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October 2008

UNC supports a smaller Halloween

When I was an undergraduate at Carolina in the 1980s, Halloween on Franklin Street was fun. Students put on their costumes and strolled up and down the sidewalks, checking out what all the other revelers were wearing: sorority sisters clumped together as walking M&Ms, guys in dark suits and Ronald Reagan masks, one-gloved Michael Jacksons and Madonnas in pointy bras, sinister blade-fingered Freddy Kruegers and hockey-masked Jasons and, of course, the inevitable psych major wearing her "Freudian slip." What had a reputation for being a scary holiday wasn't really. Even in disguise, people knew each other as Carolina students and local residents, out for a good time.

But over the years, Halloween in Chapel Hill grew to monstrous proportions. The result has been well-documented in recent weeks. Chapel Hill had to call on neighboring cities for hundreds of extra police, fire and emergency medical staff to handle Halloween's rowdy crowds and its domino effects: the sick and injured, crime and traffic. Some of us began to dread Halloween and its traffic gridlock, inebriated revelers and escalating cost to taxpayers for a party to which no one had been invited. Halloween got scary, and not in the fun, old-fashioned way. Last year, the scariness peaked when nearly 80,000 people (much greater than the town's total population of 54,000) packed into the downtown area, costing the town a whopping $221,000 to try to manage the event.

This year, Mayor Kevin Foy and the town of Chapel Hill decided to call a halt to a Halloween gone madder than a scientist in a Vincent Price movie. Called "Homegrown Halloween in Chapel Hill," the initiative has the goal of returning the holiday to the small-scale and local celebration that it used to be. As chancellor, I wholeheartedly support this effort. In fact, scaling back Halloween wouldn't have been possible without strong cooperation and collaboration from all parties: town government and staff, my University colleagues, UNC student government and downtown business owners.

While still bracing itself for thousands of extra revelers, the town will not make it easy to come this year, with changes that will greatly reduce access by vehicle into downtown.

At the University, Student Body President J.J. Raynor and I have sent an e-mail to all students to encourage them to get home by midnight. In Halloweens past, the danger to innocent bystanders greatly increases after the witching hour. And while getting into town for the party will be tougher than ever, both the University and the Chapel Hill Transit will be working hard to make it easy for people to get home. Chapel Hill Transit will operate modified service, and all weekend Safe Ride routes will be operating, with double the number of buses, until 2:30 a.m. The University's Point 2 Point Shuttle will be available as well.

As anyone who has ever hosted a party that got out of hand can tell you it's not easy to put this kind of genie back into the bottle. But when a fun night on the town has turned into the Little Shop of Horrors, it's time for civic and campus leaders to make changes. This year's efforts are just the first of many to gradually scale back this holiday into something more reasonable. But it's definitely a move in the right direction.

Have a happy and safe Halloween, all treats and no tricks.


Holden Thorp is chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Readers can contact him at

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