Harper Avenue is typically the epicenter of activity in Hyde Park for Halloween. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, neighbors canceled their annual gathering. Credit: Sam Cholke/DNAinfo

HYDE PARK — Few people, whether they were trick-or-treaters or rabble-rousers, seemed to have much interest in stepping outside to brave Chicago’s snowiest Halloween last year.

Freezing temperatures and icy walkways played a big part in making Halloween 2019 perhaps the most peaceful one in three years for Hyde Park, which has seen violence and destruction during recent Halloween celebrations. But this year, with a clear weather forecast and most youth programs impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, neighbors are unsure what to expect on the spookiest of holidays.

Harper Avenue neighbors have canceled their annual Halloween celebration — which has long been the community’s epicenter on the holiday — and community institutions like the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce and CollaBOOration are cautioning against handing out candy.

The Halloween bash on Harper Avenue, which shuts down the street between 57th and 59th streets every year, draws thousands of trick-or-treaters, resident Jim Sparrow said. He usually gives away about 3,000 pieces of candy before he runs out, and his neighbors go all out in decorating their homes and providing fun activities for kids.

Though residents will miss spending time with the children and seeing their costumes, a big gathering this year would all but certainly be a super-spreader event, Sparrow said.

“We want everyone to be safe,” he said. “In a pandemic, the only way to be safe, given the current state of our government’s preparedness, is to distance and to use masks. There’s no obvious way to hold Halloween and be safe on our block.”

“It’s impossible to tell” how the lack of official gathering spaces for youth will impact Halloween this year from a public safety perspective, Sparrow said.

“I hope we don’t have the sort of destructive things that happened in earlier years,” Sparrow said. “The city’s already taken a beating from COVID … . It’s been a really hard year. The last thing we need is more destruction and difficulty.”

Along with the cancellation of Harper Avenue’s celebration, “there are no formal activities” for Halloween along 53rd Street this year, said Bennie Currie, lead organizer of CollaBOOration. The group was founded last year to deter chaos on Halloween, and it has since expanded its focus to connecting neighbors of various blocks in Hyde Park.

Local leaders and the Teens on 53rd community group organized a Hyde Park Teen Halloween last year that, along with the bad weather, helped discourage fighting and property damage.

Without events like the Teen Halloween, “it’s just a big unknown” whether residents can expect another quiet holiday, Currie said — though he and his 30 “block captains” will do their part to ensure peace.

Though Currie’s group is suggesting houses not participate in handing out candy, he understands some residents may still choose to.

Homes that aren’t participating in trick-or-treating will indicate this with a red ribbon or sign. Those that do participate are asked to close up shop by sundown and follow the city, state and federal coronavirus precautions.

About 6 p.m., the 30 blocks participating in CollaBOOration will have residents sitting in their yards, “being visible and present” to those still roaming the neighborhood.

Residents will make every attempt to be welcoming as they stand guard, Currie said, though last year’s efforts — like offering hot chocolate and having long face-to-face chats — are off the table.

The best way to prevent the chaos of 2016, 2017 and 2018 “is to have a strong, visible presence of residents … of as many blocks as we can possibly gather,” Currie said.

“As I have reminded many of my fellow Hyde Parkers, when we first had this ‘purge’ activity, as the kids called it — there were no formal activities,” Currie said. “We just encourage people to join in our effort and help us be visible and vigilant at the same time.”

Hyde Park’s options for celebrating Halloween may be limited, but there are still ways to safely enjoy the holiday.

The city’s Halloweek database, which tracks events certified to follow local guidelines for Halloween celebrations, shows a few events in the 4th and 5th wards. These include a virtual party and the Museum of Science and Industry’s Boo Fest, and other options are available around the city.

Here are the city’s rules for trick-or-treating this year:

  1. Everyone, including people giving out candy, must wear a face covering. 
  2. If you do plan to give candy to kids, leave a light on or put a sign up in your window indicating your home is participating in safe trick-or-treating.
  3. Maintain social distancing and have hand sanitizer available. 
  4. Keep it moving. Don’t congregate in front of one stoop or on the sidewalk.
  5. Make sure kids only eat candy after washing their hands when they get home.
  6. No haunted houses, which public health commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady described as “truly spooky” due to their potential germ-spreading.
  7. Keep your trick-or-treating crew small with six people or fewer. Sticking to members of your household or quarantine “bubble” is recommended.
  8. No house parties. “We are more worried about adults indoors than children outdoors trick or treating,” Arwady said.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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