perhaps most unnerving was the eerie, ghostly music that filled the room and set the mood—played by an unseen band. Here, a masked violinst was found to be sitting up straight in his chair, instrument in hand. The cobwebs stretching out from the corners seemed to indicate that he's doomed to play forever.

A Creepy Cocktail Hour

Clink glasses! A skeleton butler held a tray of sparkling water in champagne flutes, each one adorned in black ribbon bows and bubbling mysteriously.

Dining with the Dead

There was nothing bare bones about this sit-down dinner. At the main table: taper candles were arranged in bottles for a glowing centerpiece, place settings laid out with antique flatware were lent by Karen Vaught (a close family friend), and candelabras were suspended overhead (also from Vaught). The surface itself was draped in cloths colored black as midnight. Aside from the living guests, twelve skeletons donning masquerade attire were in attendance: Two at the piano bar, three on the carriage, one against the wall, one violinist, a bartender, a butler, two guests of honor at the head-table, and one (who Shannon says, "we called the 'life of the party,'") dropped in from the attic, champagne glass in hand. 

What's Your Poison?

This glittering figure—encrusted with thousands of rhinestones, beads, and faux pearls—was seen emerging from an oval-shaped mirror (from Grandin Road). At the party, he dutifully served as the bartender. Black water, grape juice, and cans of soda (that had been hand-painted black and adorned with bat wings) filled the top of the bar, as well as the surrounding bins.

A Sinister Swarm

A flock of bats descended though a hole in the ceiling and scaled the walls. Among them, there were 300 balloons (including two large, strategically placed balloon chandeliers that hung, centered, over the large banquet table). Since the ceiling and walls of the old school house are made entirely of plaster, each balloon had to be painstakingly hung by fishing line from the 18-foot ceiling. It took nearly 6 hours to complete this installation, but the impact was breathtaking. "Eli has the best Daddy ever," Shannon says, "and I, for sure, have the greatest husband!"

Perk-Up for Phantoms

For a savory-sweet pick-me-up, a coffee bar presented chocolate and espresso doughnuts, hot apple cider, and chocolate bites. "All which came in quite handy," Shannon adds, "given that it had rained the night before the party and the day of—entirely setting our eerie mood!"

Delectable Delights

Multiple tables were set with food and desserts, buffet style. Everything was homemade by Eli's aunt Kendall and grandmother Cheryl Wu with one request: all of the dishes prepared would look dark and almost black in color. "From the traditional cookies and cakes to black grapes and black sesame balls," Shannon says, "there was a mixture of food for everyone."

  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party table decor cookies candles skull
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party caramel apples on fancy silver tray
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party gold skull on tray with dark bread slices
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party woman holding skull mask cookie
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party food popcorn close up with skeleton hands
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party food cheese ball skull knife grapes close up
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party food pastry dessert feathers on tray
  • eli skeleton masquerade birthday party food skeleton statue holding tray of cookies

DIY Bats Easy as 1-2-3

For the children, a crafting station laid out everything they needed to make a small pet bat of their own: pipe-cleaners, feathers, and felt all in black. When done, the kids could reach up into the boughs of a spooky tree, which Eli's Papa painted by hand, and hang their bats on display.

Trick or Treat

In this more mischevious party game, children lined up to take turns punching their tiny fists into cups covered in black tissue paper. What was inside? That's the fun. Some contained prizes, others contained cold spaghetti or dollops of whipped cream. "The kids faces, when they learned that they'd punched the wrong cup, was priceless!" Shannon exclaims. Each cup was stocked by Eli's uncles Michael and Alan, and Papa Frank.

Grave Goody Bags

and the kids were given scavenger-hunt bags, designed by Eli's Uncle, Alan. They had a blast hunting all over for the tiny, hidden gems.

Mini Masqueraders

On his special day, the birthday boy even made a new friend: "She was the daughter of one of my closest friends and the two had never met," Shannon recalls. "Though we weren't all that surprised, they hit it off, and played, and laughed, and danced in that doorway, for nearly 20 minutes."

Spectral Inscriptions

The writing is on the wall and elegantly written indeed. Cassie Jahn (in mirroring the invitations) scripted the signage seen throughout the party, including this quote on a chalkboard. It's origin? You may recognize it as being sung by Jack Skellington's character in "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

Devilish Dessert

A sweet-tooth best beware: This irresistible black-fondant cake was bedecked in a swarm of bats. All of Eli's cakes were made by Kendall: a few miniature varieties—such as the dark chocolate and raspberry one—and this tiered showstopper. Shannon added the wired winged bats. "It was such a centerpiece and Eli just loved it!" Shannon gushes, "easily one of my most favorite cakes to date."

A Grand Departure

Rolling in with pomp and circumstance was this working, horse-drawn carriage courtesy of Eli's Papa. As the master woodworker of CreekSide Tree Nursery, he crafted it perfectly to size for Eli and his friends. Shannon completed the carriage with tattered black curtains and rigged two skeleton ponies to the front. Bones the skeleton and his masked date sat side by side. "My father has made some amazing props for me over the course of Eli's life (namely a pirate ship, a jailhouse, fire-pits, a ship's wheel, tables, and endless crates, frames, and candles)," Shannon says, "but this black carriage was one of his best creations yet!"

"

"I let him walk in with his eyes closed and when he finally peeked threw his fingers, he threw his hands in the air and his arms went overhead! He squealed at all the skeletons and ran to the skeleton horse-drawn carriage, and immediately asked to get in."

"

Credits

Photography, Event Design & Styling: Shannon Von Eschen | @shannonvoneschen
Family Portraits: Laura Murray | @lauramurray
Food & Desserts: Cheryl Wu & Kendall Von Eschen | kendallvoneschen
Cakes: Kendall Von Eschen
Carriage, Outdoor Signage & Wooden Props: Frank Crabbs of CreekSide Tree Nursery
Invitations & Signage: Cassie Jahn | @cass_rose
Vintage Stamps: Virginia Sauder
Skeleton Stamps: Zazzle  
Hanging Balloons & Balloon Chandelier: Jason Von Eschen
Scavenger Hunt Bags & Skeleton Shirts: Alan Crabbs
Vintage Props: Amy Von Eschen  
Antique Flatware & Candelabras: Karen Vaught
Bartender Skeleton: Grandin Road | @grandinroad