“When we bought this house, it was Ukrainian and Polish here,” she nods.
She recalls past Halloweens. “It was a mess,” she says. “Not because [the trick-or-treaters] were black, no. They used to come here but a lot of people wouldn’t open their doors.”
Ella doesn’t elaborate but Grasmuck, who calls herself a “yuppie newcomer” because she’s “only” been living in Fairmount 25 years, recalls some trouble more specifically.
“I just remember one year in particular there was large numbers of older kids … not having costumes and ringing your door and it was, ‘Give me your candy.’ So the charm of it didn’t feel really nice,” she says. “Several teenagers came and knocked [younger kids] down and grabbed their bags. I mean, knocked them down hard… Then it just spreads like wildfire. But it was one incident one year that a lot of people talked about.”
Tonight, there are no signs out trouble, except empty candy bowls.
Indeed, as Grasmuck’s research and a simple walk around the hood shows, Fairmount has changed dramatically in recent years. Eastern State Penitentiary, considered more architecturally progressive than the White House because it had flushing toilets when it opened in 1829, went from being a model of prison reform to a symbol of inhumane treatment to a tourist attraction—which causes parking problems that are far and away the Halloween concern on most Fairmounters’ minds these days.
It’s almost 8 p.m. and the trick-or-treating is mostly over. Back on North Croskey Street, Branon, a 39-year-old black resident of Aspen Street, sits on a stoop in front of his friend’s house, relaxing with a beer. He snorts when I ask about “two Halloweens.”
“I have to laugh, because it was that way … I know for a fact there were two separate nights,” he says. “People had another night prior to Halloween … when the kids in the neighborhood came out. When I say ‘the neighborhood,’ I mean south of Poplar Street.”
Branon says he learned of the “two Halloweens” from his white neighbors on Aspen Street, who he says “bucked the system” by sitting out on their stoops and giving out candy on real Halloween.
“The people in the neighborhood on Halloween night, they’d turn out their lights off and not be available … it didn’t happen this year or last.”
Branon says he thinks the tradition dissolved completely in the last few years, mostly because of shifts in the neighborhood population—but not because more black people moved in. He can still count the number of nonwhites on his block on one hand.
But like other residents, Branon says separate, smaller Halloween events that go on now aren’t racially motivated anymore.
“The new people are accustomed to the regular way,” he says, meaning one Halloween for all. “Or just never heard of it.”
Meanwhile, as one neighborhood in the city lays its demons to rest, another begins to make familiar noises.
A Port Richmond resident recently wrote me to tell me about some Halloween problems down his way.
“A lot of people are upset here because people take the 60 bus over and don’t dress up, then knock on your door loudly like they’re cops. The Hispanics and blacks are really aggressive with their trick-or-treating,” he writes. “Most people only give to kids on their block and are thinking about having a community meeting to do it a different day.”