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Franklin Street Halloween celebration smaller, still 'nothing but love'

20231031_Peng_halloween-on-franklin-street-2023
A group dressed as Toads wait in line on Franklin Street on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023.

Halloween on Franklin Street has long been one of Chapel Hill’s most prominent traditions. However, this year’s showing was notably small — but no less jovial.

In years past, the town jubilee on Halloween has drawn tens of thousands. In 2008, the number of attendees exceeded the entire population of Chapel Hill by 20,000 to 30,000 — coming in at around 80,000 total people.

The Franklin Street event has historically brought in thousands of costumed revelers, not only Chapel Hill locals and UNC students, but visitors from across the state and beyond.

In the past, the Chapel Hill Police Department has closed Franklin to automotive traffic to protect pedestrians. 

This year, plans were announced to block off the street from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., but they were never closed due to an unexpectedly small crowd, according to the Chapel Hill Police Department. However, several police officers stood by with cones and “road closed” signs should the need have arisen.

This year’s somewhat reduced attendance may also have to do with the holiday falling on a Tuesday, especially as it coincided with midterm season for many UNC students. 

A heightened concern for public safety has historically come with the tradition, according to Town officials. Previous Halloween festivities on Franklin Street have included bonfires and excessive drinking.

Several community members also prepared for a gigantic crowd. But, especially in comparison to the legendary Chapel Hill Halloweens of years past, the street felt markedly spare.

Chapel Hill resident Willow Quillen, who was dressed as Kim Possible, said there were more attendees last year despite worse weather conditions. 

“When it was cold and actually raining, there were still way more people,” they said. 

Despite high expectations, the sidewalks along Franklin Street were hardly busier than they would be on any Friday evening, save for the immobile line to get into Still Life.

However, the scarcity of attendees did anything but bring down the mood. There was an abundance of laughter, candy, camaraderie and, of course, costumes. 

Even with the somewhat meager attendance, the annual party drew a wide-ranging crowd, including some who have seen the tradition grow into what it is today.

“When I was here in the '80s, and between then and now, the streets were closed and sometimes there were bonfires,” Caroline Slade, who has lived in the area since 1982, said. “It feels a little bit more orchestrated and planned by the city, but it’s nice. There’s definitely room to walk around, and it feels super comfortable to me.”

One such costumed visitor was long-time Franklin Street Halloween participant Kendrick McMahan, this year dressed as Gandalf. McMahan described the event as “amazing” in comparison to years past. He sat at a table outside Sup Dogs, posing for pictures with passersby, for a majority of the evening.

Several impromptu gatherings occurred as well, including a group tossing candies to costumed people from the roof of Carolina Square, and a lightsaber battle with several participants with “Star Wars”-themed musical accompaniment from passing cars. 

“Halloween on Franklin’s been amazing,” first-time attendee and Durham Technical Community College student Carmelo Torres, said. 

Torres was dressed as “Star Wars” Mace Windu this year.

“I’ve run into so many other 'Star Wars' fans, the streets are lively, everybody’s got a smile on their face, videos everywhere, it’s just nothing but love.”

@dthlifestyle | lifestyle@dailytarheel.com

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