Halloween Should be Neighborhood Day

Halloween costumes at 87th St. Elementary school, 1952. | Image: courtesy of USC.

On Halloween Night neighborhoods light up with energy as children scream with excitement, loading orange plastic pumpkins with candy, running from one door to another. Some houses ooze fog and blast scary sounds when suddenly the gorilla with red eyes comes alive sending everyone screaming!

As adults we nostalgically recall a time when neighborhoods were "neighborhoods", like the ones we see in television shows like the Wonder Years or the Halloween scene from E.T. This was a time when kids played in middle of the street, and played hide and seek throughout the neighborhood. But as we grew up, we have grown a bit jaded, realizing, that streets are hazardous, drivers behind wheels are unpredictable, and all things lurking are a menace to our property.

Armenian American children wearing Halloween costumes in classroom at Horace Mann Elementary School, 1986. | Image courtesy of LAPL.

Children in costumes at Halloween party, 1944. | Image: courtesy of LAPL.

It is clear on Halloween that not all neighborhoods are created equally. Every year tens of thousands of families go out to ring doorbells and knock on doors, to ask trick or treat, but not all step out into their own neighborhood. These days, many parents prefer taking their 'trick or treaters' to communities that are perceived as safer, cleaner, or more affluent than their own.

Some neighborhoods have fewer families because the community is aging, others appear to be unsafe or are less than inviting to families. Some streets are stacked with apartment complexes or have large gates hundreds of feet from the doorway, while other neighborhoods get more visitors than others, because they have better "loot" or friends and families that live nearby. We might feel a bit of guilt though, even just for a second, as we think about our own neighborhood. While Halloween is an opportunity to explore another neighborhood, it should also be considered a chance for us to explore our own.

Halloween kid wanders into Los Angeles Police Station, 31 October 1961. | Image: courtesy of USC.

Children in costume pose at a Halloween party at Avalon Gardens on October 31, 1950. | Image: courtesy of LAPL.

Before we get into our cars to go to that other neighborhood, a stroll around the block may turn up something unexpected. Maybe there is that one house with the light left on and at the foot of the door a bowl of candy that provocatively reads "take one only". While on the other hand, we too have doors that will go unanswered if we do not provide a treat, even for that one family that happens upon our door. Whether you're on one side or the other, if these doors go unanswered, our neighbors will recede into their silos, and our neighborhood will remain just a row of boxes.

So Halloween should be more than just a night to fill a bag with candy, but a call to break that wall of trepidation and take a chance to meet a neighbor. While we can't remake those days when we were kids, whether they are imaginary or not, we can make our neighborhood a bit more inviting for our families and neighbors. Let's make Halloween Night, Neighborhood Day.


City-skyline hats at the Halloween party in West Hollywood. October 31, 1992. Image courtesy of USC.

Linda and Mary Buckley, far left and far right, dressed as nuns and ready to trick-or-treat for Halloween in Panorama City, 1957. | Image: courtesy of LAPL.

Aiko, left, and her brother Isamu wear Halloween masks as they sit in the yard of their home at a flower nursery, Flower View Gardens, a family business, on Los Feliz Boulevard, 1925. | Image: courtesy of LAPL.

A group of students outside the University Gymnasium building, ca. 1890. | Image: courtesy of USC.

Halloween party, 1928. | Image: courtesy of USC.

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