Halloween on State Street in 2005 was the end of an era, though none of us knew it at the time. Sadly, the students who remember Halloween before the culture of paid tickets, police supervision and pepper spray are an increasingly smaller minority. Only the students who, like me, were here three years ago experienced the hazard of braving the drunken, costumed horde on State Street. These authentic Halloween celebrations have since been looked upon with nostalgia. But the truth is, while enjoyable and certainly memorable, the event was utter chaos. Both students and property were greatly at risk, and some sort of control desperately needed to be maintained. Now, I understand that the knee-jerk reaction of some students is to conform to cliches of rebelling against authority. But few students can account for how disordered Halloween was in previous years.
Each Halloween, college students for miles would flock to Madison to share in our masquerade. People would cram onto State Street until there were 100,000 costumed college kids, drunk and having fun. But on Halloween, drunks in costume knew they could get away with more and took advantage of this. “‘Sir, could you provide a description of the man who mugged you?” “I’m telling you, officer, it was the Cat in the Hat!”
Everyone knows that the most fun costumes are characters that cause trouble. That’s why the classic gorilla suit remains popular to this day. How many Heath Ledger Jokers do you think we’ll see this Halloween? I’m willing to bet a small swarm of them. But those are the costumes I enjoy too; I say, send in the clowns. But with thousands of typically docile students in disguise causing trouble, there are bound to be people getting hurt. Without some sort of police presence, these Jokers would bring the chaos of Gotham to Madison.
Girls are the most vulnerable of all on Halloween. Some students are bound to get hurt, and the revealing costumes many girls wear offer little protection. These college girls are willing to bare it all in the frigid air of Halloween in Madison, with no one but Jack Daniels and Jim Beam to keep them warm. God bless them, they are truly the unsung heroes of Halloween. But if the chaos on State was allowed to continue, these girls would have to suit up in defense. This is not the type of protection these girls should have to worry about on Halloween.
Just like the Mifflin Block Party every year, a significant portion of those arrested on Halloween are not students at UW-Madison. All the visitors from other schools have no loyalty to Madison and couldn’t care less if State Street burns to the ground. They harass the cops, light smoke bombs and break glass until Madison police have no choice but to pepper spray people back to their homes. I doubt they enjoy using such force against students, but officers are 300 Spartans facing an army of college drunks that are 100,000 strong.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy mayhem as much as the next guy, but I’d rather dodge a little pepper spray than avoid glass and smoke bombs while intoxicated. Controlling the festivities is better than outlawing them, but the methods used in the past two years fell flat as ideal alternatives. Without an actual attraction, Madison charged students a fee to walk down State, which they see for free all the time. In particular, underage students resented paying admission, since they couldn’t go to bars and were essentially paying to wander around.
Shifting Madison’s Halloween festivities to more of the atmosphere of a music festival is a worthwhile transformation. The concert environment will give the event a focal point other than getting drunk and acting ridiculous. This year’s addition of O.A.R. is a great improvement: How you feel about the band’s music is irrelevant. The reality is, the incorporation of a popular, mainstream act adds value to Halloween and makes it an asset to the city and not a liability. This year, Freakfest tickets will provide valuable concert admission instead of a hand stamp at arbitrary toll booths. The city’s new ideas will make Freakfest 2008 an enjoyable concert venue instead of a six-block street with a cover charge. College kids will still come in costume, ready to spend their cash up and down State. And who knows? The money Madison makes might be more than the costs from collateral damage. So whether we are fans of O.A.R. or not, we should be happy that the concert’s inclusion will assure Freakfest’s future and make it possible for both cops and college students to enjoy the colorful costumes this Halloween.
Casey Skeens ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in French.