By Derrick Perkins (Photo/Erich Wagner)
Lee Street is the place to be on Halloween, but Old Town residents and city officials fear the annual tradition is spiraling out of control.
The fall community ritual dates back years, though pinpointing its exact start remains nearly impossible. Each Halloween, neighbors try to outdo one another with home decorations before stocking up on candy and waiting for the annual onslaught of trick-or-treaters from across the region.
But after last year’s blowout, which included a live broadcast by a radio station, concerns that the neighborhood tradition is getting carried away are on the rise.
“The past few years, I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars on candy,” said resident Amy Bayer. “I sit on my stoop and there are kids 10-deep the entire night and they are pushing, the police officers are blowing whistles … it just became icky. It was nuts.”
Bayer has neighbors who still love the tradition, but she’s hardly alone. Jack Browand, division chief with the city’s recreation, parks and cultural activities department, said his staff began talking with neighbors after hearing how large the gathering has become. It’s not a city-sponsored event, though officials routinely dispatch police officers to shut down streets to traffic and keep an eye on the revelry.
“It started out years ago as a community gathering, slowly building steam until it got quite large,” he said. “That’s why we just kind of initiated the conversation with the community with regard to where is this event going. It’s actually started getting quite large and becoming more of an event.
“So how do we manage this event, when it’s not really an event? That’s kind of what this whole thing was.”
Joined by representatives from the police department, Browand’s staff sat down with neighbors last month. Resident Twig Murray called it a productive session. Though more meetings are on the horizon, early ideas include re-opening the street to traffic earlier in the night.
Removing the traffic barriers might deter some of the late-night rowdiness, Murray said.
“Basically, we were just trying to figure out how we could make it better for everybody,” she said. “I think that if they simply try to clear the streets earlier in the evening, it’s not going to stop people from doing traditional trick-or-treating, but we’re hoping we’re not going to get the big crowds of adults and older teenagers. Just try and tone it down.”
And neighbors who no longer want to participate always have the option of turning the lights off and keeping their doors shut. That’s what Bayer may end up doing this year.
“I guess you can [greet trick-or-treaters] at 5 o’clock and then shut off the lights,” she said. “I don’t want to be a total curmudgeon, but I also think it’s lost its fun. It’s lost its sense of neighborhood spirit.”