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Halloween may offer welcome diversion

Village Halloween Parade
Some observers expect the annual Village Halloween Parade in New York to attract a larger crowd than ever.  

By Thurston Hatcher

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site was prepared for some rough going after the terrorist attacks.

The famed former prison in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, relies heavily on its annual Halloween tour for funding, but officials said they feared this year's event might be a bust in the September 11 aftermath.

"We had deep concerns about it," program director Sean Kelley said. "We had already begun discussions about how we would have to scale back operations if there was a drop-off in attendance, which seemed very likely."

But something curious happened October 13, when more than 3,000 people visited "Terror Behind the Walls," breaking the event's single-night record.

"We don't know what to make of it except people seem to want to get out of the house," Kelley said.

Across the United States, businesses and event organizers said they hope that sentiment will take hold after seven angst-ridden weeks.

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In New York, the annual Village Halloween Parade typically draws millions, and some speculate this year's crowd could be larger than ever as New Yorkers seek some emotional release October 31.

"This is the night when people dance, that's what this holiday is about. It's about dancing in the face of death," said Jeanne Fleming, the event's artistic director.

Third-biggest party day

Although it may not rank with Thanksgiving or Christmas in holiday status, Halloween is big business for certain industries, including the candy and costume businesses. And according to Hallmark, which markets party supplies, it's the third-biggest party day after New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday.

A spokeswoman for candy manufacturer M&M/Mars says sales so far are consistent with previous years. And a survey for the National Retail Federation said consumers planned to spend an average of $45 per household on Halloween costumes and decorations, generating an estimated $6.9 billion in sales.

"I think that consumers are still very much looking forward to celebrating the holiday," federation spokeswoman Sarah Scheuer said.

Even if the partying goes on unabated, there's no doubt that September 11 has affected the tone of this year's Halloween.

At costume shops, for example, there's a run on Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam outfits.

"It's been totally patriotic," said Gregg Kerns of the National Costumers Association, who owns four costume stores in Ohio. "Anything from Uncle Sam to Betsy Ross to the Statue of Liberty has been real hot."

No taste for gory elements

The macabre, however, may be out this year. The penitentiary removed a fake head and a few other gory elements, and Norcostco Atlanta Costume in Georgia did away with a coffin that was in its window display last year.

"This year we didn't really feel like doing that," said Patti Rogers, manager of Norcostco's costume rental department. "We've got fantasy kinds of things in there."

A planned haunted house in Washington was scrapped after the attacks, and others considered changing their names, according to Leonard Pickel, editor of Haunted Attraction magazine.

"There was a lot of concern, especially with people who had the word terror in the name of their attraction," he said. "Some people were changing that kind of stuff, but I'm not sure that was warranted."

As for the biggest of Halloween rituals, there's no telling how many kids will be hitting the streets this year. But Lake Oswego, Oregon, teacher Vicki Clark said students are buzzing about what they're going to be this year.

"It sounds like everyone's interested in going out trick-or-treating," she said.


• 26th Annual New York's Village Halloween Parade
• Eastern State Penitentiary
• National Costumers Association
• Haunted Attraction Magazine

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