What About Trick or Treat in Milwaukee?

It’s almost October and local neighborhoods are starting to make decisions about trick or treat.

For more than 30 years, the popular Spooktacular Halloween celebration has taken over Milwaukee’s Washington Heights neighborhood each October.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic is putting a temporary halt to the haunted fun as communities throughout the area struggle with handling Halloween and trick-or-treating during a public health crisis.

“The decision to cancel was a tough one but necessary to keep our neighbors of all ages safe and healthy,” the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association stated this week in a posting on its Facebook page announcing that the Oct. 31 event had been called off for this year.  “We look forward to celebrating Halloween and Spooktacular next year with you.”

The association went on to state that alternative ideas for fun and safe trick-or-treating and Halloween activities will be shared in the coming weeks.

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The Tosa East Towne Neighborhood Association has a long-standing nighttime trick or treat tradition but concerns over COVID-19 have cancelled those plans, too, David Paulsen, president of the association’s board of directors, announced on the organization’s website.

The board reached the conclusion that cancelation, though it may be a disappointment, was the prudent move, given the continued uncertainty about the pandemic’s trajectory and the potential for the virus to be spread rapidly during such a popular, hands-on event,” Paulsen explained.

Paulsen noted that the decision to cancel neighborhood trick-or-treating came a day after Wisconsin set a state record of new COVID-19 cases.  The state has seen a record number of new COVID-19 cases over the past week. COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization climbed to 509 on Wednesday, the highest point since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The association said it is working to plan a full slate of socially distanced festivities, including costume contests and a photo scavenger hunt around the neighborhood in place of trick-or-treating for this year. 

The Wauwatosa Health Department is advising against any Halloween-related parties or gatherings but noted in a posting that trick-or-treating can be done in a safer way through encouraging distancing to any extent possible. 

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has issued guidance related to Halloween. Among the recommendations is avoiding “traditional trick-or-treating from neighbor to neighbor.”

DHS also provided these alternate suggestions:

  • Host virtual costume contests and parties
  • Celebrate at home by watching scary movies with family and making Halloween-themed treats
  • If going through with neighborhood trick-or treating, leave individual grab bags or paper cups outside the door for children to take and watch and wave through a window
  • Get a flu vaccine before taking part in any Halloween activities 

Halloween has also been a big deal in Bay View, with nighttime trick-or-treating a big part of it. The Bay View Neighborhood Association said it will follow the lead of the city of Milwaukee in determining the best course of action for this year’s Halloween festivities.

Jodie Tabak, spokeswoman for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, said on Thursday that city hasn’t yet made a decision about trick-or-treating.

“We would like a little more time so as not to confuse people and to really see where numbers are landing,” Tabak said. 

The Bay View Neighborhood Association will be producing its popular weeklong Pumpkin Pavilion but there will be a dramatic change this year forced by the pandemic. Instead of the usual display of more than 1,000 pumpkins in Humboldt Park, organizers are encouraging residents to decorate their porches, front yards and blocks and sign up to be included on a map that will pinpoint various destinations. 

“We won’t be holding our regular annual event in the park, but we’re hoping our Bay View neighbors will use their creative juices to make it better and BIGGER than ever,” a post on the Pumpkin Pavilion Facebook page states.

As other communities alter their plans this Halloween season, South Milwaukee has committed to moving forward with its plans for nighttime trick-or-treating on Oct. 31. 

“I’m convinced that we can do this safely,” South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks said. 

Brooks is encouraging residents to follow guidelines being developed by the South Milwaukee/St. Francis Health Department, including urging residents to set out prepackaged candy for trick-or-treaters. 

“That alone is a huge step,” Brooks said. “If we are going to do this right, it’s just about taking common sense precautions.”

The pandemic has created an array of challenges for communities, Brooks said.

“In the end, we have to learn to live with COVID-19 and live safely,” he said. “We have to be smart and exercise good judgement and common sense in doing activities, including Halloween and trick-or-treating. There’s a level of concern just about daily life right now. But I am convinced that we can do this safely and that the public can do this safely. We do put a lot of trust in the public to do this right and to follow recommendations.”

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.