Kate Burke grew up in Kentucky, where her mother made every Halloween costume she ever wore, she said. “We wouldn’t dream of buying a store-bought costume,” Burke said.
Burke, her husband, Wells, and her two kids, Owen, 5, and Margaret, 3, live in the Margaret Mitchell neighborhood in Buckhead, where every year her neighbors gather for a Halloween party before the kids head out to trick-or-treat. She said they love the festivities so much that Burke’s mother comes to visit so someone is home to hand out treats.
“I want to do it all, so I have to have my mom man the door,” she said.
Suburban Atlantans go crazy for Halloween. Families in neighborhoods spread from south Buckhead to Dunwoody North get into the spirit of the Halloween holiday. They celebrate with friends, organize cul-de-sac parties, bring in food trucks, and plan parades to supplement their trick-or-treating.
In Brookhaven, the Redding Road neighborhood has someone who organizes a donation collection to help residents buy candy every year, nearby resident Sonja Greeley said. “They have the street shut down, and last year a person took charge of soliciting candy donations because so many people come to Redding. It was a polite gesture so everyone who lives there doesn’t go broke handing out candy,” Greeley said.
And in Dunwoody, the Briers North neighborhood has become so well known for its Halloween celebration that the neighbors close subdivision streets from 5:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. and won’t let cars inside. Drivers park at a nearby church that collects donations to benefit its school.
Briers North resident Joe Bowen said he’s been decorating for more than 15 years and he’s flattered when people comment favorably about the neighborhood’s celebration, but he’s nervous about attracting more attention.
“The problem is that the number of visitors is at critical mass. That is not an exaggeration,” Bowen said. “The streets are so crowded (5,000 plus based on candy count) that it is difficult for volunteers to walk the streets.”
Karen Siegel, who organizes the event and handles media requests, said Halloween has become increasingly stressful for the homeowners.
“We are now at a critical juncture as the number of visitors is continuing to rise and is overwhelming our subdivision and stressing out many of our homeowners,” Siegel said. “Even with hiring three off-duty Dunwoody police officers to handle the outside traffic and over two dozen resident volunteers handling the inside visitors/children, many in our small neighborhood think it’s simply gotten too large.”
Bowen said the neighborhood spends several thousand dollars for candy, and even more for decorations.
Others see Halloween as a chance to raise money for charity. In Sandy Springs, Jeff Marcus erects an extravagant yard display to raise awareness of autism, a developmental disorder characterized by emotional detachment and impaired communication. He collects donations from passersby as well as online at Scareawayautism.com. He said last year he raised almost $20,000 for the cause.
“It kind of just evolved because my daughter, who’s autistic, loves Halloween,” Marcus said. “My wife says it got out of hand.”
Burke’s Buckhead neighbors start their party with food trucks at the nearby school, she said.
“The Morris Brandon Primary Center is right down the street so the entire neighborhood congregates there,” Burke said. “It’s a do-not-miss event in our neighborhood.”
Burke said her house has become popular with neighbors because of the goodies for kids and their parents, she said. “We have a bucket of beer for the dads,” Burke said. “You’ll see people who don’t know us as well and kids will say, ‘My dad wants to know if he can have a beer.’”
Marsha Sims gets ready for fall with her 11-year-old triplets, Olivia, Jack and Nicholas Schramkowski, by decorating the yard in the Argonne Forest neigborhood in Buckhead. Sims said she grew up on the other side of town and went to Druid Hills High School.
“We always went trick-or-treating,” she said. “Neighborhoods got all decked out for Halloween.”
But Sims said the gatherings weren’t as big back then. Her daughter said on Halloween the neighborhood gathers at the Chateau Drive cul-de-sac, with a food truck from the Varsity that opens at about 5:30 p.m.
“We go and eat and then while the adults are eating—because adults normally talk—the kids trick-or-treat on the street and little by little everyone starts migrating around the neighborhood,” Olivia Schramkowski said.
Though Olivia said she normally climbs into her pajamas and eats chocolate with her friend after about an hour of collecting candy, her brother, Jack, stays out late to reap the late-night rewards.
“Sometimes, we knock on people’s doors and they’re watching something and say, ‘You’re our lucky winners’ and the guy comes with two huge bowls of candy and gives one to my brother and one to me,” Jack Schramkowski said.
He added that he might go as a baseball player this year and he’s almost as excited to watch sports before the neighborhood gathers and the kids get candy.