Black Chicagoans talk Halloween nostalgia and safe places to trick-or-treat
If the recent bouts of rain, wind and sub-50-degree weather are any indicator, it’s pretty clear that we’re officially deep into autumn in Chicago. That means it’s time to don our best flannel at the pumpkin patch for the ‘gram and, most importantly, for Spirit Halloween stores to pop up at your nearby shopping center with its best costumes for 2019. I’m sure there will be plenty of mini Pennywise, Joker and Spider-verse Miles Morales costumes to go around.
As with any other cultural hub, Black Chicago puts its own spin on Halloween. For starters, you’re not a true product of the South Side if the older kids on your block didn’t ruin your sleep with stories about the Candyman or Resurrection Mary — the ghost of a young woman killed in a hit-and-run along Archer Avenue after leaving a dance. The first time my mom told me about Resurrection Mary, who allegedly died following a fight with her boyfriend, I was about 14 and it scared the mess out of me. One, because at the time we were driving home by Resurrection Cemetery along Archer right where Resurrection Mary’s ghost is said to hitchhike and two, because ghost stories truly freak me out. I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night.
Then, of course, there’s cruising around Hyde Park with your siblings and cousins in your winter coats that hide your costume (because yes, it gets that cold), looking for the houses with the flashy orange lights, fog machines and skeletons hanging from the doorway that shake and laugh when you go up to ring the doorbell. Those are the ones that gave out the full-size Snickers and bags of Doritos, the best treats of the night, aside from the few houses that gave out Taffy Apples and Capri Suns that you couldn’t trade with your friends at the end of the night.
And then, once you’re about 14 or 15, you graduate to trick-or-treating with friends instead of parents. That’s when, after about an hour or two of actually collecting candy, you can egg houses, teepee cars and bust out the paintball guns without, hopefully, getting caught by your parents. No promises about the cops, though.
With Black Chicago being as big as it is, spanning from parts of the North Side to as far south as Roseland and Pullman and out west to Austin and West Garfield Park, each of Chicago’s neighborhoods has something to offer for those looking to switch it up and try something new on Oct. 31. So we reached out to Black folks all over Chicagoland, including the surrounding suburbs, to learn about their Halloween traditions and what Chicago does different that makes the spooky day unique to our city. Here’s what they had to say.
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.
On how they celebrated Halloween when they were kids:
Mylissa Veal, 32, East Garfield Park: “My mom was super big on Halloween. She would decorate the house. She did the haunted house in our apartment and had parties and stuff. We went to church and everything like that. But she just always saw [Halloween] as a fun day for us to be creative because she’s a really creative person.
Chavon Harris, 36, Richton Park: “We used to go to the mayor’s house [in Country Club Hills]. He used to give out candy and [tell] haunted stories. And his house was decorated and we would always just walk around the neighborhood and trick-or-treat as kids.”
Chimeka Powell, 30, Woodlawn: “We all participated in Halloween. It was like a big festive family thing, taking all those kids trick-or-treating house to house, seeing all of the Halloween decorations [and] Halloween parties. All of that festive stuff. Pumpkin patch rides. All of that.”
Nicolas Gardner, 28, South Shore: “Me and my brothers would always go to different neighborhoods. When they were coming of age, we were in the suburbs at that point. So we were in the south suburbs. In Chicago Heights, more specifically. We would walk around the neighborhood grabbing candy with our friends. So Halloween was always a fun family thing.”
On why they want to make the holiday memorable for their family as adults:
An older photo of Mylissa Veal’s daughter in her Halloween costume.
Mylissa Veal, 32, East Garfield Park: “I have a four year old and she is a huge Halloween person already. She loves to dress up and [loves] the idea of eating candy. I don’t usually even give her candy like that. So that’s the one day where she can really go all out. I’m going to keep the tradition going. I dress her up now. I’ve been dressing her up since she was a baby. Now she chooses her own costumes.
Right now, she’s more into princesses. This year, she wants to be Princess Tiana from “The Princess in the Frog.” She has Princess Tiana dolls and things like that.”
Chavon Harris, 36, Richton Park: “I think it’s important for the kids to enjoy Halloween. We just want the kids to come together and have great memories.”
Nicolas Gardner, 28, South Shore: “You always want to make, at the very least, the holiday something special. As someone who works from six to four everyday, I don’t have a lot of time to spend with him. As soon as I get home, we’ll hang out for a few hours and then we’re getting ready for bed because I gotta get up super early in the morning. So I try and make the time I spend with him as quality as possible, especially on holidays. He’s dressed up as one of his favorite TV characters. We’re gonna get him as much stuff as we can and make sure he has as much fun as possible.”
On trick-or-treating outside of your neighborhood:
Nicolas Gardner’s son all dressed up in his Halloween costume.
Mylissa Veal, 32, East Garfield Park: “We didn’t necessarily trick-or-treat in the neighborhood, but we would always trick-or-treat at a mall or stores. I was raised at my grandparents’ [house] on the West Side, but I always saw my mom on the weekend until I was about 14 years and she lived south. And the areas that she lived in, the Washington Park area or Bronzeville, it wasn’t safe to really walk around. It’s just her, a woman, and two kids. She had already had some incidents happen before in her past. She just felt safer taking us to bigger establishments around other kids.
Nicolas Gardner, 28, South Shore: “I think my neighborhood I live in now is a lot better. Last year, I was living in Chatham and [trick-or-treating there] was definitely probably a no-go as far as taking [my son] around Chatham for trick-or-treating. We lived next door to an apartment that had the glass busted out of the doorway. They actually broke into my apartment in Chatham last year. So that was definitely not an option for Halloween last year.”
On the best places in and around Chicago for trick-or-treating:
Mylissa Veal, 32, East Garfield Park: “[My mom] would take us to North Riverside. That’s the West Side mall. It was fun. We felt safe. We felt comfortable. It’s warmer because you’re in the building the whole time. Usually in Chicago, Halloween is freezing or snowing or something. So it was a lot better.
Anybody from the West Side knows that Flournoy is the street that you go down, like, right around Homan. They usually have the entire street lit up. Every single house on the street, they’ll be lit up. I remember when I was growing up with my grandparents, they would just drive us down there to experience that.”
Chavon Harris and friends at one of their Halloween parties.
Chavon Harris, 36, Richton Park: “Typically, we do trick or treating in the neighborhood and we have a Halloween party after we trick-or-treat. We have a Halloween party at my house or my friend’s home in Matteson to celebrate with the kids. Occasionally we have gone to events in Park Forest. They have a free event for the kids that we normally participate in.
I live in Richton Park and the surrounding communities are Park Forest and Matteson. My girlfriend lives in Matteson, so we usually alternate depending on which neighborhood will give out the best candy that year. We’ll let the kids choose. So we’ll either be in Richton Park or Matteson and we’ll trick-or-treat in those areas. But they’re very close in proximity.”
Chimeka Powell, 30, Woodlawn: “When I was little, I grew up in the South Suburbs. I grew up in Harvey and we would always go, in particular, out in South Holland. They would have huge houses where they would give you full candy bars and stuff, not the little fun sizes. Or like going through Beverly. I remember we would go through Beverly or hit Hyde Park. Like we would go trick-or-treating for hours on end.”
On making Halloween fun for the family:
Mylissa Veal, 32, East Garfield Park: “I’m hopefully gonna, if the weather permits, take [my daughter] to Oak Park for trick-or-treating. If it’s pretty cold, I’ll just take her to North Riverside Mall like my mom did or maybe Navy Pier. Navy Pier is where we usually go. That’s where [people] bring their really creative costumes so you really get to see all the crazy parent-child costumes.”
Chavon Harris, 36, Richton Park: “I would say something unique that happens in Chicago, and we’ve done it in a previous year, [is the] Halloween bar crawl. It’s in the River North area. They also have added a Halloween booze cruise as well for adults that I really wanted to check out this year, but it didn’t work out. I plan to do that in the future.”
Chimeka Powell, 30, Woodlawn: “I think we got plans to go to Jack’s Pumpkin Patch. The little pop-up. They just started promoting it as an adult pop-up. It’s like a pumpkin patch maze and then at the end it’s a bar.”
Nicolas Gardner, 28, South Shore: “This year, I think we’ll try a few houses in the neighborhood that I live in and then we’ll probably venture out closer to where my partner’s mother lives in Chicago Heights.”