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Have big Halloween treat bag, will travel

By Mackenzie Carpenter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – 10/29/2006 – 12:00am

Better goodies in distant neighborhoods …

Every Halloween, many kids in search of more “boo!” for their buck don’t hesitate to leave their home communities in search of sweeter trick-or-treat opportunities elsewhere.

For Laurie Riggle, who grew up trick-or-treating in Mt. Lebanon, marriage to a Washington County dairy farmer means an annual pilgrimage with her children to the metropolis of West Alexander, where, with a couple of hundred other rural witches, ghosts and goblins, she celebrates Halloween at the new community center.

Joann Monroe, who grew up in the Hill District, remembers venturing into Squirrel Hill “because that’s where the big candy bars were.”

For true connoisseurs, certain neighborhoods or municipalities have built legendary reputations for great Halloween ambience, high-volume candy harvests or both, whether they be on Highland Avenue in Highland Park, the North Side’s Allegheny West and Mexican War streets or the little community of Rennerdale in Collier.

More and more, it seems, trick-or-treating is becoming a competitive sport, with more families descending on distant neighborhoods in search of a bigger, better sugar high. While this practice is frowned upon by some etiquette experts, not to mention some who just don’t like strangers, there are signs that trick-or-treat migration is a national phenomenon.

On a Seattle Internet blog devoted to the city’s trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood, there’s “the ultimate guide to Fancy Pants Capitol Hill Trick-or-Treating,” delineating the wealthier sections block by block, even house by house, on a “heat map” called “The Capitol Hill Seattle Candy Action scale,” which can be used “to zero in on key neighborhoods and then fine-tune your assault street by street.”

Not everyone thinks that giving candy to strangers is such a great thing. From Milwaukee to Fort Worth, from Cleveland to Allentown, complaints about trick-or-treaters from “other neighborhoods” have surfaced in the media.

In Norfolk, Va., one reader wrote to the Virginian-Pilot about “nonresident children” coming to her neighborhood, complaining that they weren’t in costume and had bad manners. A reader of the Allentown Morning Call reacted to a similar complaint by calling it “an example of elitist intolerance cleverly masked behind ‘concern for our children’s safety.’ ”

Locally, two readers e-mailed the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to complain about strangers at their door on Halloween. Amy Baverso, of Butler, said she had fond memories of Reese’s peanut butter cups and popcorn balls being handed out to her as a child in Braddock Hills, and recalls heading into another neighborhood herself, Maple Avenue, in Edgewood, where there were full-size candy bars.

Recently, though, her parents and their neighbors have stopped giving out candy at their Braddock Hill homes because, she said, local “residents do not trick or treat anymore. The kids we did get were from the neighboring parts of the area, mainly Wilkinsburg and Swissvale. …Also, many of the ‘kids’ are actually older.

“This isn’t a racist thing. It’s more about age-ism,” Ms. Baverso said in an interview.

Another woman, who asked that her name not be used, described her Turtle Creek neighborhood as “inundated with trick-or-treaters on Halloween,” most of them not from the area.

One Pittsburgh neighborhood long known for a deluge of trick-or-treaters from nearby communities is South Point Breeze. Lori Schaller, director of YouthPlaces, a citywide after-school program, grew up on Thomas Boulevard in North Point Breeze.

“We used to cross over Penn Avenue every year” to trick or treat, she said. “We went there because it was flatter than other neighborhoods and there were bigger candy bars. For a lot of young families today, safety may be an issue, too.”

Terry Hartman, of South Point Breeze, said he looked forward to the deluge of trick-or-treaters swamping the streets each Halloween.

“I’d say, maybe, 60 percent of them aren’t from around here, but that doesn’t bother me,” Mr. Hartman said. “We always make sure to get extra candy for them.”

Outsiders welcome
“It’s such a touchy subject,” said Sue Fox, a California-based etiquette consultant with her own Web site,, and author of “Etiquette for Dummies.”

Still, Ms. Fox generally discourages the practice of dropping teenagers off in other neighborhoods or taking one’s own children in search of better candy, “because it can send the wrong message to your children, that more is better, or that these people have a better life than we do.”

She acknowledges that some neighborhoods aren’t good candidates for candy, period. “Here in California, there are some multicultural neighborhoods with Chinese or East Indian populations, where trick-or-treating is not part of their tradition, so some parents may have no choice but to go elsewhere.”

In her town of Los Gatos, Calif., there’s a neighborhood called Almond Grove known for its Halloween festivities “where they close the street off and you’ve still got hundreds of people driving in from other neighborhoods, and there’s really nothing you can do to stop it.”

That’s not exactly what happens in Allegheny West, but close enough. Every year, Thomas Barbush and his neighbors set up chairs and tables on the sidewalk, order pizza, drink beer out of coffee cups and brace themselves for a deluge of fairies, pirates, ghosts and, yes, the occasional surly teenager without a costume.

“I would estimate about 30 kids live on our street, but we must get about 300 trick-or-treaters,” Mr. Barbush said.

Allegheny West’s attractions to outsiders are obvious: Its streets are lined with row houses, some 40 to 70 houses a block on both sides, which means a lot of candy per square inch.

“It’s a great thing,” Mr. Barbush said, “a real block party.”

That kind of urban density works well for trick-or-treaters in the city, but for rural folk, Halloween can be more challenging, because houses are so far apart. Yet country trick-or-treating can have a charm all its own.

For Scott Ardisson, who grew up on a farm outside Delmont, the memories are as pure as the freshly baked sticky buns, churned butter and milk, not to mention the offer of a pet calf or kitten, he’d receive from his neighbor’s dairy farm.

“My mom dressed me in a homemade costume, and we’d get in the Jeep and drive down our country lane to Joe Verbanic’s place, where the treats included hot chocolate, a bushel of apples and dozens of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies,” Mr. Ardisson recalled in an e-mail. “There were no Halloween decorations, no candies, just precious time with good neighbors who telephoned the day before Halloween to make sure they had a visit from me.”

That all changed when he became a teenager and headed into town with all his friends, as do most rural families today, at least in Washington County.

Where the action is
“I get between 500 and 700 trick-or-treaters,” said Nancy Brownlee, who hands out candy at her store, Minton’s Market in Claysville. Most of them are either from West Alexander, five miles away, or Avella, about 15 miles away.

Part of the reason she gets so many people, she believes, is because the towns don’t coordinate their Halloween holidays. Some hold it on a Saturday night, while others wait until Oct. 31, “so you have a lot of double dipping going on.”

In the end, though, some communities simply have a great reputation for celebrating Halloween, drawing people from far and wide. One is the tiny hamlet of Rennerdale, near Carnegie.

“It’s a real gem of a find for trick-or-treaters,” said Tony Williams, one besotted resident who went on to describe his community as “the town that time forgot. It’s like living inside a Norman Rockwell painting.”

The Baby Ruths might not be king-size, but the Halloween action starts early, on Saturday evening, with the town’s parade and its famous Night Walk on a mile-long wooded trail past a duck pond, decorated with lighted pumpkins carved by neighbors and “witches” handing out hot chocolate and cider, and ending at the fire house, where the little ones get treats.

“We ended up giving out more than 500 gift bags last year, which tells me a lot of people are coming from elsewhere,” said Doreen Ducsay, a retired Collier commissioner who came up with the Night Walk idea a few years ago.

Rennerdale has its share of trick-or-treat strangers who ignore trick-or-treat etiquette, said Barbara Reidl, who remembered “when this kid drove up in a car, smoking, saying he wanted candy. He wasn’t even wearing a costume. And I thought, ‘What was that about?’ ”

But, for the most part, most people gladly open their doors to little princesses and vampires, no matter where they’re from.

“Still, I might have to buy some more candy bars now that I know this article is coming out,” Ms. Reidl said.

First published on October 29, 2006 at 12:00 am

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