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Old Palo Alto residents create Halloweens to remember

 

Two dozen crows circling above Santa Rita Avenue on Tuesday afternoon suddenly appeared like a spooky omen of Halloween to come. The scene was reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic, "The Birds."

But at this time of year, the creatures fit in with the landscape: masses of cobwebs draped over stone walls and entryways; tombstones popping up from the earth; and spiders and ghouls lurking about. And on Halloween night, this Old Palo Alto neighborhood will come alive with hundreds of costumed people, flickering pumpkins and a host of cackling witches and moaning zombies.

A green-faced, life-sized witch already flies over Nils Thorjussen's home, and his house has a yardful of tombstones, bats, assorted ghouls and ghostly decorations. He's only halfway through putting together his setup, which will include a smoke machine to enshroud the front yard, he said.

Santa Rita, Waverley and many other streets in Old Palo Alto attract masses of people each year due to its carnival-like atmosphere. Each year Google co-founder Larry Page and Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, put on spectacles for the holiday of horror: pumpkin heads on pikes; a pumpkin tower; a gigantic, hairy red tarantula; anthropomorphic trees (actors on stilts who address trick-or-treaters); and people in ghoulish costumes who jump out in the night.

The theatrical tradition has spread throughout the neighborhood.

"There is a dynamic, in a positive way, of keeping up with the Joneses. It gets a little competitive. It's like, 'Oh -- I need to upgrade,'" Thorjussen said.

Around the corner on Cowper Street, Margaret Chai Maloney's family has set up a frontyard graveyard. Some tombstones bear epitaphs of still-haunting crises: "R.I.P. Enron" and "R.I.P. Freddy Mac."

Each Halloween Maloney's children get extra pumpkins to carve and the family roasts the scooped pumpkin seeds. They'll use some of the pumpkins to make soup -- a special family recipe, she said.

But her favorite tradition involves City Councilwoman Karen Holman, who arrives to make handmade caramel apples with Maloney's children. The confections are distributed to visiting neighborhood kids, Maloney said.

"This neighborhood has a number of young families, and older families are focused on having a safe neighborhood for the kids," she said.

Maloney affectionately dubs one Lowell Avenue resident, Catherine Debs, "Mrs. Halloween." Debs goes all out with 12-foot inflatable ghosts that glow in different colors and other elaborate decorations.

"Catherine is magical. Last year she had a candy store. Every year she puts so much into creating a Willy Wonka-like atmosphere," Maloney said.

At Debs' home, a gigantic inflated black cat with a Cheshire grin nods from the first-story roof. Nearby, the Grim Reaper drives a pumpkin stagecoach. A former San Francisco assistant chief of protocol, Debs knows how to throw a party. This year she'll bring in a hot dog vendor along with distributing a tubful of candy, she said.

Some residents want to revel in a holiday they missed as children. Bryant Street resident David Brunicardi said he has always loved Halloween. But growing up, his parents weren't into the celebration. Now his 6-year-old son is making his own decorations.

"It's being passed on to the next generation," he said, fingering the Popsicle-stick spider his son made, which hangs near the door.

Brunicardi has created his own animated ghost, "Josephine," who stands on the balcony waving a lit candelabra, he said.

He won't reveal the surprise setup he plans for the driveway, but he hints at past efforts.

"Last year, two guys on a scooter got caught in a very big spider web," he said.

For all of the treats people give out -- some have distributed as many as 2,000 pieces of candy -- the real fun is the camaraderie and sense of belonging, Thorjussen said.

"It's like a colossal block party. There's lots of socializing. People have mini block parties on their front lawns. It's a wonderful atmosphere," he said.

Still, Thorjussen hopes his neighborhood's Halloween won't turn into too much of a good thing. If it gets out of control, he's afraid neighbors won't want to do it anymore.

Already, busloads of Halloween "tourists" crowd the streets. It's like Christmas Tree Lane but with kids in the road, he added.

This year, Santa Rita and Waverley are expected to be closed to traffic. Some residents said they hope that fact won't make the neighborhood more attractive. But Thorjussen thinks it'll improve safety.

Obtaining permits to close the streets will require hiring a traffic-management contractor and paying for signage and other barriers. He said he wishes the city would recognize the traffic situation and post an officer unprompted, he said.

"I don't get the feeling they fully appreciate how crazy it gets here. I'd love for the city to step it up. Halloween is the biggest public holiday in Palo Alto," he said.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Miriam
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 24, 2014 at 10:14 am

Trust me, some of us ALREADY don't want to do this any more! Enough is enough.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2014 at 9:25 am

I don't see this as positive competition. When decorations get this elaborate, it becomes about the parents instead of the kids (the kids certainly aren't designing them). When people shop for the best neighborhoods to trick or treat in, they don't get to know their own neighbors and people in other neighborhoods give up decorating. To me it is the insecurity of moneyed newcomers reassuring themselves that their chosen neighborhood is the best.

Please enjoy Halloween in your own neighborhoods and don't feed this Silicon Valley Halloween monster!


1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 27, 2014 at 10:07 am

To me it is people who have more fun doing things than the rest of us.


3 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 27, 2014 at 10:38 am

During the Christmas season one area of PA has the Christmas Tree Lights in which any people come to drive down the street to see all of the lit trees on the blocks. Other cities also have similar streets in which the residents put on a good show of lights.
So another PA neighborhood has taken over the same theme of festivity for Halloween. That is great - the children will always remember the fun and the parents get to be creative to provide a super experience for the neighborhood. People of all ages will enjoy the show. Thank you to the neighbors who take the time to provide this experience for all.


4 people like this
Posted by Susan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2014 at 10:49 am

I commend the impulse to develop a sense of community by creating Halloween fun for families. However, instead of over-the-top decorations and 2,000 pieces of candy for children who already have more than enough, (to say nothing of the traffic jams created), how about the neighbors cooperating in providing Halloween fun for families from all of Palo Alto (remember when the Community Center had a Haunted House?) and in East Palo Alto as well?
That would be such a good use of their resources and have the same community-building effect.


3 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

Fifty years ago Lucie Stern Community Center transformed itself into a haunted house that led people through the entire complex. Kids would get dressed up in costumes to scare people. There was also another smaller one for younger kids that was like a fairy tale. Much softer and less scary. The Lions Club would give out cookies and punch at the end. It was very nice. I wish they would do it again.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 27, 2014 at 11:05 am

There was a good turn-out of costumed children (and parents) yesterday at the Halloween festivities adjacent to the California Avenue farmers market. Entertainment, games and handouts. Kids seemed fascinated by fire trucks and police vehicles on display.


3 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2014 at 12:26 pm



A few years ago, we received a flyer at our home at the end of September from neighbors who wanted to make our street "the Halloween to go place like Christmas Tree lane for Christmas". They wanted every home to participate, giving the best Halloween display in Palo Alto for their own kids, and their friends.

I took a poor view of this particularly as we have many elderly neighbors who would not have the money to spend on decorations, or to buy large amounts of candy.

Many homes now do elaborate decorations, some more modest and some without any. As a result we get high numbers of trick or treaters, definitely from well outside the neighborhood. Not only do they arrive while it is still light, but continue until well into the evening. I suspect that since we have a Friday evening, no school night, Halloween this year, it will go on much later.

I think it is about time to reassess what constitutes fairness. I have no objection to other homes doing whatever amount of decoration, or choose not to do any. But I do object to the idea of wanting to make our neighborhood the go to place for those who do not live in the neighborhood. Christmas Tree lane residents have known for a long time about the tradition and are told when the houses are sold that this occurs. They are however not expected to provide candy for all the visitors they get. We however are caught up in this whether we like it or not.

I have no objection to providing candy to those children who live nearby and are part of our neighborhood. I do object to having to supply candy to anyone who rings my bell when they already have huge amounts and still expect more, and have no idea from whence they came.

I am not a killjoy, but there comes a time when even the most enthusiastic giver to trick or treaters questions just how much we have to give.





Like this comment
Posted by Suzanne
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2014 at 1:49 pm

Its great to see a whole neighborhood devoted to a fun holiday. When we lived in Boise, ID the main historic street, Harrison Blvd, was Halloween Blvd. We had 1,000 kids come to the door - and we lived at the end of the mile long boulevard. Fraternity boys from the local college directed traffic and acted as crossing guards. - Maybe some Stanford students would be willing to pitch in and help keep the kids safe.


1 person likes this
Posted by Cha
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2014 at 3:20 pm

I am an Old Palo Alto resident and I am a very enthusiastic supporter of our Halloween celebration. My thanks to my friends and neighbors for making this such a fun holiday for us all. My granddaughter will always remember her Halloweens in Palo Alto. I will always remember the faces of the little children that have come to my door. For those of my neighbors who decide not to celebrate this holiday, I suggest they simply turn out their front lights and let the rest of us know they do not wish to participate. That should make everyone happy.


Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm

Thank you for making PA such a wonderful family town.


7 people like this
Posted by Thomas
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2014 at 6:21 pm

The real downside to this is the effect on families on the surrounding streets. I used to live on Webster Street just south of California Avenue. As the impact of the Santa Rita/Waverley carnival grew, the number of kids coming to houses on our street dropped from many dozens to basically zero as the years wore on. Our kids couldn't understand why no trick-or-treaters were coming to the house anymore. Where you can't walk through the crowds outside Jobs' house, just three blocks away it's a ghost town.

It's actually a great example of the 1%-er problem -- a huge party surrounded by blocks of sad children wondering why no one came by to see their more modest decorations. The carnival, quite literally, sucks the life out of Halloween for most of the neighborhood.

There's probably no fixing this, but I must say I'm glad to be living in a neighborhood in SF where Halloween is Halloween again with neighborhood kids instead on bus loads of non-locals clogging up the streets. If we want to go to an event on Halloween, we go to the Castro which is far more entertaining and creative.


1 person likes this
Posted by Amy
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 27, 2014 at 10:42 pm

It's great to have neighborhood festivity that draws in people. We are so often caught up in our own world with the daily routines. Thanks to the OPA neighborhood for putting up a goto place for those of us who otherwise don't have the time, energy, and resources to set up a fun theme like this. A true community spirit !


3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2014 at 9:34 am

Thanks for your comment, Thomas. You framed the problem much more eloquently than I did. It would be great to see a community haunted house, or just people making an attempt to spend at least part of Halloween in their own neighborhoods. It's sad to see this day become a competition - don't our kids have enough of that in their lives?


2 people like this
Posted by A disapproving Palo Altan
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Oct 31, 2014 at 3:38 am

Isn't the whole idea of giving candy the whole idea of Halloween NOW??? I was under the impression that giving treats and making noise would keep the bad spirits at bay from your home. "TRICK OR TREAT"..? Where does the trick come in? To harness a small selection of kids with parents that have enough money to top dog in the neighborhood?? That seems a little greedy..er..selfish. OK, now that your location is known, I will be sure to let others know "where the party is"...Our town is being changed into a circus. The Palo Alto Recreation department used to run a very good program for the kids at Halloween(and they were accompanied by their parents also, with parents taking time to socialize with their children's friends also... no cocktails for the adults though, which is probably one reason the venue was deleted eventually.Damage is done for this year, let's think about the next coming Halloween..................


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 31, 2014 at 8:52 pm

YEAH !!! - thank you to the neighbors who put on such a great show - all of it - excellent. Tons of people just looking at the decorations - no candy required for that. Great festivities for all - all smiles.


Like this comment
Posted by lower key
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 31, 2014 at 10:10 pm

We walked around our friendly south palo alto neighborhood with a large group of a few dozen kids and a few dozen parents, and it grew as we went. Most homes had decorations, almost all home made. Very cool carved pumpkins, some luminarias, some people went all out, but it was definitely small town. There were haunted houses made up by kids.

When the kids were done, they all dumped out their candy and the trading and giving began. It was a lovely thing to watch.

No one was interested in going across town. There is plenty of trick-or-treating in other neighborhoods!


Like this comment
Posted by Memories
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2014 at 9:04 am

Of course you're a killjoy, Neighbor. You're also a xenophobe.


1 person likes this
Posted by DANILO OXFORD
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 12, 2014 at 7:24 pm

I HAVE THE ONLY 'REAL' HAUNTED HOUSE IN PALO ALTO SINCE THE CITY HAS MADE CUT BACKS TO PROGRAMS FOR THE COMMUNITY. "THE REALM OF DARKNESS" THAT I HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST 17 YEARS IS THE BIGGEST EFFORT OF ANY SINGLE PERSON (I BUILD AND SET UP/TEAR DOWN EVERYTHING BY MYSELF) IN THIS CITY OF BILLIONAIRES MILLIONAIRES I AM SURPRISED THAT NO ONE EVEN COMES CLOSE TO MY EFFORT. I BUILD AN 800 SQ. HOUSE FILLED WITH HANDMADE FULL SIZE PNEUMATIC AND STATIC PROPS. I WORK 50+ HOURS AT MY DAY JOB AND STRUGGLE TO PAY MY MORTGAGE, BUT I STILL MAKE THE EFFORT TO DO THIS BECAUSE I LOVE THIS HOLIDAY. ITS TRUE THIS IS NOT FOR LITTLE KIDS, THOUGH SOME AS YOUNG AS AGE 5 LOVE IT AND THOSE UP TO THEIR 80'S ALSO ENJOY IT. I AM ON THE INTERNET, IN NEWSPAPERS, BEEN ON T.V. IF YOU HAVEN'T HEARD OF MY HAUNTED HOUSE YOU MUST HAVE BEEN LIVING IN A CAVE FOR THE LAST 17 YEARS OR ELSE YOU DON'T EVER READ NEWSPAPERS ANYMORE. I ATTRACT PEOPLE FROM AS FAR AS SAN FRANCISCO TO SAN JOSE. I AM GLAD OTHER PEOPLE MAKE AN EFFORT TO SET UP SOME KIND OF DISPLAYS TO ENJOY THIS HOLIDAY. I DO THIS ON A BUDGET, THOUGH I HAVE INVESTED ABOUT $10,000. OVER ALL THESE YEARS TO ACCOMPLISH WHAT I HAVE. GO TO MOFFETT CIRCLE NEXT YEAR IF YOU WANT TO SEE SOMETHING DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHER HAUNTS AND DISPLAYS. IT IS FREE BUT MOST PEOPLE LEAVE A DONATION BECAUSE THEY LIKE IT SO MUCH. I HOPE TO SEE MORE OF YOU NEXT YEAR, IF I DO IT AGAIN. MONEY IS A BIG CONCERN RIGHT NOW FOR ME.


Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 12, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Danilo - you should have alerted everyone before Halloween so that they could visit your house. It sounds like it was wonderful.


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