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Chapel Hill gears up for Halloween festivities

Part of the crowd for Halloween on Franklin St. in 2016.

With Halloween just around the corner, the Town of Chapel Hill is preparing for the spookiest time of the year.

The Morehead Planetarium and Science Center will turn its lens toward the stars as it hosts its inaugural Moonlight Madness from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. Kids of all ages are welcome to participate in a variety of activities related to both science and Halloween. 

Sarah Brown, a spokesperson for the Morehead Planetarium, said Moonlight Madness is an event sponsored by the planetarium and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, which is made up of a variety of local organizations and works to attract people to downtown Chapel Hill. 

“Halloween in Chapel Hill really doesn’t have a very family-centric Halloween event,” Brown said. “Moonlight Madness came about out of a need for having something where families can bring their kids to but hopefully also to get something educational out of it.” 

The event will include a number of science activities. Among the variety of hands-on activities will be a “pumpkin pop,” where families and attendees will watch a pumpkin explode. 

The primary feature of the event is “Scare-olina Skies,” a spooky, shortened twist on the planetarium’s nighttime sky show. It will focus on the legends and myths surrounding the constellations, particularly those featuring “monsters, mayhem and madness,” Brown said. 

Tickets to the show cost $5 each, but the rest of the events are free and will feature more than just science-related topics, including a haunted house, a costume fashion show, food trucks and Halloween-themed games, according to the planetarium’s press release.

Brown said both the planetarium and the partnership are excited for the first annual Moonlight Madness.

“There’s a lot going on in downtown, and we just don’t think people get down here enough,” Brown said. 

The planetarium is selling 1,200 tickets for six 20-minute shows. Because the rest of the event is free, Brown said they are planning for a crowd of around 1,500. 

“This event is rain or shine,” Brown said. 

Meanwhile, the Town is preparing for its Homegrown Halloween, in which costumed crowds swarm Franklin Street to people-watch, socialize and enjoy the holiday. 

The town is taking measures to ensure everyone's safety on the night of Halloween. Starting at 8 p.m. on Oct. 31, the town will close Franklin Street to traffic between Raleigh Street and Church Street. A number of other streets intersecting and surrounding Franklin Street will also be closed to accommodate for the influx of visitors. 

“Extremely large crowd sizes in years past have required public safety strategies,” the Town said in a press release. 

Some of those crowd sizes in years past include a crowd of 40,000 in 2015 and 80,000 in 2008, according to Ran Northam, a spokesperson for the Town.

Since 2015, however, the crowd sizes have dropped to below 30,000. 

“There was a conscious effort by the Town of Chapel Hill to focus on crowd sizes and encourage people to realize that Halloween is really for local people,” Northam said. 

Northam said the celebration, which is not organized by the town, used to have charter buses bringing in students from other universities across the state. The town’s effort to make Halloween “homegrown” has contributed to a significant reduction in crowd size. 

One issue associated with the event is that of alcohol and intoxication. The Chapel Hill Police Department will confiscate any alcohol brought to Franklin Street during the celebration. 

Last year, two individuals were seen by EMS for alcohol-related issues, but in years past, the numbers have been higher. The Town plans to take all measures to reduce any complications regarding alcohol. 


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