In 2009, U.S. consumers spent more than $5 billion on Halloween decorations, costumes and candy. Half of that figure was spent right here in Louisville, on one street in Crescent Hill — Hillcrest Avenue. OK, so maybe the latter factoid is a bit of an exaggeration, but if you’ve strolled down Hillcrest on any given night in October, it wouldn’t seem like much of a stretch. For more than two decades, the neighbors on Hillcrest have made it the central spot for trick-or-treating, people watching and one-upping each other on extravagant yard displays. Let’s just say that the effort put into Hillcrest during Halloween would make Clark Griswold blush.
Thousands of Louisvillians — children and adults alike — flock to the avenue Halloween night. Residents David Carpenter and Andrew Held both quote me a figure of more than 6,000 pieces of candy handed out last year. “Halloween, costumes and large crowds of people tend to encourage strange behavior,” says Held, who lives at 321 Hillcrest. “Halloween night becomes an odd blend of typical trick-or-treating, Mardi Gras and the Kentucky State Fair — minus the corn dogs and funnel cakes. It’s quite the show.”
Held has been decorating since he moved into the neighborhood seven years ago. It was actually one of the reasons he bought the house. “We were house shopping in the fall of 2003 and had brought the kids to see the street two weeks before Halloween,” he says. “This house was up for sale, and we put a bid on it a week later. We were moved in by Christmas.”
Carpenter, who lives at 303 Hillcrest, has been decorating for three years and does it to honor the tradition and have fun. He says decorating usually commences the first weekend in October, and he has parties every weekend of the month to stockpile donated bags of candy. “If you come to a party here in October, you’re just expected to bring along a few bags of candy,” he says.
Held also begins in early October. “Neighbors will mock you if you get going later than that,” he says. “Existing decorations and lights are usually up and running in two days, but we try to add something new every year. We usually spend a couple of weeks on each new feature.”
This year’s theme for Held’s yard is space aliens, and there’s an added bonus — an alien grow tank, complete with embryos. “We’re big on not buying pre-made decorations, so we typically work from scratch. I found the 70-gallon fish tank in a nearby alley during the junk pickup this past summer, and we repurposed it. That said, between replacement lights, spray paint, fog juice and all the random parts and pieces, we usually spend between $100-$200.”
Carpenter’s decorations lean more toward the creepy, ghost part of the holiday. A shrouded mannequin stands behind the front door. Two legs sprout from the flowerbed. And two eerie “people” sit just beyond the front gate. This year, Carpenter is renting two photo booths that will capture revelers’ costume creations and let them take a piece of the night home.
Held says he saves money by hitting the Halloween clearance aisle on Nov. 1. “If you time it right and shop around, you can generally find candy for 75 to 90 percent off. We go through more than 6,000 pieces of candy every year, so we tend to go with the cheapest varieties we can find. Don’t expect Snickers bars at our house!”
Both Held and Carpenter admit there’s some competition between neighbors, but it’s all in good fun. “We’ve not hit Griswold levels as of yet, but there’s a growing rivalry that may get ugly,” Held says.
And as far as Christmas decorating goes, Hillcrest is pretty quiet. “There’s not nearly the effort around here as there is for Halloween,” Carpenter says.
“Halloween rules, Christmas drools!” Held adds.
If friendly competition and a love of the holiday are what bond the residents of Hillcrest, then Halloween night is the pinnacle of payoff. “We love watching the people who visit the street,” Held says. “We start getting the walkers a full month before Halloween, and the numbers get bigger every week. Everyone seems to get such a kick out of it, and they’re all so appreciative. We sit out with our neighbors, share fire pits and beverages, and share the appreciation of the sightseers.”
Held stresses that those interested in experiencing Hillcrest should park the car and enjoy it on foot. “Hillcrest is already a weird traffic street: technically a 25 mph entrance ramp to 71,” he says. “When cars crawl down the street all lookie-loo, the idiots who are in a hurry get pissy, honk their horns, and drive stupider than they were already driving. And to the pissy idiots: Slow down, chill out, lay off the horns.”