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Sandy fails to dampen spirits for Beacon Hill's annual Halloween extravaganza

Posted by Roy Greene  October 31, 2012 12:11 PM

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Beacon Hill residents awoke Tuesday to a couple of downed trees and several soggy and rotting pumpkins. Then they set to work, loading up on candy and decorating their houses and yards in preparation for the ghosts, goblins, and unicorn princesses expected to descend on the neighborhood in a matter of hours. [Check out pictures]

Make no mistake. In spite of mega-storm Sandy, Boston's most historic neighborhood is gearing up for its annual Halloween extravaganza.

"There were just two main [trees] that were down on Pinckney Street,” said Victoria Gribbell, 39 of Joy Street, who patrolled the neighborhood in search of damage. “They both crashed on top of cars, and kind of crushed in the front."

But the show will go on. From 4:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday night, The Beacon Hill Civic Association will be closing a portion of Pinckney and Mount Vernon streets to accommodate an expected crush of trick-or-treaters, the association’s website said.

The Halloween event, complete with costumed pets and people, from infants to the elderly, has been a mainstay of the community since the early 1970s, said Karen Cord Taylor, 68, of Phillips Street, who moved to Beacon Hill in 1971. Pinckney and Mount Vernon have been the busiest streets on Halloween, which is why the Civic Association began in 1995 to close them down to all but pedestrian traffic for the festivities.

Taylor said while the event has grown larger over the years, it hasn’t changed much and remains rooted in the community.

“I remember in the ‘70s there was someone on Pinckney Street who showed Dracula movies on the side of a building,” Taylor said. “The people passing out the candy dressed up. I mean, that was true 40 years ago. It’s still true today."

While people passing out candy have been dressing up since the ‘70’s, other Beacon Hill Halloween traditions have been passed on from one neighbor to another, Gribbell said. For many years her husband would scare trick-or-treaters with a mask and hedge clippers from behind an iron gate, a practice she said had been started by their neighbor more than 20 years earlier.

“Every year kids would be coming down the street saying, ‘This is the house, that’s the house that has the man in the basement!” Gribbell said. “We don’t do it right now, because our children are 5, so they’re at that age [where] they want to trick-or-treat.”

So this year she and her husband will abandon their decade-long tradition of entertaining visitors and take their twins trick-or-treating. Nonetheless, the family bought about $100 worth of candy to be handed out by a stand-in candy dispenser.

Gribbell’s daughter will be walking through the streets of Beacon Hill as a unicorn princess, complete with a pink dress, horse ears and a unicorn horn. Her son, however, has a costume that may be better suited for the unpredictable weather.

“My son is going to be an astronaut which is probably a good idea because it has a plastic helmet, which will be good if it rains,” Gribbell said.

Many residents scrambled to decorate their houses on Tuesday, having to wait an extra day for Hurricane Sandy to pass through. Others started much earlier.

Thoughtforms Construction and ADA Architects Inc. have been building a tunnel outside of 12 Louisburg Square for the past six months solely for the Halloween festivities. The building features a walkway with black lights that leads brave trick-or-treaters through cobwebs and spider decorations.

The facade of the building will be lit in green and adorned with bat decorations and a large black cutout of a witch stirring a cauldron. At the top, an orange light will serve as a moon.

“We’re on schedule to put everything up and running by the end of the day [Tuesday],” said David Ringler, construction supervisor of Thoughtforms Construction.

Sharon Malt, on the other hand, waited until the storm passed to put up a talking Frankenstein head that will decorate the door of her West Cedar Street home. She’ll also have a mechanized tombstone in her front yard with a hand poking through the soil.

“I have all my decorations ready to go,” Malt said.

In order to signal to trick-or-treaters that residents are ready for them and waiting with candy, Beacon Hill residents have several options. Some place a lit jack-o'-lantern on their doorstep. For others, a porch light suffices. But many more sit on their stoops in full Halloween regalia, allowing the neighborhood’s residents to greet what’s expected to be an army of visitors.

“At my house on Mt. Vernon Street, we have refreshments and hor d'oeuvres for everyone,” said Suzanne Besser, former executive director of the Beacon Hill Civic Association. “We enjoy the fact that we’re entertaining people from all over the city.”

This article was produced under a partnership between Emerson College and the Globe.

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