Does Fairmount Have a Halloween for White Kids?

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 25 | Posted Nov. 2, 2010

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Though I lived in Fairmount over a decade ago, I didn’t return to scare up the skeletons in my old North Croskey Street closet. They’re just fine where they are. I went hunting for ghosts of Fairmount’s past, ones that haunt new residents every October in the form of whispered rumors about “two Halloweens” in the neighborhood—one for white kids and one for black kids.

I went looking for evidence of “Whiteween.”

Fairmount was once an extremely racially charged neighborhood.

Dr. Sherri Grasmuck is a sociology professor at Temple University who has conducted significant field research on the history of racial relations in the Fairmount neighborhood as background for her 2005 book, Protecting Home: Class, Race and Masculinity in Boys’ Baseball. In the book, Grasmuck uses the evolution of local boys’ baseball leagues as a lens to examine gentrification and racial integration in Fairmount.

Grasmuck wrote that in the 1950s, Fairmount was subdivided into pockets populated by mostly by English, Irish, Ukrainian, Polish and Italian families. It was bordered by neighborhoods populated by mostly blacks to the north and an increasing number of Puerto Ricans in neighboring Spring Garden, due in part to its proximity to La Milagrosa, the first Spanish-speaking Catholic church in Philly.

“In the late 1960s, White residents of a Philadelphia neighborhood called Fairmount, north of Center City, regularly ran off Blacks who walked through the neighborhood, often with the support of police,” wrote Grasmuck. She reports that “a red-faced, Irish-Ukrainian Fairmounter” said the neighborhood was called “white island” while he was growing up.

“We fought every day,” said the resident. “We fought our way to school. We fought our way home from school.”

To demonstrate how much attitudes in the neighborhood evolved, Grasmuck fast-forwards 30 years to a summer night in 2001, when the same resident rallied to defend a group of black kids from the police, shouting, “You know what they did wrong? I’ll tell you what. They were guilty of ‘walking while Black.’”

Grasmuck interviewed baseball coaches to find out how recruiting practices evolved over the years. In an interview, one coach brought up Halloween, explaining that the holiday was segregated by the same method of word-of-mouth exclusion.

“Listen. We have our own Halloween. We call it Whiteween. Parents are notified in their mailboxes about where our Halloween is, so they don’t have to be attacked on regular Halloween, or be run over by wolf packs [black trick-or-treaters from neighboring areas]. … Twenty years ago that’s how it would be [with baseball]. We would notify who we wanted to about registration.”

“Yes, Whiteween exists, or existed historically,” Grasmuck says recently on the phone. “People talk about it, but it’s a complicated kind of thing. I don’t know whether it’s still going on right now. I don’t know if people use that phrase.”

Not one person I spoke with this Halloween had heard the term Whiteween—though many relative newcomers said they recently heard rumors that there used to be “two Halloweens” in Fairmount.

“I’ve never heard that phrase; I believe it though,” says Bob, 34, who grew up visiting his Polish grandparents on Judson Street and, six years ago, purchased the family house for himself. “The neighborhood was really different back then.”

When I mention Whiteween, Bob’s friend perks up. “Oh! That’s the phrase [my neighbor] used last night,” Vanessa says. “I heard some of the neighbors talking about it, about another block,” she nods.

Other residents, like “Joe,” who was giving out candy a few blocks over, are sick and tired of hearing about “two Halloweens” and resent the implication. Joe has lived in the area since 1994.

“There’s a block party on Meredith Street that’s not on Halloween, that’s it,” he says, exasperated. “[Stories like this] are told to paint Fairmount as racist.”

Joe pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and points to a message on the screen. It read: “I heard your hood is moving Halloween to Saturday.”

“It’s just a block party,” says Joe. “Maybe there are some people who don’t want to have Halloween on Halloween, or maybe that used to be true, but there are not two Halloweens in Fairmount.”

Down the street, “Ella” sits on a bench in front of her house, where she has lived for 60 years. She smiles as she drops candy bars into plastic pumpkins and pillow cases.

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Comments 1 - 25 of 25
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1. Anonymous said... on Nov 3, 2010 at 11:07AM

“This was my first year giving out candy on Halloween in Fairmount. It wasn't good and I'm discouraged from doing it again. When I was growing up, kids collected candy - not adults. We had many adults collecting candy and yelling and drinking beers. Kids wore costumes - not coats and jeans. Kids greeted "Trick or treat!" They didn't ask "Can I have some for my friend who is not here?" Maybe it is not about race - but it is about the lack of courtesy that all the trick-or-treaters have shown over the years that makes smaller groups of friendly neighbors opt for a block party instead.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Nov 3, 2010 at 11:54AM

“There were 2 Halloween's this year, we came home about 6pm the Sunday before Halloween and there were trick or treaters all over between 26th, 27th and Apsen and Parish Streets and it wasn't a block party. People were sitting on there steps with bowls of candy. My Husband's family are long time residents. My sister-in-law who lives in the Northeast Section even brought her son down to go with her friends' kids. My husband said it wasn't that bad(there were some incidents but nothing major) and they trick or treated on Halloween when he was a kid in the 70's early 80's. I have heard it happens now because parents work but that excuse only works when Halloween falls during the week unlike this year. What is the difference between the 2 sunday's!!!!!!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Nov 3, 2010 at 02:20PM

“I've lived in Fairmount for 5 years now and I've not been aware of this tradition until your paper mentioned it. I sat out on Halloween and handed out lots of candy. Most of the kids were not from Fairmount, that was pretty clear, but most were well behaved.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Nov 3, 2010 at 06:35PM

“The reason some Fairmounters celebrate halloween on a different day is due to the animals that invade our community because they don't give out candy in "the hood" Some communities would bus kids into Fairmount. Now the animals just come around Fairmount and rob people at gunpoint. You want trick or treat do it in your own neighborhood and if they don't do it there then too damn bad.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Nov 3, 2010 at 11:43PM

“For the "yuppies", who haven't lived in the neighborhood for less than 5 years:
Im 20 years of age and grew up in Fairmount for the first 15. For as long as I can remember "Fairmount Halloween" has always been something our neighborhood has celebrated. And for as long as I lived there, I had friends of various race and ethnicity( myself coming from Spanish descent). So for the uneducated journalist( which is clearly an understatement), this is not an issue of race! "Fairmount Halloween" is a neighborhood tradition that has been going on for over 30 years. Yes, one of the reasons for this tradition is to ensure the safety of the children and older neighborhood citizens alike. Since Oct. 12, 2010, in the Fairmount area, and north above Girard Ave, there have been 32 counts of theft, 7 counts of burglary, and 5 counts of robbery! Now Tara, you tell me if you think that is a safe enviornment to send your children, niece etc. out trick-or-treating in? No need that question was rhetorical!”

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 01:02PM

“I live in East Falls and on the night of Halloween, 90% of the kids coming to my door are being driven in from other neighborhoods to go trick-or-treating in my neighborhood. There are even teenagers w/o costumes and adults taking candy. But it's Halloween and my door is open for candy to give to any kid from any neighborhood.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Nov 4, 2010 at 02:56PM

“Don't feed the animals. I grew up in Fairmount and witnessed buses literally parking on Brown St. and letting out about 50 non-neighborhood kids, who happened to be 100% black. Halloween is a community celebration to have a chance to interact with neighbors and see their kids in their outfits and to reward them with candy. How can one view a bunch kids and adults, descending like locusts, many without any costume, as being a community event? Last year, a friend of mine, who recently bought a home in Faimount, decided she did not like the "Fairmount Halloween" idea and decided to give out candy on real Halloween. She regretted that decision when a teenager forced his way into her home and demanded all of her candy.


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8. Anonymous said... on Nov 8, 2010 at 11:04PM

“my family and I fear halloween every year because we live in fairmount. they come pounding on your door like they're going to break down the door. it's very scary for the elderly to have that happen. step up the police presence at halloween.”

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9. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2010 at 08:50AM

“I give out almost 400 pieces of candy on the "regular" Halloween night in Spring Garden. I can afford it, and if kids are not from my neighborhood, so what. They are still a part of my community and I want my daughter to see me welcome them.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2010 at 09:27AM

“For the last four years I've gotten the notice in the mail notifying me that Fairmount Halloween occurs the week before and for the last four years I've ignored it and I've never had a negative experience on Halloween. I have chosen to make Fairmount my home and call it my neighborhood and raise my children here, but I am dismayed that some people seem to forget that we don't exist in a bubble and we are part of a larger community.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2010 at 09:49AM

“No one on my Fairmount block participates in this "other" Halloween, and highly doubt they would want to! This is really a revolting attitude and people who still think this way need to go back to the 50s and stay there. My daughter had a wonderful Halloween this year, largely in part to the big turn out, and saw absolutely no negative behavior from trick or treaters at all. I do often see kids with no costumes and it makes me a bit sad. What child would not WANT to wear a costume? Perhaps we need to think outside of this "bubble" and realize some families cannot afford it. I am thankful that I live in a nice, safe neighborhood and can afford to give out candy and brighten the night of so many children, regardless of where they live. Anyone who would refer to children as "animals" are vile human beings and an embarrassment to our neighborhood.”

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12. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2010 at 10:17AM

“I experienced Halloween in Fairmont this year for the first time. The experience was mixed. Early in the evening the kids were little, cute and polite. Later in the evening after 7:00 alot of the kids were older. Some of the older kids were grabby, pushy and impolite. I had the same experience in the suburb from where I moved last year. I gave out candy until I ran out in both locations. We are a part of a larger community and we need to remember that!! The term of "animal" used in some of these comments is so offensive and hatefull! I won't be apart of such language and thought process!!”

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13. Anonymous said... on Nov 9, 2010 at 03:25PM

“I've lived in Fairmount about 10 years now. I'm happy to report that it seemed like more neighborhood kids were out trick or treating on halloween this year. i loved it!
as far as a community goes, the kids coming from outside the neighborhood are still in philadelphia - which i like to think is our community at large. i will happily serve them as much as I would my neighborhood kids. but, i actually say something to the handful of adults who are not with a kid or kids who are not in a costume. I may or may not give them a treat...but i definitely say something. There's no need to be scared most of the time. People smell your fear, too! I sure the fear and ignorance of some of the writers here!

Check this out, too: my treats including halloween erasers and pencils as well as candy. I'm surprised how many kids from in and outside our hood wanted the erasers and pencils over candy.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2010 at 04:01PM

“Denigrating children and even adults as "animals" is abhorrent and shameful. This notion of "others" invading a neighborhood is ludicrous. Sounds like the same thought process of The Valley Swim Club earlier this year.

If you're going to make a judgement of who "deserves" candy on Halloween, and a large portion of Philadelphia doesn't fit that form, don't give it out. And while you're at it why don't you move out of the city as well. This balkanization and the region is the reason we have such acute needs in areas less privileged than Fairmount.”

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15. Anonymous said... on Nov 12, 2010 at 12:55PM

“We most definitely did have segregated Halloween this year and for all the time we've lived in Fairmount. (4 years). The 2700 and 2800 blocks of Brown Street still get the slip of paper through the door about the "Fairmount Tradition" of holding Halloween on the previous Sunday, even when Halloween falls on the weekend. Of 20-25 houses in my neighborhood we had maybe 5 handing out to the kids who come on actual Halloween. It broke my heart because in the majority before 7pm these kids behaved even better than the neighborhood regulars the previous weekend. Nice, polite, in costume and kind. I deal with this by handing out candy two weekends in a row. Halloween is about kids, not about historic racist issues that really need to disappear. Fairmount is still VERY RACIST.”

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16. Jimmy Doc said... on Nov 18, 2010 at 01:05PM

“Since when was a Block Party for our children who live on this Street an issue or a Racially motivated thing around Halloween? My neighbors and I are like family with each other, We have functions all the year round to have fun, raise money for charity, and support our sports teams who make the play-offs. Meredith street is a racially diverse street with all neighbors looking out for each other, no matter what! Tell me Tara, how come you did not come to Meredith Street and ask people of the block thier opinion? I thought reporters were supposed to get all sides of an issue before they run stories, especially one that might give the impression people on "The Best Block in Fairmount" are Racists. For the sake of everyone involved, you should apologize for not doing your duty as a reporter. Do your job before you run your mouth again about Meredith Street.
To the above people with strong anonymous opinions, put your name on them, if you are scared, get a dog !!!!!!”

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17. Rick said... on Nov 18, 2010 at 07:45PM

“You don't mean to stir things up. You don't mean to do respectable journalism either, Ms. Tara. Five, ten years ago, this would have been a story, a real scoop, but you took ten year old mutton and dressed it up as lamb. You also made a weak and entirely inaccurate connection between our block party, at which we do all the good stuff Jim Doc talks about. We have beer tastings, New Years, street movies, street socials too. The one thing we don't have anymore, pay attention, Tara, a good journalist would have confirmed this, is ...
White Ween
Of which I'm incredibly proud of my neighbors for.
Five years or so ago, I and a bunch of neighbors argued this same issue out on the fairmountparents list. Amazingly, after that, White Ween died a natural death. We all recognize that a generation ago, this neighborhoods' black and white kids fought on the street. Times were different.
In this generation, the black and white kids play together on the street. Black kids and white kids get candy”

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18. Rick said... on Nov 18, 2010 at 07:46PM

“Black kids and white kids live here. My street is Meredith. We're damned proud of it. Before you dig up old skeletons Tara, check and see if they still have a leg to stand on. This one doesn't.

PS: What is that ridiculous and offensive cartoon supposed to mean?”

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19. Rick said... on Nov 19, 2010 at 12:55AM

“Just so you and Joe have it clear, our blockparty is not only "NOT ON HALLOWEEN", it takes place on the weekend before July 4th. What a sleazy (or lazy) bit of reporting.”

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20. Demetrious said... on Nov 29, 2010 at 11:52PM

“I live in the Fairmount area. Those of you who don't are more than free to come sit on a corner in our neighborhood and give out as much candy as your heart desires. We have a separate Halloween because none of us want to deal with the hundreds of too-old teenagers, homeless crack addicts, and latch-key children who come down costume-less from the Girrard area ghettos with their hands extended. They've sucked the spirit out of Halloween to such an extent that we were forced to move the holiday. It's as simple as that. If you nay-saying, finger-wagging, liberal f***-heads don't like it than post your addresses. I'll kindly hand out directions to your house next year.”

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21. McGuigs said... on Feb 24, 2011 at 02:53PM

“My entire family grew up in Fairmount, and although we did have issues with certain areas surrounding Fairmount, I am hear to tell you, it was the best neighborhood in the world to grow up in. The way this is reported seems to me like it's one sided. Back in the 60's, 70's, people from Fairmount kids could not dare pass poplar street, we would be jumped and robbed and beat up and have to fight our way back down to our homes trying to hold onto our parents milk money, and although two wrongs don't make a right, when publishing stories about a neighborhood, make sure you have all sides covered!! As far as Halloween......this is how it all began....One year, small children were out in costume, ONE HALLOWEEN NIGHT! when a group of african americans pulled up in three large car loads with a plastic shopping bag in costumes, came running up to the houses, pushing, shoving, and knocking small children down to the ground, when a few adults said something to them about it.”

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22. McGuigs continued said... on Feb 24, 2011 at 02:59PM

“When a man turned around and threw his chest in the air and said "What The F are you gonna do about it"? This went on for many years where the parents would hold out their bag for candy too, and when the house would refuse them, violents would occur.....sooooo, in order for the children in Fairmount to have the experience and memories of Halloween, they decided to just do their own Halloween so that the CHILDREN would have a pleasant experience and fond memories, so call it race if you want, but truthfully it's all about the young children of Fairmount, if you're an African American child living in Fairmount, then you know about the seperate day just for the children!...........Any Questions? I'm happy to answer!!”

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23. mike said... on Oct 24, 2012 at 07:00PM

“ihe same people that are complaining about Whiteween would you send your child out trick or treating in the neighborhoods north of Girard ? The rest of the year would you take a stroll through the same neighborhoods on a hot summer night ? Would you let your child take a walk through the same neighborhoods?”

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24. Anonymous said... on Oct 25, 2012 at 07:31AM

“The bigger question is .Why don't they give out candy in their own meighborhoods north of girard ?”

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25. Anonymous said... on Nov 2, 2012 at 08:15AM

“I love how a white liberal is always the one point out potential racism.... oh the irony....


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