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Schools try for a lighter and brighter Halloween

By Jeffrey Obser Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday October 31, 2001

Halloween is showing a less deadly face this year. 

Images of real-life death and destruction, along with taut nerves over everyday safety concerns, have dimmed the appeal of bloody costumes and spooky strangers in the night, some educators and parents say. 

“I think there does seem to be a more dampened nature to it,” said Dr. Matthew R. Mock, program supervisor of family youth and children services for Berkeley. He attributed this to the awareness that “people did actually die in a gruesome kind of way.” 

In an e-mail to the Berkeley High School community, co-principal Laura Leventer said students “should be respectful of September’s tragedy by avoiding scary costumes or pranks.” 

District-wide, said Leventer, “I think everybody’s putting something out about basically just being respectful.”  

She said on the block where she lives, “they put out a letter to everyone in the neighborhood to keep in mind the new tenor, not to scare people too much, that kind of thing.” 

Mock said some parents he had talked to were paying more attention to their teenagers this year than in the past. 

“There’s just a little bit more of being aware of their behaviors, being aware of certain partying or the things they might do,” he said. 

May Lynne Gill, the parent of a student at Cragmont Elementary, said the school had always disapproved of children carrying fake weapons on Halloween, but that “it’s specifically more so now.” 

“The kids aren’t responding the same way the parents are,” she said. “I think parents, when they see costumes with blood – personally, I’m appalled. I like it even less than I did in the past. But I don’t think the kids are affected. I think they’re still in their zone.” 

Mock said among kids he has observed – including his own daughter – this year’s costumes are “more on the good side: Firefighters, police, cheerleaders, and superheroes rather than two-headed or headless persons or something like that.” 

The two elementary schools that responded to the Daily Planet’s unscientific survey of Halloween plans indicated a determination to make the day fun, in spite of current events. 

“Our plans are the same,” said Brenda Stanford, the Berkeley Arts Magnet School secretary. “We’ll still have a parade unless it rains, in which case our kindergarten through third grade will parade inside our school building.” 

Malcolm X Elementary Principal Cheryl Chinn said Halloween would be exactly as it always was this year. And according to the district’s public information consultant, Marian Magid, Thousand Oaks Elementary plans to carry out its annual Halloween parade with special relish because it is the first time since the opening of the school’s new facility. 

Halloween has its origins in the Celtic belief that the dividing line between the physical and spirit world are suspended on Oct. 31, “All Hallow’s Eve,” otherwise known as All Saints’ Day. This rupture, the belief went, allowed the spirits of those who passed away in the previous year to come back in search of bodies to possess. The custom of wearing costumes arose as a way to ward off those spirits. 

At Halloween Headquarters on University Avenue Tuesday, midday shoppers kept the registers ringing with armfuls of plastic and polyester costume gear. Aisles were, as ever, outfitted with fire chiefs’ hats and facial-burn makeup kits. 

“My family’s more concerned about the fact that I’m going to a crowded place,” said shopper Marie Louise Cremer, a UC Berkeley graduate student in information management and systems. 

“It’s the idea of totally hiding your identity,” she said. “I guess there’s more suspicion around people who try to hide their identity at the moment.” 

Lauren Greenberg, the store’s assistant manager, said some people were more enthusiastic about Halloween this year – not to make light of the recent events, but “as a way of coping with it.” 

The sale of many American flags is “definitely a new thing,” she said. “There’s also a Statue of Liberty costume we couldn’t keep in the store,” she said. 

“I think at least in our family we are trying to make it the same as usual, even maybe a little more overboard, to kind of make up for” the current atmosphere, said Alan Mayer, an Albany resident who said he was helping build a haunted house at his son’s middle school. 

I guess there’s just more tension,” said Chinn. “People aren’t as relaxed about it anymore.”