City, law enforcement officials hope for safe Unofficial Halloween
City officials and local business owners are approaching the Unofficial Halloween weekend with ease and say they expect the events to remain peaceful despite previous occurrences.
“The city wants people to come out and have a good time,” Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said Thursday. “As long as people act responsibly, it’s not hurtful to the community.”
Unofficial Halloween is one of three large unsanctioned holidays traditionally celebrated by SIU students with drinking, dressing up, house parties and bar events. Organized annually in mid-October, the party got its start in 2000 after a Carbondale city ordinance restricted bars along the Strip from opening on Oct. 31.
The ordinance — which was passed because of a riot that broke out as a pre-Halloween tradition — also prohibited the sale of keg beer.
Williams said the chatter on social media has been light, but there will likely be a heightened police presence in the city over the weekend. Criminal activity that requires an influx of police personnel and cleanup are downsides to the holiday, he said, but if the city manages through the holiday incident-free, there is potential to bring revenue to Carbondale.
“As long as city resources aren’t required, Carbondale will benefit,” Williams said.
SIU Police Chief Benjamin Newman said his department usually coordinates with Carbondale Police during large events to help out and plans to have some extra staff on hand through the weekend. Although there were 56 citations at last year’s event, Newman said he does not expect any problems.
“Partygoers should be smart, be responsible and look out for one another,” he said.
Halloween celebrations in the city date back to the 1970s, when enrollment was roughly 21,000. Reports of disturbances, some of them violent and destructive, go back just as far.
In 1994, Carbondale police arrested more than 100 people after an estimated 2,000 flooded down the Strip, some breaking windows and turning over cars, according to news reports from the time. A few years later, 27 rioters were arrested for throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at police, tearing down street signs and breaking store windows.
When the Carbondale City Council voted to restrict businesses from operating on Halloween Day in 2000, the measure was meant to curtail the episodes of violence and civil disobedience that had for years set city officials on edge each October.
After more than a decade of mostly quiet Halloweens, the council re-examined the issue in 2013 and voted to implement a trial period to allow the businesses to resume regular operation.
In 2014, a large group of people flipped a parked car over in the 400 block of South Ash Street. Three were arrested.
When the trial period ended in July 2015, the council voted to rescind the ordinance entirely. At the time, city council members said they no longer saw a need for the bans.
Anthony Greff, owner of Soberly Intoxicated, an entertainment brand based out of Carbondale, started organizing events at local establishments around the holiday in 2010. His other promotions include large-scale drinking parties promoted during Polar Bear and Solar Bear, the two other weekends traditionally associated with college students in the region.
“This event brings a lot of positive press and money,” Greff said. “The people who flip cars aren’t what Unofficial is about, they’re just looking for trouble.”
While he did not create the holiday, Greff said he took what was there and made a more organized event by reaching out to local and national businesses for sponsorship.
“College students will party regardless, but my idea was to bring more money to the city,” Greff said. “It’s a marketing tool for the school, whether SIU wants to admit it or not.”
One of the longtime hosts of the party, James Karayiannis, owner of Pinch Penny Pub, said any large-scale event such as Unofficial increases patrons to his bar.
“I’m from this area, so I remember Unofficial in the ’80s,” said Karayiannis, who has worked at the bar for 25 years.
Karayiannis said a negative aspect of the event is it takes business away from actual Halloween.
“You see a lot of students going to other college campuses like University of Illinois and Illinois State on actual Halloween, so not as many people are here to come out to the bar,” Karayiannis said. “We remember when Carbondale was a bigger and better place and we get to see that on Unofficial.”