After moving back to the States after 4th grade, I always found trick-or-treating to be somewhat of a disappointment. I think that’s because most of my early Halloween experiences were spent in Patrick Henry Village. It’s possible that my memories could have become somewhat sugar-coated over the decades, but I think really PHV was a special place to be during this holiday.
Surely because of the high concentration of families with young kids, participation in Halloween was really high in PHV. I recall that as you walked down the street, in all directions you would hear ominous music and haunting laughter as well as eerie lights and flashing strobes. There was always something happening just up ahead which would make you urge your parents to walk faster so that you could experience the next thing. I also remember smaller things in between the big attractions, such as a string tied from a 2nd-floor window to a tree on the other side of the sidewalk, and someone would slide a little tissue ghost down in front of your path just to give you a little scare.
The apartment buildings were generally set up with three entrances leading to interior apartments, and I don’t recall ever climbing the stairs to hit individual apartments. My guess would be that in many cases the occupants of a particular stairwell (six apartments) would get together to plan how their entrance would be decorated. I particularly recall one doorway where a witch bathed in purple light sat beckoning with a bowl of candy on her lap and I had to be convinced to approach her.
Each unit had a long hallway in the basement running the length of the building, and some buildings would turn this hall into a haunted house–enter through one end, exit through the other. These hallways were lined with doors to storage areas, giving them ample opportunities to jump out at you or set up grisly displays for you to pass by. The laundry room was also down there, and I recall this larger room often being turned into the main attraction of the haunted basement, or the place where you got your candy reward for braving the scares.
In addition to all the resident-created scares, I recall that there were official events happening in one of the buildings in the northern part of the village. My guess would be that it was in the recreation center just south of the Officers Club, or at least I remember that building as a rec center. In this building I can remember bobbing for apples and also searching for needles in a haystack, only the needles turned out to be butterscotch candies.
One year I chose a costume off the rack just because I thought it looked neat — it was one of those cheap plastic pullover sets with equally flimsy plastic mask that was held on by a rubber band and hard to breathe through. It was a Martian, that’s all I knew about it. I recall getting a lot of questions and confused looks from adults because nobody knew what I was dressed up as. I actually had to dig around a bit to find the answer, since this creature comes from a film I’ve still yet to see: 1955’s This Island Earth:
From the Halloweens I’ve observed in other places I’ve lived, including my current neighborhood, it seems like a rather reserved affair where most of the time it’s just adults in everyday clothing sitting at the end of their driveway with a bowl of candy. Houses that are actually converted into attractions–smiling ghosts and pumpkins in the window don’t count–seem to be a real rarity, and you have to travel to a dedicated haunted house to get any proper Halloween atmosphere. Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times, since it seems to be becoming increasingly taboo to actually scare children on Halloween, but I think at least in part the residents and staff of PHV worked to make it a true experience and memory for their collective kids.
Since it’s been well over 30 years since I lived in PHV, I’d love to hear any confirmation of the experience I remember, and would be delighted to learn that this is still a PHV tradition today!