Even when it’s raining, Harper Avenue is a madhouse on Halloween.
Last Thursday, between 57th Street and the Midway, the Hyde Park block was overtaken by eager children craving a sugar rush and a good scare. The crowd of several hundred ranged from toddlers—practically life-size versions of the ladybugs and pumpkins they were dressed up as—to teens trying to perfect their I’m-really-too-cool-for-this demeanor. Exhausted parents stood off to the side as their children waited in endless lines to obtain a single piece of candy. Pets were not exempt from the festivities either; many a confused dog trotted down the road—in costume, of course.
There were no houses doling out king-sized candy bars, but it’s not hard to realize that the atmosphere, not the treats themselves, was the focal point of the Harper Avenue Halloween experience. The Victorian homes are eerie enough as it is, but every house was also decked out in all things spooky—cobwebs, mood lighting, and a small town’s worth of skeletons. One house built an interactive haunted house in the middle of the road (an annual tradition; last year it was a giant worm), but due to the night’s inclement weather, the unfinished contraption sat covered in plastic wrap, somehow still enhancing the mood. On one tree a giant spider was slung over a branch and jolted around like a piñata to scare unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. A team of teenagers sat on the porch and maneuvered the decoration using a thick wire. One of the helpers said that although he didn’t live in the house, he’s been helping out the owner on Halloween night for “four or five years.”
“That spider is like sixteen years old,” he mentioned. Small children shrieked as it swooped down.
But there’s something bigger than the decorations and the candy that draws the crowds to Harper Avenue year after year. Two teenage students from the Lab School, donning identical inflatable ostrich suits, said they keep returning for the community feel. “We’ve been coming to Harper since we were like nothing, like two years old,” one of the girls said. “You see everyone you know. When we were younger at least, everyone from our school would be there, and you’d see everyone’s costume. I’ve never been anywhere else that does so much.” One Harper Avenue resident gave his take on the phenomenon. “We’ve been doing this for seven years now. It’s a lot of fun, you know? Kids come from all over the city. Some of our neighbors have been here for fifteen or twenty years, and it’s been going on since then.” When asked if there was one specific reason that makes Harper Avenue stand out, he merely replied, “The street kind of sums it up, doesn’t it?”