Carbondale prepares for Halloween on the Strip

By Dylan Frost

Oct. 27, 2000 was the night that halted a historic event for more than a decade.

A surreal scene, more than 2,500 costume-clad celebrators packed S. Illinois Avenue late at night, causing enough tension for police involvement. Rocks, beer cans and bottles were heaved from all directions — sometimes at police — who retaliated by spraying streams of pepper spray and billows of tear gas until the crowd dispersed.

The cause of the chaotic scene remains to be interpreted differently, but in total, more than 150 arrests were made and several businesses were damaged.


Now, as the city tries to put the event in the past, Hangar 9, Styx and Sidetracks will be in operation Halloween evening for the first time since the riot.

“We see it as just us being able to conduct business on Halloween, which we feel like is the fairest thing for everyone in town,” Hangar 9’s senior talent buyer Caylan Hill said.

Hill said Hangar 9 will have extra staff on hand, only because they expect a large turnout.

“We’re just expecting more of a large crowd inside,” he said. “We’re not preparing extra security because we’re encouraging or preparing for any sort of out-of-control behavior or unacceptable behavior.”

The city will still celebrate unofficial Halloween on the weekend of October 25 and 26, an event partially sponsored by Soberly Intoxicated Entertainment. Marketing director Anthony Greff said the company uses unofficial Halloween to keep students interested in the cities’ Halloween history.

“In my view, unofficial Halloween represents the angst and frustration that students and residents have over Carbondale’s Halloween ban,” Greff said. “Without that motivation, I’m not sure that unofficial Halloween would have grown to half the size it is today.”

The company will host a costume contest at Copper Dragon and a costume party at Pinch Penny Pub on Oct. 26.


Even though the bars will now be open, one resident said the ban lift should be more relaxed. Paul Lewers, who has attended Carbondale Halloween celebrations for 40 years, said he would like the bars to stay open until 6 a.m. as they had in years past.

“The problem is you close the bar at two, one o’ clock is last call,” he said. “People just got there at midnight, there is this huge surge of people thrown out in the street between one and two in the morning.”

Lewers said the extended hours would help make Carbondale a destination location. Staying open until 6 a.m. could also help control the flow of students leaving the bar, he said.

City Councilman Donald Monty disagreed with Lewers.

“I do not support moving the closing hour back to 6 a.m.,” he said. “I am concerned that as more time goes by, people will continue to drink and become less in control of themselves. It has been my observation that by 2 a.m., too many people are already too drunk to control themselves.”

However, Greff said he would like to see the bars remain open until later.

“To be honest, I think a 4 a.m. close time would do Carbondale well. However, if I was offered a 6 a.m. bar time, I certainly wouldn’t be against it,” Greff said.

Carbondale has celebrated Halloween in its own unique way for nearly a century, dating back to the 1910s when thousands came to see the Halloween parade.

In 1923, SIU’s yearbook The Obelisk recalled the parade as “a special event of Hallowe’en. It does this partly to provide a diverting and harmless occupation in place of the usual mischievous pranks, but largely because it satisfies the desire to masquerade lying in every human heart.”

The Obelisk states thousands flocked to Carbondale to witness the parade. In that year, the parade had returned to pre-war splendor it had previously enjoyed.

According to The Obelisk of 1921, the junior class used to throw a Halloween party for the seniors at the once-standing Armory Hall.

“If you could have peeped in the Armory Hall on the Wednesday night before Hallowe’en, you would have seen a host of costumed juniors, dancing and playing games,” the yearbook states. “All the pastimes connected with Hallowe’en were indulged in, including bobbing for apples. Prizes were given to Ruby Lambert who had the most attractive costume, and to some unknown person who remained masked the longest.”

It was not until the late ‘70s when Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa performed at SIU Arena that Carbondale’s Halloween became a party scene that was glorified by students for over a decade.

Dylan’s 1978 performance attracted a crowd of approximately 20,000, who packed S. Illinois Avenue after the event, according to an article written by former City Manager Jeff Doherty on Jan. 9, 1995. In 1974, only 2,000 closed the avenue.

Doherty’s “Carbondale Halloween History” report also describes the attendance and accumulation of arrests and financial damages from the Halloweens from the ‘70s to the mid-‘90s.

The event peaked at 25,000 partiers by 1984. 128 arrests were made and the event cost the city $13,507 in property damage. 381 arrests were made the following year — including seven felonies — and Carbondale accumulated $15,000 in property damages.

The city cracked down on Carbondale Halloween after injuries put five police officers on paid leave in 1988. City council approved a resolution to end Halloween Fair Days, which banned consumption of alcohol on South Illinois Avenue. The crowd size drastically dwindled the following year to 3,500, although there were still 84 arrests and $18,889 in property damage.

By 1995, the event had essentially withered away; then the riots of 2000 caused a rally to eliminate the celebration — leading to Unofficial Halloween as it is today.

However, there is still no guarantee that Halloween will continue next year regardless of its potential success in 2013. The holiday is on a one-year trial, which means that the city council would have to vote again next year to keep it alive.

Greff finds the trial to be problematic and said it is one step forward and two steps back.

“Carbondale’s decision to lift the Halloween ban, as much as I would love to support it, is a half-hearted grab at public favor,” Greff said. “Students and residents alike have spoken out about the lift being long overdue.”

Lewers said the restrictions are to blame, not the students.

“The restrictions are the problem; it’s not the students that make the problem,” he said. “If you look at the top ten ivy-league schools, they’re not puritanical. Those are schools that accept that parties happen. It’s a time for young people to find out exactly what they want to have with that experience.”

Hangar 9 staff will look past the tensions to provide entertainment for the public, Hill said.

“We’re just doing business as usual with performers and acts that we conduct business with all the time,” he said. “We’re not doing anything out of our normal realm of business. We’re just expecting a nice, energetic, fun crowd on a fun weekend.”