What’s not to like about Oct. 31 in New Orleans?
Don’t you know how to make a paint egg?” My confidential Halloween informant, a local attorney with obvious skills in mayhem, explained that a carefully emptied eggshell could be filled with paint. Tossing such eggs was a Halloween night custom in his youth. His favorite trick, however, was “putting soap on the streetcar tracks – the car would just slide past the stop.”
Judging by those memories, Halloween in the Garden District in the 1930s wasn’t much different from anywhere in town over the years. And whether locals remember their favorite haunted house or sweet treat, everyone has their own favorite part of Halloween.
In New Orleans, each neighborhood had its special features. In Lakeview, that included a haunted house. Patricia Murret, Assistant Director of Publications and Communications at University of New Orleans, always trick-or-treated with cousins in old Lakeview. “I remember stories of that haunted house,” she says. The home of the Orchard family, the solidly-build structure was at 214 Porteous St., at the corner of Milne Boulevard. Age, illness and family tragedies resulted in deterioration and vandalism, but, until the building was finally razed in the 1970s, it was a spooky spot on the Halloween trick-or-treat route.
Lakeview has a Facebook page, titled “I grew up in Lakeview, did you? What do you remember?” (facebook.com/groups/246174985406087) Besides the haunted house, one of the online memories is of a beloved teacher at Hynes School, Ophelia Rees “Fifi” Risley, who used to decorate her porch and sit there on Halloween, dressed as a witch to dispense goodies.
Geoffrey Roniger, owner of Freret Street Yoga, remembers trick-or-treating with friends on Fairway Drive. “It was very festive, every house was decorated and even the adults had on costumes.” His favorite treat? “Little Snickers bars. We would just load up – a garbage bag full of junk food. And, you’d keep it around, ration it out, until your mom finally threw it away.”
Roniger attended Metairie Park Country Day School, where every year the kindergarten class parades in their Halloween costumes. Roniger was “Greedo from Star Wars – the green alien creature that Han Solo shoots in the beginning. I had a green top and pants and blue gloves, and my aunt Mary Sue Roniger made me a papier mâché head. It was sparkly green, it was huge and the ears were perfect – it was really cool!” Roniger recalls.
Keeping up the family tradition, Roniger’s son Xander, a student at St. Paul’s School, dressed up as Darth Vader last year. (Younger brother Zach was costumed as Elmo.)
Adults like Halloween, too. The Krewe of Boo (KreweOfBoo.com) parades through the French Quarter on Sat., Oct. 26. And the gay community’s Halloween New Orleans, a fundraiser for Project Lazarus (supporting care for HIV/Aids patients) celebrates its 30th year Oct, 24-27. (Check HalloweenNewOrleans.com for details, and remember, this event has already raised $4.6 million.)
The House of Blues will host the Endless Night Vampire Ball (EndlessNight.com) on Sat., Oct. 26. This “masquerade ball-themed soirée” began in New Orleans in 1998, and there are balls in Paris and New York, according to the event’s organizer, Father Sebastiaan (that’s the Dutch spelling, he says). A maker of custom fangs (he’s a former dental technician) Sebastiaan admits he “downsized” the local event after 9/11, and after Katrina, he waited until 2008 to begin it again. Theme this year is “Vampires vs. Zombies” (“it will be sort of a dance-off”) and Sebastiaan will go as a “Zombie Borgia Cardinal”).
Another New Orleans Halloween custom is the haunted house. The first haunted house intended as a fundraiser was advertised in The Times-Picayune in 1970 by the Stardusters Drum and Bugle Corps, then located in Arabi. In the past, the Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff held a haunted house. One offering this year will be an elaborate commercial haunted house operation at The Mortuary at 4800 Canal St. The venue, once a funeral home, offers a Zombie Outbreak theme this year. On nights it’s open, doors will close at 11 p.m. “or when the last victim to purchase a ticket has gone through,” according to its website, Mortuary.net.
To most New Orleanians, Halloween marks the end of the month of October. But to Jessica Krupa, it also marked her first day in the city. Famed drummer and family member, Gene Krupa, isn’t the only Krupa to love jazz. “I had lived in Los Angeles all my life, and I decided to move 2,000 miles away – on a whim,” she explains. “I took a red eye flight from Los Angeles, changed planes in Atlanta and I got here after midnight – and when I got in the airport they were playing old jazz. It was incredible!”
Miscommunications with her only two acquaintances in the city forced her to take a cab to town. “We drove on Esplanade and it was like a dream to me, it was so beautiful.” Finally, she connected with her friends and moved with them into their new apartment off Elysian Fields.
By then it was Halloween night 2012. “There was no electricity, so we got some little tea lights.” Jessica was prepared: “I had made my own Harley Quinn Costume, and one of my friends was costumed as the Joker.” The two “Batman” characters helped create a zombie outfit for the other friend. (“We just painted her face red and threw dirt all over her.”)
It was an impromptu party and a different sort of introduction to a new city, but, as Jessica explains, “It was the most brilliant Halloween I’ve ever had!”
Guess what? It isn’t an “Old New Orleans Custom.”
The first mention of Halloween in The Picayune wasn’t until Oct. 31, 1871: “Hallowe’en … was formerly supposed, among the superstitious classes of the Scottish people, to be a time when witches … held annual holiday.”
However, in New Orleans, “our people will be making arrangements for the appropriate observance of All Saints’ Day tomorrow.” First mention of a local Halloween party came only on Nov. 8, 1891, with a note that “Miss Virgie Fairfax entertained a number of her young friends at a very pleasant Halloween party.” “Trick or treat” wasn’t acknowledged until Oct. 28, 1944, in a column on Halloween party recipes from local home cooks.