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Living: Halloween as an Adult Treat

4 minute read
Michael Demarest

An escapist extravaganza outdazzling Mardi Gras

It used to be a children’s romp, before the scares of chocolate-covered razor blades. Long, long before that, it was a religious occasion for their pagan elders, and now it has been taken back by the grownups—masks, costumes, witches, jack-o’-lanterns and all. Increasingly in the ’80s, Halloween has become an escapist extravaganza for adults, a trickless treat that more closely resembles Mardi Gras than the candy-and-apple surfeits of yesteryear. This year’s celebration will be the most raucous ever, lasting four or five days in some places, a virtual Halloweek.

Customs in costumes are also changing. While traditional devils, ghosts and vampires are still popular, many adult outfits are bewitching in another sense: harem robes, Tarzan loincloths, geisha girls, samurai swordsmen, plus Dolly Parton, Carmen Miranda and Lady Godiva. This year’s revelers will also be garbed as Mr. T, E.T., gruesome beasts from Return of the Jedi, punk rockers, hot dogs, sandwiches, trash bags, schools of fish, brilliantly plumed birds, six-packs of beer, and, if a Denver pair repeats its act, a couple in bed, including the bed. A New York City family will masquerade as Britain’s royal family with a horse-drawn coach. An Atlantan will make the rounds as Hitler in a vintage Mercedes-Benz. A Chicago couple undresses as Adam and Eve, with only a serpent between them. This category does not find favor with the purveyors of costumes and materials, many of whom, like the Atlanta Costume Shop, now do 25% of their annual business at Halloween. Says Chicago Costume Co. Owner Mary Hickey: “In each of the past two years business has been up 25% over the preceding year.”

The haunting grounds range from discos and hotel ballrooms to private mansions and clubs, and museums in San Francisco, Coral Gables and Miami. Among the happenings:

¶ In Washington, D.C., Georgetown’s Oct. 31 revel has become one of the capital’s wildest annual events.

¶ In Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, some 150,000 spectators are expected to watch a superparade that boasts a dozen musical groups, snaking dancers, and floats devoted to ghosts, ghouls and warlocks. At 8 p.m., the height of the parade, a huge spider will wriggle up the Village clock tower. At Area, a trendy nightspot, Owner Shawn Hausman will fill the club with macabre trappings such as a display in which mists rise from a pond awash with skeletons.

¶ In Los Angeles, the Bonaventure Hotel’s Fantasia nightclub will award prizes for the ugliest face and scariest screamer. At Myron’s Ballroom, where old folks go to dance to Big Band music on Sundays, as many as 800 are expected to attend in costume.

¶ In San Francisco, the Trocadero Transfer club’s biggest party of the year will be a three-day bash based on Road Warrior, an Australian film that deals with the survivors of a nuclear attack. A cheerier event will be the Beaux Arts Ball, revived after some 50 years, to raise funds to establish a department of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

¶ In Boston, the Metro, a dance club featuring recorded rock and new wave music and six video screens, anticipates five sellout nights of Halloweeniana. Nearby Salem, “Witch City,” has planned some 40 events for 50,000 weekend visitors. Among them: a Bites and Kisses party at which Dracula will pass out kisses (actually Hershey’s) to donors at a bloodmobile.

Apart from kooks and college kids, who attends these revels? Says Artist Robert Fischer, 34, a father of two who stages Chicago’s most lavish celebration at the Germania Club (2,500 guests at $20): “The mothers and fathers of my friends come.

I get society people, corporation presidents, movie, TV and music people, secretaries, punks, drag queens, designers —hair, clothing and interiors— artists and more. They come from Chicago, Zion, Dubuque, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Los Angeles, New York City and Miami.” For many celebrators, Halloween is an opportunity to shed their workaday personas, for the sophisticated to become Snow White, the introverted to play siren. Subconsciously, many may also feel, like their pagan ancestors, the need to celebrate life on this Night of the Wandering Souls, as the ancient Celts called it. Says Smithsonian Institution Folklorist Jack Santino: “Dressing up and switching personal identity is part of a need for communitas, an exultant, spontaneous celebration of role reversal in society.”

They also have a thumping good time.

— By Michael Demarest.

Reported by Mary Shaughnessy/New York, with other bureaus

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