(From left to right) Sandy Dennis, David Dennis and Mary Pastore created an interior Halloween display with an "under the sea" theme for 1-year-old Justin Monroe at Pastore's house in Narragansett. Monroe, born premature, could not go out trick or treating this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

NARRAGANSETT – One-and-a-half-year-old Justin Monroe has missed out on many early life experiences due to being born premature and the arrival of COVID-19. With the coronavirus recently surging locally and across the country, Halloween this year was looking like yet another lost opportunity. However, deciding that something could still be done to make the event memorable, Monroe’s family got creative in celebrating the spooky holiday, constructing an entirely interior Halloween display for “the little guy.”

“He’s lost out on so much,” said Sandy Dennis, Monroe’s great aunt. “Even though he’s still too young to understand it all, he loved it. Hopefully it’s something he will remember.”

Dennis and her husband, David, run a non-profit art network out of Fall River, Mass., and with the pandemic disrupting their regular work, they were aching to flex their creative muscles when they learned Monroe could not go out trick or treating this year due to the risk of exposure. Sensing a unique opportunity, the Dennis’ began work on an elaborate Halloween display with an “under the sea” twist that matched up with Monroe’s affinities. A fan of the sea and the life within it, Monroe was treated to a finished product, which spans almost the entire first and second floors of Monroe’s great grandmother, Mary Pastore’s, house in Narragansett. The display features boards painted and fastened together to represent a sprawling ocean, decorative fish, an artificial sunset, an animated section heavily paying homage to the Disney/Pixar film “Finding Nemo,” a paper shipwreck and accompanying treasure chest and a makeshift mermaid and docks with seagulls. Monroe dressed as a shark for the festivities.

“Because of COVID, he wasn’t going to go out trick or treating, and we couldn’t have people to the house or other kids over because of the exposure,” said Dennis. “Justin can walk, but he decided to crawl up the stairs, and he looked like a little shark going into the ocean.”

Children who are born premature can have weakened immune systems and other health concerns.

Dennis and her husband, being no strangers to the creative arts, had many materials already in place to create the display. The rest of the effort was only a matter of doing what they do best.

“As I was doing one thing, it led to another thing and another thing, it kind of snowballed into a little bit more than just decorating the stairway,” said Dennis. “It was fun and we all enjoyed it with him and for him. I think he was a little overwhelmed. As young as he is, you can tell he got it. I think the adults enjoyed it as much as he did.”

The display, which features various characters from “Finding Nemo” equipped with scuba goggles, and transforms into a traditional Halloween exhibit on the downstairs portion of the house, complete with jack-o-lanterns, took about two weeks to complete. Not wanting Monroe to miss out on perhaps the best aspect of Halloween, candy and toys were stashed throughout the display and hunting them down was a task assigned to the toddler for the evening.

“We do a lot of this kind of stuff and because of COVID, we haven’t been able to do a lot of this kind of programming,” said Dennis. “So I said let’s get creative for the little guy this year.”

The finished product also features music and lights to complete the exhibit.


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