No sign of residents letting Halloween on Hanover give up the ghost

Just how big is the annual event to homeowners, and when did it start?

Matthew Stanley has about $400 in decorations he’s amassed over the years outside his home on the 2200 block of Hanover Avenue. Since 2009, the Fan resident has been among the dozens along a five block corridor who’ve for decades tricked out their homes for trick-or-treaters young and old.

“We knew to expect it,” said Stanley, who’s also president1 of the Fan District Association. “We knew when we bought our house that we were buying a house on Hanover and we would therefore be participating in Halloween in a big way.”

The annual spectacle draws people from all over the city who walk Hanover’s nearly half-mile stretch of concentrated Halloween displays. “Lombardy [Street] to basically Fox Elementary school is kind of the length of the street that really, what I would say, goes all-out and where the crowds really come to,” Stanley2 said.

Hanover residents go well beyond the perfunctory porch pumpkin. “There are some people who actually go out and construct big sets, which is pretty cool, and there are other people who will do various themes from year to year,” Stanley said.

“One guy has constructed this ship, basically a pirate ship he puts out every year and assembles it. It’s got port holes that people stick their hands through to drop candy down,” he said. “Last year, somebody did some sort of under-the-sea type deal where they took plastic wrap and chicken wire and made some elaborate setup.”

To say residents are fans of Halloween is understating things. “Most of the neighbors that I know take the day off from work just so they can be at home getting ready for that evening.”

Stanley underscored just how engrained the yearly event is. “I hear people joke that Halloween on Hanover should be written into your contract when you go to buy a house,” he said.

“I’ve heard of people, when they sell their house in the Fan…giving all of their Halloween decorations over to the new owners,” he said. “Some of the people, especially with the big Halloween sets that they’ve constructed, they let them convey with the house. Because where else are you really going to do that much on Halloween?”

Halloween on Hanover looked a lot different in 1971 when Barbara Custelow and her family moved to the 2300 block.

“When we first moved here the kids just went trick or treating. You didn’t see a whole lot of decorations,” Custelow, 77, said by phone recently. “Some people might have a pumpkin in their window or on their front porch.”

The bar was too low for Custelow’s liking. “I started putting all sorts of stuff out in the lawn,” she said. “Next year, a couple more people did that. And the next thing you knew, everyone on Hanover Avenue on our block [and] four or five blocks down” starting doing the same.

Now decades on, Custelow still delights in the spooky fun. “We really love Halloween,” she said. “I’m going to decorate as long as I’m breathing.”

But as the number of residents who’ve gone all out for Halloween have grown, so has the throng of people who squeeze into an otherwise quiet neighborhood. Isn’t that, well…annoying?

“I’ve always enjoyed it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s an inconvenience. I think it’s a fun day.”

Matthew Stanley said Custelow’s enjoyment of the night runs up and down the street. “I think the majority of people, they look at it as something fun to do, and something unique to where they live that they can embrace and have a good time with,” he said. “But I know that there are some residents who completely shut down and they just see it as the biggest inconvenience in the world.”

What makes Halloween on Hanover even more impressive than its ballooned size is that there’s no organizing body coordinating things. It’s all done as a collective. “It’s very unique. I can’t think of any other event of such a scale that’s not organized on some basic level by some sort of entity or organization…it just happens very organically,” Stanley said.

The 1900 block is the only one along the Halloween corridor that’s closed off to vehicular traffic. “That is a decision of the residents on that block, and they actually have to pay the City a special event fee and they have to hire off-duty police officers and they have to pay for an insurance policy,” Stanley said.

Anticipating the crowd size of visitors, Stanley said, involves two elements. “As Halloween is for a lot of people, what you’re going to do based on that night is really dependent on not only the day of the week, but also weather,” he said. Not only is Halloween this year on a Friday, weather forecasts predict a clear, comfortable evening. “So this year we’re expecting a pretty crazy night.”

Stanley said he knows of no significant health or criminal issues in the past. “I will say that one year somebody started jumping on the hood of my car, and I don’t know what that was all about,” he said, adding there are “probably a lot of little minor incidents that go on that, if it were a regular night you would probably call the police, and maybe on Halloween you still do, or maybe you don’t because you chalk it up to being Halloween on Hanover.”

While it has no organizational part in the event itself, the Fan District Association has acted in one specific way by spending “several hundred dollars,” on 40 disposable cardboard trashcans that will run up and down the street to combat littering. Students at Fox,3 Orchard House, and Binford Middle have decorated each can, which will be picked up by the City on Saturday. “We’re helping with the trash and also finding a way to engage the schools and kids a little bit more this year,” he said.

While residents like Stanley, Custelow, and many others enjoy the spectacle and attention Hanover gets on Halloween, Stanley asks visitors to “remember this is where we live and where we have to walk out of our front doors the next day.”

The biggest nuisance? Sticky bits of candy stomped onto the sidewalk. “I will tell you, going out there with a paint scraper and pulling sticky candy off the sidewalk because you don’t want to walk over it for the next two months is kind of frustrating,” he said. “I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that would help us out the most.”



Photo by Fionnuala Bradely

  1. “All of our board members serve three-year terms, and usually the president is somebody in their third year,” Stanley said. 
  2. Who said he buys around 3,000 candy pieces to dispense to trick-or-treaters. “You run out of candy at about 8:00 PM.” 
  3. “Fox Elementary will take the kids out at lunch time and walk around the neighborhood and look at everybody’s decorations,” Stanley said. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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