As a Franklin Street Halloween celebrator for many a year gone by, and a huge Halloween fan to begin with - I've had plenty of time to make observations of what works, what thrills the crowd, and what could pass for one step short of an indecent exposure charge. And frankly, I love all of it.
First and foremost -- wear a costume. You are not too cool to be a part of this crowd. This is Halloween and you are coming to Franklin Street; there is an expectation that you will dress up and play along with others. It doesn't have to be elaborate but you will have to put some thought into it.
Halloween Begins and Ends on Franklin Street
If you don’t have a costume yet then start shopping! Time After Time Vintage Thrift and the Clothing Warehouse are great stops for those that are still undecided - store staff will help you pull together a winning costume. Don't forget the UNC fan gear shops -- even if you aren't going dressed as Rameses or a zombie Tar Heel fan -- these shops have tons of unique accessories that can go with any costume. Studio Supply has every kind of arts & crafts supply you would need. Walgreens has those final touches like makeup, hair accessories, rope, and tape (what good costume doesn't involve rope & tape? NONE!). And Light Years Jewelry has scarves, sunglasses, and costume jewelry to complete an ensemble.
Learn the THRILLER Dance
At first you’ll faintly hear the song being played, then the crowd will part and those with the skills will find their way to the circle. Some years it’s the whole crew – complete with zombie Michael Jackson leading the brain-thirsty crowd. Other years it’s just random rodeo clowns, 1940’s sailors, bumblebees, and monsters that feel the beat and are drawn in. Trust me it WILL happen - and when it does you will wish you’d learned it ahead of time too. Check out this scene from 2009.
Group Costumes Are Crowd Pleasers
And you are here to please us - so get creative! It already takes courage to dress up so group costumes are a great idea for the night. I expect we’ll see a few Jersey Shore casts and Mad Men get-ups this year and I can’t wait! There are some classic group costumes like Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz crew and Alfalfa & the Gang that are easy to assemble. All good ideas but jazz them up – why not be the best zombie Oompa Loompas you can be? Be the game of SCRABBLE; each friend can have a letter on their chest, scoot about and spell out words. (If you can spell out TAR and then get the crowd to yell HEEL - bonus points!) How about rock, paper, scissors, lizard, and Spock? Be the Candyland characters or the Fantastic Four or the months of the year or a herd of zoo animals. Whatever the group theme is – it’s always more fun when you are with friends.
And don’t be surprised when the Ghostbusters run by you complete with backpacks & jumpsuits, screaming “Venkmen this way!" - and then tackle the first guy they see in a white sheet. It’s timeless, it’s fun – and the crowd loves it!
Humor Beats Gore and Sexiness Every Time
Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that Halloween is a great time to let your freak flag fly – but make me smile and laugh and I’m yours forever. Like the guy who was Waldo – when someone would finally yell “Hey, there’s Waldo!”; off he’d run to another spot until he was' found' again. And to the brave soul who will dress as Richard Simmons and do some serious aerobics – you kill me. And I don’t care that it’s done every year – I always appreciate the guy who will gift wrap a cardboard box and attach a big tag that reads “To: Women, From: God”. Sir, you made my day.
BE the Pez Dispenser With All Your Heart and Soul
We all get it….dressing like the Cookie Monster and walking on Franklin Street for a couple of hours is not something that most of us would do on any given day of the year. So feelings of awkwardness and ‘why didn’t I just be a pirate?’ are gonna happen. Just embrace your character and get into it. Talk in the Cookie Monster voice – “Me Want Cookies!”; bring a box of cookies with you and hand them out to people; and definitely walk up to the gal dressed like an Oreo and gobble her up!
Everyone loves the person that seemingly never breaks character. Like the guy who every year dresses up like Forrest Gump – sits on one of the benches downtown with a box of chocolates and a Bubba Gump Shrimp hat on and asks people if they know when the number 9 bus is coming. Go ahead and try to have a normal conversation with him!
I’m On a Boat!
I predict internet memes will be a big hit on Franklin Street this year. If you can pull off the Nyan cat, Scumbag Steve, or dead Amy Winehouse go for it. Oh Amy, is it too soon? No, it’s Halloween and I expect - no DEMAND-- a good Amy Winehouse zombie that tries to eat the brains of the first guy she sees with a Bud Light box on his head because it was all he could find in the recycling bin as he left his house that night.
If you do go the internet meme route, you may have to explain what you are but those of us that spend time on that thing called ‘the internets’ will appreciate it. For other popular culture ideas -- think of characters from a popular movie or tv show this year, viral videos, internet comedy sketches, funny commercials, political figures, and international events.
Don’t overlook the hometown culture either. I’m pretty sure we’ll see a few people dressed as former UNC football Coach Butch Davis with a cardboard sign reading “Need Work” around their necks. (Again – too soon? NO - it's Halloween!)
Sexy Cat, Sexy Nurse, Sexy Stop Sign
Halloween has always been an excuse to abandon ones inhibitions, throw modesty out the window, and try on a new personality. Most folks will caution you to go beyond the sexy tube of toothpaste costume you were planning. But I say – go for it! Halloween is nothing if not a collective spirit of having a good time and enjoying oneself. But at least attempt a new take on the standard get ups. Put some effort and thought into it -if you insist on having a sexy costume then be the sexiest bulldozer you can be. Wait..what? See, humor trumps sexiness everytime. See above.
Keep Safe and Carry On
Halloween on Franklin Street is not the free-for-all that your older cousin told you about with a glimmer in his eye. It has smartly become a more controlled, safer, and yet still exciting night for everyone. You will be stopped by police officers before you get to the main stretch and you will not be allowed to bring in any costume accessories that are, or even look like, weapons. Also prohibited are paint, fireworks, animals, alcohol, glass bottles, or coolers. So, Cleopatra leave the snake at home. And Luke Skywalker – if your get up doesn’t convey what you are then a faux-lightsaber isn’t going to help you.
If there is one thing that we do extremely well in Chapel Hill is throw a great street celebration and we do it with our utmost southern charm and congeniality. Taking care of each other is a shared value that we expect everyone to have. This is a night of creativity and fun– so have a safe Halloween and keep your hands to yourself (I’m looking at you Guy who is dressed as Charlie Sheen) and when it does get crowded – keep an eye out for anyone that may need a helping hand even if it is a green bumpy alien hand.
Finally, I would like to propose a new tradition this year on Franklin Street - everyone bring candy to pass out! Don’t turn it into the beads ala New Orleans and don’t throw it at each other – leave the tricks at home. This is Halloween after all and giving out candy is just a nice thing to do. And plus I REALLY like candy.