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Be creepy or cancel? North Texas’ trick-or-treat hotspots are split on Halloween festivities

Some neighborhoods have called off celebrations altogether. Others are finding ways to creatively celebrate from a distance.

There’s something more terrifying than usual in the air this Halloween, and it’s causing neighborhoods in North Texas that normally would be preparing for hordes of trick-or-treaters and other ghastly celebrations to reconsider what the spooky season looks like during a pandemic.

Like everything else in 2020, there are differences of opinion on the best way to do so. Some have canceled festivities all together. Others are considering alternative ways to mark the holiday.

Take the residents of Waggoner Drive in central Arlington, for example.

On a good year, they can have as many as 1,300 costumed children stop for candy. Residents get city blockades to keep people from driving down the street, put up elaborate decorations and have an all-out party. One neighbor has a disco ball and dance floor for kids to burn off the extra sugar. Another neighbor — whose birthday is Oct. 31 — makes Jell-O shots for grown-up trick-or-treaters.

But in a pandemic, they’re split on how to celebrate.

Jessica Craig has lived on Waggoner for five Halloweens, and she is in charge of collecting signatures from her neighbors each year to close the street before the influx of trick-or-treaters. In August, she started thinking about what this year might look like and decided to poll her neighbors.

Option one, she said, was to decorate houses like every year but not pass out candy. Option two was a drive-through event, where she’d ask the city to direct traffic one way down Waggoner and have residents — in masks and gloves — pass out individually-wrapped candies at the curb.

“I think it’s important to do something,” Craig said. “Let’s just have this one thing. It’s Halloween — you’ve naturally got a mask on.”

On a typical year, thousands of children flock to Swiss Avenue to trick-or-treat. This year, residents have decided to shut that tradition down. Decorations, though, are still encouraged.
On a typical year, thousands of children flock to Swiss Avenue to trick-or-treat. This year, residents have decided to shut that tradition down. Decorations, though, are still encouraged.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)

She hoped to have a communal decision by Oct. 1, but it was a dead tie, with not quite half of the neighborhood responding. She had to go door-to-door to get the final neck-and-neck vote.

The final tally: decorations only, no trick-or-treating, by just one or two votes, she said.

“I want everyone to be prepared and have thought through this,” Craig said. “It could be utter chaos.”

‘A heartwarming holiday'

In Dallas' posh Swiss Avenue Historic District, Halloween is also serious business.

Homeowners usually put up elaborate decorations and buy truckloads of candy — literally — to pass out to thousands of trick-or-treaters. Vendors arrive early to sell glow sticks and ice cream, and families trek from all corners of the city, sending long lines down the broad avenue from house to house.

Those lines are problematic in a pandemic, said Brian Shultz, the neighborhood association president.

“We get a lot of kids,” he said. “When I say a lot, I mean close to 5,000 kids.”

This year, he started thinking about what was in store for Halloween as early as July. Last month, at the neighborhood’s annual meeting, they discussed their options.

A few homeowners who normally decorate had already decided to not to go ahead with it this year. That meant any remaining homes would likely be inundated with extra trick-or-treaters.

The neighborhood decided to cancel all trick-or-treating, and it has been working to get the word out that there will be no candy on Swiss Avenue this year. They’ve made yard signs to post around the neighborhood warning would-be visitors not to visit on Halloween.

“If we don’t let them know, we’re going to disappoint a lot of kids,” Shultz said.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins urged other residents to do the same. Canceling trick-or-treating, he said, is “critical” in the fight against the virus.

“It’s unlikely that every door that is opened, that the person on the other side of that door, whether it be the trick-or-treater or the homeowner, will have the appropriate masking on,” Jenkins said last week. “If you don’t have small kids, the best thing to do for Halloween for you to protect yourself is just turn that light off and don’t answer the door for the evening.”

Shultz said it was a difficult decision. The festivities on Swiss Avenue bring diverse communities together to celebrate, and he’ll miss providing a safe place for families to trick-or-treat together, he said.

“You wouldn’t necessarily consider Halloween a heartwarming holiday,” Shultz said, “but here it is.”

Grown-up celebrations canceled

For grown-up goblins and ghouls, Dallas' Oak Lawn neighborhood normally brings in thousands of people for its annual block party. The party is organized by Caven Enterprises, which owns JR’s Bar and Grill, Sue Ellen’s, The Rose Room and other major venues nearby.

This year, the clubs are closed, and there’s no way for a major celebration.

An enormous clown costume towers over the massive crowd of costumed party goers for the 2012 Oak Lawn Halloween Street Party in Dallas. The celebration has been canceled for 2020. (Christian Randolph/The Dallas Morning News)
An enormous clown costume towers over the massive crowd of costumed party goers for the 2012 Oak Lawn Halloween Street Party in Dallas. The celebration has been canceled for 2020. (Christian Randolph/The Dallas Morning News)(Christian Randolph)

“We don’t have a choice,” said Christine Bengston, the company’s events coordinator. “There was absolutely no way it could happen.”

Bengston has worked for Caven Enterprises for 35 Halloweens. She said the annual event is crucial for not just their bottom line, but for the whole neighborhood. Normally, it’s their biggest night of the year.

The Halloween cancellation doesn’t just impact the bars, but also the area’s LGBTQ community, for whom Oak Lawn is a cultural epicenter. Bengston said the clubs often serve as fundraiser venues for local organizations that support the LGBTQ community. Those organizations also suffer while the clubs are closed.

“What’s happening is really heartbreaking,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

Drive-through candy

Amid the cancellations, some communities are getting creative to find ways to keep the trick-or-treating tradition intact.

In Cedar Hill, an annual trunk-or-treating event, where people decorate their tailgates and pass out candy in the historic downtown neighborhood, has been adapted to a drive-through event at one of the city’s parks.

Theresa Brooks, a library operations manager with the city, helps plan the annual event with spooky storytellers, live music and more. This year, she said, it was important for the community to still find a way to celebrate safely.

“It is really an event that this community embraces,” she said. “People love seeing each other in this community. People have really missed each other.”

The solution is a mile-long drive-through, where families will collect pre-packaged bags of candy without ever leaving their vehicle. She said the city has already tried similar drive-through events at the library, and it hopes it can serve as a model for future events to keep residents connected with the city.

“We feel like we can do this safely,” she said. “We’re still here. We’re still trying to be innovative to serve you.”

Charles Scudder, Staff writer. Charlie Scudder is a general assignment reporter and has worked on the features and news desks for five years. He's also an adjunct professor at UNT's Mayborn School of Journalism. Raised in Colleyville, he is a graduate of both Southern Methodist University and Indiana University.

cscudder@dallasnews.com @cscudder
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