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The Turbulent History of Halloween in Carbondale

A decorated Pumpkin
Bee Felten-Leidel

Halloween for many people is a special time of year. The memories of dressing up, getting scared, and eating far too much candy can bring much joy to families for generations.

Some communities go above and beyond with decorations, events, and festivities. However, these celebrations have had a history in some areas of getting out of hand.

Carbondale is one of these communities. Back in the 80’s and 90’s Carbondale and Southern Illinois University was famous for the Halloween parties that would take place in bars and on the streets. However, there was a time when the festivities were far more tame.

John Jackson, an administrator at SIU from the late 60’s till the early 2000’s, says the 70’s were filled with very family friendly ways of celebrating the famous holiday.

“Probably mid 70’s when it really started growing and really started taking off and it was a very family friendly kind of place. There were a lot of people in costumes, mostly SIU students and their guests from other places for the weekend. So it really was a pretty nice community kind of thing” Jackson said.

The family friendly celebrations would not last for very long. SIU and Carbondale would gain notoriety for it’s Halloween parties by being featured in an episode of the TV show called That’s Incredible from the 80’s and being on Playboy's list of the top party schools in the nation.

James Wall, a professor at SIU, says all of this notoriety is what spun the partying out of control.

“They say any publicity is good publicity but unfortunately some of the publicity was about Carbondale being this party town. So low and behold all these people came to town and tore the place up” Wall said. (Bad Publicity) 11s

While the publicity helped bring in other people, Jackson says students from SIU were also sending out the word to other colleges in the state.

“People that would get arrested for really bad stuff, 50 percent of them were not our students. They would come in here from all over the state and there were flyers printed and distributed to U of I Champaign, at eastern, at western saying ‘SIU at Carbondale is wide open. Halloween is back and come on down’” Jackson said. (Fliers distributed) 22s

All of this brought in a far bigger crowd and much more chaos. These massive gatherings would foster fights, destruction, and a lot of injuries. Jackson says many people got hurt and one even died.

“People were getting injured. One guy got killed out on the railroad track, he had an untimely meeting with a train. The thought was that he was too drunk to know where he was. Other students would get on top of the buildings downtown and some of them would jump into the crowd and an ambulance would have to come get them” Jackson said.

All of these injuries left many in the community concerned about both their safety and the safety of the SIU students. Due to the worry, the police began to intervene.

According to a Chicago Tribune article from 1996, four police officers were injured trying to contain the parties of thousands of people. The party goers also flipped multiple cars, broke the windows of many businesses, ripped up street signs, and broke through multiple barricades. This forced the city to step in and attempt to kill off the parties once and for all.

Wall said the city took multiple actions in the pursuit of creating a safer Halloween experience.

“Both the city and the university collaborated and talked to each other and the city decided to put multiple things in place including a keg ban. You couldn’t have a party and go to a store to buy a keg. They also designated a certain area of the city where they made the bars close” Wall said.

The bars were mandated to close at 10 pm but some of the students who were at the parties in the 90’s saw the flaws in this precaution.

“I say the city council sucks for closing the bars at 10. It means that we get drunk sooner and then we party later” a party goer said.

These regulations seemed to have little to no effect on the severity of the parties so the college instituted a fall break in the late 90’s and the more popular bars now had to be closed for the entire weekend.

After a few years of these new tactics, Halloween in Carbondale not only began to calm down, but it became non existent.

Carbondale has tried to bring back some festivities with pumpkin races, some live music, and family friendly events; these do not bring in nearly the crowd that the parties of old did.

Ethan Holder is a student contributor for WSIU Public Broadcasting located at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Contact WSIU Radio at 618-453-6101 or email wsiunews@wsiu.org
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