Local News

Chapel Hill Halloween tradition ramps up after slow start

Posted October 31, 2011
Updated November 1, 2011

Halloween revelers in Chapel Hill trickled onto Franklin Street Monday night for the town's famed celebration, despite a rainy forecast and efforts by town officials to keep crowds down.

— Halloween revelers in Chapel Hill trickled onto Franklin Street Monday night for the town's famed celebration, despite a rainy forecast and efforts by town officials to keep crowds down. 

The street party was fairly tame, police said, compared to other years. Police arrested three people during the night, one for assault on a law enforcement officer, one for indecent exposure and one for being drunk and disruptive.

Officials estimated that about 27,000 people attended the festivities. 

Strict rules requiring visitors to RSVP, limited parking access and an increase in police presence are some of the ways Chapel Hill officials planned to tone down crowds at the fourth Homegrown Halloween.

Still, several thousand students and local residents donned costumes and did the legendary party proud.

"It's going to get wild out here," said Gaston Wilson, of Raleigh.

Shonna Okada, of Sanford, has been attending the Franklin Street bash for 14 years, she said. But now, with police and town officials actively trying to keep out outsiders, she has a longer walk from her car to the party.

"It does get a little bit harder for those of us out of town to get in, but I suppose that is what they are trying to do," Okada said. "But not all of us from out of town are dangerous."

Chapel Hill Halloween Costumed students, locals crowd Halloween street party

Started in 2008, the homegrown initiative is aimed at keeping Halloween in Chapel Hill a local celebration while also helping keep crowds in the small, two-block area manageable. 

Chapel Hill Halloween Costumed students, locals crowd Halloween street party

Crowds have decreased in its first three years, falling from 80,000 in 2007 to around 35,000 last year. The initiative has also led to fewer arrests and trips to the hospital for those attending the festivities.

In 2010 only six people were treated for alcohol related issues. In 2007, that number was 31. 

But it hasn't killed the fun, at least not for UNC student Cambria Crisp.

"People are still going to dress up and act crazy," she said.

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said the town is trying to make the event both enjoyable and safe.

"What we're trying to do is actually return it back to that safe and wonderful event that it was," he said. "When there was 80,000 people crammed into a two block area on Franklin Street I questioned whether or not it was truly a fun and safe event."

Franklin Street between Raleigh Street and Mallette Street closed Monday at 9 p.m. and reopened at 11:30 p.m. Officials said the streets were cleared of people just after midnight and reopened to traffic around 12:45 a.m. Tuesday after street crews completed cleaning.

Downtown bars and restaurants closed to new patrons at 1 a.m. and Chapel Hill police set up alcohol checkpoints throughout the downtown area.

There was little to no parking available downtown, and no place for charter buses to drop off or pick up passengers. Cars parked on the streets to be closed were towed beginning at 6 p.m.

Bill Mulligan, a Sanford resident who attended the festivities in 2010, said he didn't know why the town would try to limit something that can generate income for Chapel Hill businesses. 

"To me, this is a business opportunity," he said. "If I owned a business and 80,000 people or however many show up on one day, I would stay open until they dragged the last one off."

Prohibited items in the closed area include weapons, costume accessories that look like weapons, alcoholic beverages, glass bottles, paint, fireworks and explosives, flammable substances, animals and coolers.


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  • mpheels Nov 1, 2011

    Thank you Objective Scientist! I love Halloween in Chapel Hill. It's one of the reasons I love living here. Even then, I understand that it is little more than a controlled riot. It isn't really a town-sponsored event or street fair in the traditional sense, the town just recognizes that it's safer to close the street and let people gather than it would be to try to cite/arrest thousands of people for obstructing traffic. I don't think the tradition will ever disappear completely, but I know the town would love to shrink it to a consistently manageable size with minimal arrests and property damage. They absolutely don't have any obligation to facilitate out-of-towners who want to jaywalk in costume.

  • Objective Scientist Nov 1, 2011

    Halloween on Franklin St-Chapel Hill... started with just a few "students and locals" dressing up and roaming the sidewalks. Others saw that, thought that was "neat-interesting" and the following year more did it... then more the next year, etc., etc. This "event" went from a "roaming the sidewalks" costume party to a "fill the street" costume party. The numbers grew and grew and grew. What was initially confined to the sidewalks now filled Franklin St AND sidewalks from Henderson to Columbia streets... then it began to "spill over" and go beyond the "main block" of Franklin. What was once a local event became, at minimum, a state-wide event! EMS calls for injury/illness increased, property damage increased, arrests increased - and the "presence" of some who were there "looking for trouble" increased. The town of Chapel Hill - any town - had NO CHOICE but to bring this thing under control!!! I have neither empathy nor sympathy for those who feel their "rights" have been violated!

  • mpheels Nov 1, 2011

    No, they don't check anyone's drivers license. All they do to "keep people out" is close a few lanes to slow traffic and confuse people who don't know the area, charge $20 for parking, and tow any cars left in the street closure area. In the past, the town would designate a charter bus unload/load area, and run shuttles from parking lots on the outskirts of town, but they stopped that service. They also set up traffic monitors at the entrances to neighborhoods near downtown to make sure people who actually live in the neighborhood can get in/out without problems.

  • Hammerhead Nov 1, 2011

    wildpig, be afraid of the black helicopters and the body snatchers.

  • sophiemom Nov 1, 2011

    How do they keep the non Chapel Hill residents out? Check their drivers' licenses? I can't imagine being able to staff police at every possible point of entry. That would certainly tie up a lot of staff. Just wondering.

  • wildpig777 Nov 1, 2011

    HERES A CLUE FOLKS ---- LAW ENFORCEMENT AINT YER FRIEND. FLAME AWAY ALL YOU I NEED GOV MENT IN MY LIFE TO TELL ME HOW TO ACT WHERE TO GO WHEN TO SIT AND HOW LONG I SHOULD WAVE THE FLAG.... ALL IN THE NAME OF FREEDOM AN INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS....... you better question authority and you better be prepared to pay the price for your rights -- the govment an the cops need to understand thier place in society....... they work for us--THE PEOPLE-- and not the self serving entities they have become.............. yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee hawwwwwwwwww

  • wildpig777 Nov 1, 2011

    welp i guess now Chapel Hill has the authority here in the USA to impose restrictions on VISTORS. i may just file a lawsuit against Chapel Hill... never underestimate freedom haters-- that'd be goverments -- I see the spirit of nazism is alive and well in Chapel Hill gov ment----- MAY I SEE YOUR PAPERS PLEASE? i HOPE THE CITZENS OF NC WAKE UP TO THE MONSTER THAT EXISTS IN NORTH CAROLINA NOW. that would be big govment and corrupt politicans,,,,,

  • seankelly15 Nov 1, 2011

    TruthBKnown Returns - "If Chapel Hill claims there were 27,000 people there, that means it was probably more like 3,000!"

    This comment makes zero sense. First, there is no gain by INFLATING the numbers (unlike organizers of tea-party rallies). Second, the MEDIA were there; they can make their own estimates if they think that the numbers are inflated.

  • seankelly15 Nov 1, 2011

    Z Man - "I'm wondering by what authority the town of Chapel Hill can say stay away. How is it possible they can tell me not to come there? As far as I know I have a constitutional right to go there if I choose."

    By their own authority... they do not need your's or anyone else's permission. At to your "constitutional right"... find it in the Constitution and forward it to the Chapel Hill City Attorney. I am sure that they would appreciate your constitutional interpretations.

  • FairPlay Nov 1, 2011

    The problem is right outside the 2 block area are private homes and yards. Not fair to them at all. College town does not mean the whole town is to party in.

    "there was 80,000 people crammed into a two block area on Franklin Street"- just a thought- how about expanding it to more than 2 blocks??? Wouldn't be as crowded then. We used to go to this all the time and can honestly say that the police department are the reason we don't return to Chapel Hill for Halloween- we'll take our money to an area that actually wants the business. Used to be the second best Halloween- next to Greenville....until the cops stopped all the fun there too.