What to do about Halloween

Garden gnome and friends, photo by forty42two Every year the Town of Chapel Hill gears up for the enormous crowds that come to Franklin Street on Halloween, whether we want them to or not. I've been participating in this ritual on and off since I was an undergrad at UNC (in other words, a long time) and I think it has value for the community. While some individuals will always take it too far, most people are engaging in a healthy type of creative expression that is rare for adults.

I think the Town has done a good job of prohibiting alcohol and trying to control traffic. I also applaud the police department for understanding that this is event is a force of nature that can be controlled (somewhat) but not stopped. I'd like to suggest that we charge admission to the area. I think this would help keep the worst elements out of the mix and help pay for the enormous cost of hosting a Halloween party for revellers from across central North Carolina.

Town officials have discussed implementing a curfew, charging for entrance to Franklin Street, offering alternate activities and closing bars early, Mayor Kevin Foy said Wednesday.

"The trend is toward larger and larger crowds; the trend is toward longer and longer nights, and that's a trend that we need to reverse," Foy said.

The plans are in the preliminary phase; a group of town leaders will meet next week to go into more detail. But Foy said the town will focus on decreasing the number of people who come downtown from other cities.

"I think the first thing is to make it clear to people that they're not invited," Foy said. "It's a local party."

The Halloween celebration regularly attracts about 80,000 people and costs more than $200,000 to secure, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said.

- The Daily Tarheel:  Hosting Halloween too costly?, 8/21/08

80,000 is an incredible number when you realize just over 120,000 people (including children) live in all of Orange County, less than half of that in Chapel Hill. Here are some more photos of people enjoying Halloween on Franklin Street:

  Haunted house, photo by forty42two     Drivers license, photo by Te lo juro por Madonna     Bumble bee, photo by forty42two        Living portrait, photo by Te lo juro por Madonna    




Did you have a $ figure in mind? I'm not sure how much you'd have to charge to keep the worst elements out of the mix but I suspect that whatever that figure might be it would be prohibitively punitive to the students who are just interested in some good-natured fun. Of course, students do seem to have more disposable income than when I was in school so...maybe not.

I don't have anything specific in mind, but how about $3 to $5?
Charging for access would probably be a misguided attempt to prohibit "the worst elements". You'll simply push those elements to the fringe of the event. That said, I do agree with some kind of admission to the event in order to recoup the costs involved for both the town and Franklin Street merchants who close for the event.

They had a worse problem than we have, with many arrests and "riot" and near riot-like situations.  Last year, they charged $7 on-site and $5 in advance for admission and fenced in State Street, while adding a food court and entertainment stages for live bands in two locations.

The "purists" thought it was too managed, too commercial and too expensive. They did have fewer arrests however.

Ruby wrote - "Every year the Town of Chapel Hill gears up for the enormous crowds that come to Franklin Street on Halloween, whether we want them to or not. I've been participating in this ritual on and off since I was an undergrad at UNC (in other words, a long time) and I think it has value for the community."

Can't something just be fun? What's with the over analyzing? Value to the community? IT'S FUN! Isn't that good enough????

Also, if you tried to keep "certain elements" out of, say, a neighborhood by raising housing costs, people would cry "racism" "elitism" or something like that. Again, double standards reign on this board...

 And Kevin Foy...wow...this guy just keeps getting worse. Now it's a private party?  Maybe only wealthy, arrogant  mayor-lawyers and town council members should be allowed to come...

Looks good on paper, but enforcing that plan to the masses is another story.  I could see many students sneaking in to the crowd without paying admission.  In addition, charging admission may create other problems to local businesses on Halloween.  Would employees of these businesses have to pay? 

So Dave,

If an event is costing the Community $200,000+ they don't have a right to ask what the value of that event is to the community? And since when did it become Chapel Hill's responsibility to throw a party for the whole state? I've even heard of people coming from VA, TN and SC for this event.

Are you suggesting that people have a right to ask for corresponding value in relation to their costs??? Careful...

ok, let's start charging for bus service then. but we won't do that because it hurts the "poor". guess what? we are still paying for bus services. nothing is free. but that's what taxes go for.

By the way, i DO think we should only fund things that are of service to the community. but would Ruby even be asking this question if the money was going toward some kind of social event like "Don't Hurt the Earth" Day? or "Let's Re-educate People Because Cars are Bad" Day?

the value to the community is that the Halloween event is FUN.  there doesn't have to be an agenda behind EVERYTHING. can't something be of value just because it's enjoyable??? jeesh! Ok, how about we make it a GREEN Halloween, where everyone recycles their beer after their body processes it and we funnel the contents into a Prius. After that we'll compost the pumpkins that people carry around and grow some love and harmony in the garden of peace...




I'm not saying that we shouldn't fund something if it's only value to the Community is that it is FUN. I'm saying that when costs become prohibitively high one has to determine how much FUN we can afford - or how much we're willing to spend. We all have to make those kinds of decisions in our everday lives and communities have to do the same. When we put a referendum for parks, swimming pools, etc. on the ballot isn't that what we're asking the citizens to do? -to decide how much they're willing to pay for fun?

Don't feed the trolls.


mark, ruby - so i'm a troll because i think or speak differently than you do?  i do believe you have my name and real email address, therefore i am no troll - i stand behind everything i have ever written on this board.

here's what i think - i think this board smells of self-importance and arrogance - so called "tolerant" people that REFUSE to see that there just might, might be a different way to do or see things.

So congrats, Mr. Mayor and Ms. Administrator - once again, tolerance reigns in the white tower kingdom of the "progressives"...I think you kinda enjoy hearing yourselves talk and having people agree with you, so have at it. do you guys really wonder why most Americans think politicians are self-serving and don't even care what they think, and that left-wingers are elitist?

goodbye cruel board, i'm leaving you today, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye...

george - at least your response was sensible. thank you! everyone pays taxes so sooner or later you are going to be paying for something you don't like, but that's the way it goes in a democracy. over the long haul it ususally ends up pleasing most of us...



At the risk of defying my own comment . . . Dave, you and I know each other.  I know you have brought some useful dialogue onto OP, but the last couple of posts I have seen from you have been primarily about attacking OP and Ruby Sinreich for supposed intolerance.  No one is deleting your comments.  Your user id is still valid.  You can post here.  You aren't being suppressed or oppressed. 

You are just angry and trying to be provocative (as opposed to thought provoking).  In my book that's trolling.  The comment of yours that I referred to as trolling  (two or three comments above) throws an attack at Ruby because . . . why?  Trolling.

In any event, if you think it is important to have disagreements here at OP (which I also think it is), then what's wrong with having a disagreement about the value of some of thsoe comments?  I think you were trying to provoke an argument for its own sake and that the path you were trying to lead us down was not leading to a meaningful discussion.

Dave's entitled to his opinion and your indiscreet comment is unworthy of your office.



How was Mark's comment lacking in discretion? Disagree if you like, but everything he stated was either his opinion or publicly available on this site. There are no secrets to be discrete about.

I would like to re-emphasize the the point: no-one's stopping Dave (or you) from posting. I am fully entitled to shape the discussion in ways that I think are more productive, but I don't require that any one agree with me. A fact to which the comments on this site are a powerful testimony.

If Dave were not a friend of mine, then perhaps I would agree with you.
that N.C. State is going to start hosting a Halloween party on Hillsborough St.

If you charge, who collects the money?  What account/department gets the income?

Does payment imply additional liability/responsibilty to the entity getting the funds?

Does payment imply a sanctioned event that would fall under an approval process which would include providing porta-potties, medical and law enforcement (which is probably already there)?

Greetings from the Halloween Grinch.  Apart from the bag full of candy, I can't remember actually enjoying Halloween in my lifetime.  Too much work gearing up, a tinch of nervousness completely unrelated to spooks and goblins, and then what?  I have no say in Chapel Hill goings-on; but if I did, I would try hard to get this particular obligation off the town plate. 
How could events like this be rotated, with different locales bidding for it like the Olympics? What incentives could there be? Doesn't seem like the kind of happening that brings in significant business revenues.

Here's another good suggestion from the comments on the DTH article:

Ok, thought of something even easier to manage... For first night celebrations in Raleigh and many other cities the organizers sell buttons in the weeks leading up to the event. Anyone wearing a button is granted admission to events, but since admission is all pre-purchased it eliminates the need for cash or ID checks at the event.

Maybe Chapel Hill and UNC could work together to sell buttons or wristbands for a nominal cost ($1) on campus and through local businesses before Halloween. People could buy as many admission "tokens" as they need for any out of town guests, but it would eliminate some of the random people from all over the state joining the party. As a bonus some or all of the money raised could go to the homeless shelter or another local charity...

- MP

(kidding, but...would that not be a concern? e.g., I buy 100 tickets in advance at $1, and sell that night for $5 each.)

I'm not too fond of the idea of charging people to access this public street. I’m sure local businesses get some extra sells from all the extra customers this brings to the area in terms of selling Halloween merchandise, as well as businesses on franklin street, and eatery’s across town. I know the guy at the drug store said their photo processing sells skyrockets after Halloween.

I like bragging to my friends across the state and elsewhere that my town hosts one of the biggest and best Halloween parties around. It’s a matter of pride. When I went to NCSU this is one thing that everyone, no matter how much of a rivalry they felt with UNC, that they conceded makes Chapel Hill better than Raleigh.

To respond to the NCSU Hillsborough Street party. They’ve been trying for a while, but from my understanding they won’t break triple digits in terms of costumed people on Hillsborough Street for a few more years.

"I think the first thing is to make it clear to people that they're not invited," Foy said. "It's a local party."

I feel we should be more open than all that. I really like meeting lots of new people from all over and taking pictures with them and I don’t think that would happen if we charge admissions to the main street of our town.  If we charge admissios then the party will just get smaller, and even locals may turn to house parties and home events instead of the street party if it looses its dynamic flavor.


maybe have a can drive for the food bank of nc 4 cans to get into the state fair one day so maybe we ought to ask people to bring 4 cans of food for ifc



Oh please!!!   Many of these attendees are paying hundreds of dollars in gas and hotel expenses to get here, so I think they can pay a few more dollars to help ensure their own personal safety and clean up from themselves.        Even citizens pay additional fees for some recreational events, classes, etc--on top of taxes.  And I haven't met a student yet who couldn't find 5 or 10 dollars to attend a concert or buy a latte if they really wanted it.     Some of their costumes will cost more than we would charge in attendance fees. 

And I would challenge that this is a  "local event."  It may occur in our town, but a large percentage of our residents don't go anywhere near it.    When I hear my kids talk about how so and so is driving from Virginia or Tennessee, or Fayetteville or Morehead City for the Halloween party, I think that shows me that it is  no longer  simply a nice local gathering. 

That said,  I don't have a problem  with continuing it.    I don't need to personally participate in something in order to enjoy it or support it.    I don't mind people coming here from out of town, provided they behave themselves.  We get a zillion visitors on every football Saturday, and we don't mind them.   

And jakegoad, (unlike football Saturdays) ,  most of the Franklin Street businesses actually close early on Halloween, upon the advice of local law enforcement and their own experience.     So for many of them Halloween is actually a  bad night for business.   

  I think charging a fee is absolutely fair.  

Catherine Lazorko says 80,000 people / $200,000.  The 80,000 crowd estimate sounds awfully high to me, and awfully scary, while the $200,000 price tag sounds low.  At 5 bucks a head, the event would easily pay for itself.  But does anybody really see that happening?   I can't help thinking about the administrative logistics, money-handling, and extra gatekeeping involved.  


That's what I was thinking too, Catherine.

Who is checking the tickets? buttons? of these 80,000 people?

Though I have to disagree with you about disliking Halloween.

I got married on Halloween - in Chapel Hill no less. 


I think you hit the nail on the head---if it's going to be an "event" then it needs an "event planner"  to get done right.

In what way is the event being done wrong?

Well other than no one thought twenty years ago that it would ever get this big and it wasn't nipped in the bud at the time. 

I think Chapel Hill has done a great job in the last few years of keeping the event centralized in the downtown and even minimizing the parking and traffic problems. 

The cost of hiring a professional event planner and then following their recommendations would not be cheap.

And I am still trying to imagine who is going to enforce and how they are going to enforce keeping people out who don't have buttons and tickets.

Unless the deal is going to be that only people who park and ride (out of town guests) are required to have buttons and ticket.  Otherwise think of all the checkpoints and fencing necessary. My impression of these Franklin Street events is that law enforcement has enough to do protecting property. What would it cost to have private security employed as well to enforce admission rules? 

Maria, you may not have been uptown on Halloween lately, but there are already barricades at each end of the block where people walk through a checkpoint staffed by police officers who check for alcohol and weapons.  Checking for buttons or wristbands would cost more, but only incrementally so.

Sorry my bad.

Paul bikes up for the 506 show after the trick or treating and sugar crash is over, but I've been home or on the Commons since 2000.

I guess I wasn't clear.  If we are going to charge admission, etc, then we need a logistics person to figure that stuff out and make it run smoothly.  That's all.  Not suggesting programming, or anything like that.  My point is that charging admission isn't unsurmountable provided you have someone thinking about those logistics.

 And everyone parks and rides to this event currently.  I don't think you can use that criteria to separate attendees.

I like that canned food idea Ellen had.  I think making it a suggestion instead of a requirement would avoid all the extra gate keeping and money handling Catherine was concerned about, but still allow for some substantial good to come from this event.

Nice idea, but practically---well no.   A heavy can can do a lot of damage if someone decides to toss it around.  

A single paper bag or box full of cans weighs a ton, once filled, and takes time to sort on the IFC shelves.  Money would be more welcome if the town decides to adopt a worthy cause.  i have no philosophical objection to charging admission, but I still maintain it's burdensome from an administrative point of view.  How much does CH budget for basketball celebrations?  A bundle. 

"How much does CH budget for basketball celebrations? A bundle."

Catherine, the basketball celebrations are, I would guess, almost always UNC students and CH residents. So even if there are 30-40,000 it would still be only about half the number of attendees at recent Halloween celebrations. And it isn't just the money: the CH police have to bring in additional police from other jurisdictions. This may not only be a financial issue but a practical matter as well. Getting other jurisdictions to send their officers and the logistical coordination required is, I suspect, becoming as big an issue as the financial impact.

As I recall, we used to carry a box of 12 cans to that party many, many years ago, so I am sure it could be done.  ;)

It may be time to organize a Halloween Parade...not for profit along the lines of the New York Halloween Parade. It could begin in Carrboro and end in Chapel Hill at a time when the little ones could view or participate. The streets could return back to the community at a reasonable hour.
Yes, George, I know the basketball celebrations are somewhat less crowded than Halloween; but they are no less rowdy.  This is why Chapel Hill reserves public safety personnel from Carrboro and surrounding municipalities for "just in case" scenarios (just in case we win the NCAA tournament, for example).  Post-game revelers have been known to cause major damage in recent years, way beyond toilet paper in the trees.  Somebody's paying a bundle for crowd control and clean-up.  I look at those Halloween figures and still think they can't be right.  I have a tendency to bundle financial and practical issues. 
Does UNC contribute to the clean-up cost for Bball celebrations?  I think maybe they have before.

Ed Harrison

 My understanding from Jonathan Howes as UNC headed into the final four in 2005 was that the university was making its first contribution to clean-up costs. I think the amount was on the order of $100,000, but I don't mnd being corrected. From his past viewpoint as an alderman, Council Member, Mayor and resident, I think Jonathan had wanted this kind of payment to happen in previous years. Having watched students pull up Town street trees -- a weird way to celebrate anything -- I certainly felt that the debt was there, and sizable. But I believe the general consensus here is that we're glad to have the celebration.


Chapel Hill had a great fulltime event coordinator on staff until about 8 years ago.  His first name was Anderson as I recall, and he eventually left for greener pastures (Cary).  This fellow  managed Apple Chill, FestiFall, Halloween, etc., and helped me a lot when I was in charge of the Carrboro Music Festival.  Star quality, generous with advice.  Since Anderson's departure, CH appears to be letting these events run themselves with minimal administrative oversight.  The job probably got shouldered by someone else in the Recreation & Parks Department.  This is one really bad  way to minimize expenses.  Here we see the result.  


Catherine DeVine

Not that this online community isn't public, but I decided to my share my thougts a little more broadly.  In the area of student concerns and protecting a Chapel Hill tradition I have the following commentary playing on the local WCHL radio this week:

"This is Jake Goad.

As a graduate of NC State (with a B. A. in philosophy) who's taken a number of classes at UNC and who's spent a couple of years living and working here in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area, I wanted to address our community's current discussion about how to handle our famous Franklin Street Halloween Festival.

At NC State, no matter how much of a rivalry we had, no matter how die-hard of a Wolfpack fan you were, you always respected UNC's Halloween event, because you know that they know how to throw a party! And when it comes to street parties, size matters.

Mayor Foy recently addressed outsiders saying, "I think the first thing is to make it clear to people that they're not invited." I believe this goes against several values held by our community.

We are an inclusive community.

We are a community that welcomes creativity.

And we recognize our part in the larger community of the Triangle area and the Tarheel State.

I'm all for making things safer. And I'm all for trying to put a positive spin on things… perhaps by tying it to raising awareness for a cause, a charity, or even just having food bank bins set up on Franklin St. for the night.

I respect what Mayor Foy is trying to do, but we can't retreat from this event into ourselves. We could diminish and give up all of our town's festivals until we feel secure at the cost of our culture, but that isn't what we are about. I can only hope my contribution to this public debate will help sway things to the side of personal responsibility in individuals choosing whether or not to take part in this event, and in helping us remember that in this college town- a town that brings in talent from all over the state and all over the world, we are either a community of inclusion, or we are all outsiders."

WCHL encourages this commentaries to be discussions, debates, and counter-points.  So if anyone disagrees with me I full encourage them to share their point with WCHL (my commentary will be played on Friday I believe if you want to hear it first before responding).

Jake, my commentary re Halloween aired on WCHL last week.  I agree whole-heartedly with your sentiments, but I'm following the Chapel Hill situation closely from an event organizer's point of view.  The police chief says, "Things are just getting too crazy out there."   This amounts to a cry for help. Chapel Hill recruits cops from as far away as Fayetteville to manage the estimated crowd of 80,000.  Crowd size is no longer a point of pride, but a big problem. 

In my commentary, I questioned the effectiveness of proposed checkpoints at various entrances to town (checking what?) bundled with another proposal to ban alcohol sales after 8:00 which the bar owners have roundly rejected.  The stated goal -- reducing the head count from 80,000 to 25,000 -- is not realistic without a blatantly exclusionary design.  But there is no design, and it's too late to impose one. 

I'm rooting for Chapel Hill to get a handle on Halloween.  

The curmudgeon's response to this will likely be that Chapel Hill residents are already accommodating a lot of party-throwing just by being a university town - and having a state-wide reputation for "knowing how to throw a party" isn't that great an accomplishment.  In fact this particularly party's so problematic that we have to pay substantial dollars for outside help AND many residents feel the need to stay away from downtown for the duration because things could easily get out of hand. 

At that point, it's not "our" town any more, and we've turned it over to some sort of ravenous, potentially destructive Halloween monster.   Who ya gonna call then?

It's strikingly hospitable of the Mayor and Council to be trying to find a way to keep the party going rather than shutting 'er down altogether.  Asking them to let the party just keep on growing and bursting at the seams is not reasonable and not fair to the town.  If it takes checkpoints, changes in alcohol sales policy, discouraging charter bus invasions, or any other strategy, something does need to be done.

I'd like to hear it too in full.  The commentaries link on WCHL only plays one recent commentary.  I know I've seen a more complete list on their site somewhere, but I can't see to find it, atleast not a part that includes any recent ones.

I still think managing growth instead of promoting downsizing is the way to go.  I think this moment of raised awareness of the concerns surrounding this event should highlight the need to put a lot of forethought into next years halloween festival instead of any brash exclusionary methods this year.

I'm just going to throw about some ideas relaing to this event without specifically endorsing any.

I'm not sure how much I like ideas I heard around that reduce bus ridership because it may promote increased drunk driving.

Hold special events in the afternoon & early evening, like themed costume contests, a musical performance, a haunted house area, a raffle, an outdoor movie.  Instead of trying to reduce the number of people this could perhaps spread out when the people are there.  Give the early birds and families a chance to take part while there is still some daylight which could help out the cops.

Extend the length of the street party zone either down and up franklin or down and up columbia.  While stretching the cops a little thinner, having less people crowded in one spot could help.

Events at distant spots like Hargraves Park and on Campus could help spread out the crowds.  Rolling events throughout the night could help syphone of portions of the crowd.

Televise the street party, or put a live stream online.  Perhaps people would feel compelled to spend less time downtown if they could still see all of the costumes and creativity from home.

Have town sponsored events across town that buses run to.  Open up the Dean Dome for some event or performance.  Things that can keep Chapel Hill's long standing tradition of the place to be on Halloween, while spreading things out a little.

Some combination of these ideas to spread out the crowd both spacially and temporally could possibly help keep things under control.  But this is all off-the-top-of-my-head type ideas without really thinking through the rammifications or costs of each.

I don't completely disagree with you, in that we need to find some happy medium between killing part of the spirit of Chapel Hill (whatever that might mean) and regaining control of an event that might otherwise be growing beyond what we can safely manage.  But unfortunately, from an event planner's perspective (well, at least this event planner's perspective), spreading out the crowd over time or distance is only going to make the problem worse, not better. Spreading things out would be a great fix if there was a growing concern that Halloween was boring or not diverse enough. But the issue that's coming up is about crowd control, pure and simply, and packing people together into a relatively compact, well-lit area with (relatively) good access control makes it much easier to keep an eye on things.  The problem spots don't necessarily occur at the center of what's happening so much as along the perimeter and in transit to and from.

In any case, I get avoid the chaos completely, as I'll be up in Hillsborough that evening helping to run a much more tame event up there with the downtown businesses.

with that idea as far as the muliple locations, making it longer/start earlier so less people are there at once idea without turning people away, but again I'm not endorsing that idea.  I think plenty of brainstorming is called for, before next years halloween gathering.

Here's the thing:  Chapel Hill claims not to sponsor this annual Halloween celebration.  In my CHL commentary, Jake, I confess to having rather snidely pointed out that a quarter of a million dollars worth of crowd control and clean-up constitutes town sponsorship in my book -- even though it's purely reactive.  (We could both ask Ron to send us these audio files -- I rarely tune in to hear my own!) 

The Parks & Recreation administrator isn't sufficiently empowered to plan a tamer, yet inclusionary, Halloween celebration.  Until the town invests in this thing proactively -- a year out, perhaps -- they're stuck with chaos.  I can't stand ranting like Andy Rooney.  Really, folks, it's not my nature.   



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