Enticing hordes of trick-or-treaters, neighbors decorate for Halloween as if Hollywood were filming a scary movie sequel in their yards.
By LEONORA LaPETER
Published October 31, 2004
[Times photo: Bob Croslin]
Murray Beairsto's house on 18th Avenue NE in St. Petersburg is decorated in the neighborhood spirit: all out for Halloween in the Old Northeast. Little "ghosts,'' Macie Beairsto, left, and Tatum Llewellyn play in the yard on Friday. The ghostly look was created with an off-camera flash and 15-second exposure.
ST. PETERSBURG - Ginger Jones is expecting 2,000 costumed children at her front door on 17th Avenue NE tonight.
This is what happens when you have neighbors who are into Halloween.
Someone does a spookhouse in his garage. Someone else sets out a scary coffin. The neighbors get together and ask the city to close the street for the night. A neighbor with a portable toilet business puts one out. Another neighbor starts spinning cotton candy.
Pretty soon, over the course of 30 years or so, you have an event that's drawing not only kids in the neighborhood, but kids from outside the city.
"The first years, you could stay inside your house and let the doorbell ring, and now I liken it to Disney World. It's like lines," said Jones, 56, who has lived in her yellow-brick home for 25 years. "Last year, we had 1,700 (trick-or-treaters). We tell people that and nobody ever believes us because it's a bizarre number. You have to see it to believe it."
In Tampa's Hyde Park neighborhood, hundreds of little goblins and Spidermen pack the broad streets and tree-lined sidewalks every year.
Children from other neighborhoods arrive in cars or vans that drop them at one end of a street and pick them up at the other end, said Anita Spoffard.
"We just love Halloween," she said, relaxing on her porch swing on shady Willow Avenue with a book, under a weathered papier-mache bat. "The more, the merrier," she said.
Her husband, 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son all plan to dress up for what turns into a virtual block party.
Mary Crino said she feels another kind of Halloween pressure. She lives across the street from a large yellow house decked out with lights, draping spider webs and skeletons. She and her other neighbor followed suit with their own decorations to keep up.
No one is put out by all the additional children from other parts of town that flood into the neighborhood, she said, as her two children finished their ice cream on the front walkway.
Across town in the upscale Culbreath Isles, where some homes go for more than $2-million, the community leaders brought in extra security for Halloween a few years ago after some rowdy teenagers streamed through the streets intimidating younger children and throwing eggs. But the day is orderly now, said longtime resident Marsha Dickey.
The children and their parents take part in a parade that starts at 5 p.m. The attraction: decorated golf carts.
Such is life in a Halloween go-to neighborhood, a phenomenon that can be found in cities throughout the Tampa Bay region.
In St. Petersburg alone, residents along 17 city streets have asked that their streets be blocked to traffic for Halloween festivities during the weekend, including six blocks in the Old Northeast tonight.
Charlie Burnette, the sergeant in charge of special events for the St. Petersburg Police Department, said he got so many requests to close streets, he turned away a half-dozen this year. Though other streets have equally impressive crowds on Halloween, many consider 17th Avenue NE the epicenter of Halloween festivities in the Old Northeast. Here, it's a tradition that has grown year after year, that those who move out of the neighborhood pass on to those who move in: an expectation that each person will do their part to keep it going, kind of like a well-oiled bicycle.
"Whether it mushroomed because of my spookhouse, I don't know," said Hayden Knowlton, 62, an insurance consultant who has lived in the neighborhood since 1972 and turned his garage into a haunted house back in the '70s. "We started blocking off the road in the mid '80s to avoid having children hit by cars. . . . Now it's camaraderie with neighbors."
Just about everyone has a story about raiding their kids' haul to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters while someone ran to the store for more candy. Residents in this affluent neighborhood spend $100 to $200 for candy.
"It's like Times Square; there are throngs of people," said Greg Creamer, a flower shop owner who has been spinning cotton candy for about 15 years and handed out 1,000 cones last Halloween before he ran out. "You'd think it was a city-sponsored event if you saw it."
Doug Gates, a financial adviser at Raymond James, said Halloween wasn't a big deal at his house before he moved into this neighborhood. Now it is. He remembers the previous owner of his home asking him, "Do you like Halloween?"
He acknowledges he has gone overboard with one of the most elaborate sets in the neighborhood, but he and his family take their part seriously. At first, they designed a set with a new theme each year. They would work on it for weeks in advance: Frankenstein one year, space aliens the next, a patriotic theme the year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Now they've settled on a permanent set, a dungeon that gets added to annually. A guillotine joined it this year. There are saws and skeletons, fog machines and an electric chair. Even gooey eyeballs and livers.
Some homeowners don't like crowds on their street and simply shut their lights off and close their doors. Most homeowners, however, participate and don't mind that it's grown.
Ginger Meidel, who has lived about 17 years in the neighborhood, is the official record keeper for the unofficial event. She gives out two Pixy Stix to each child and provides a count at the end of the night for other neighbors. When she moved in 17 years ago, about 250 kids came. This year, she's bought 4,400 Pixy Stix - two for each child she expects to line up at her door.