The kids from other neighborhoods

Halloween is a big deal in my house. Honestly it wasn’t anything I cared much about until I had kids. Having kids makes all the holidays more fun! Things really got out of control when we moved to Hilton Village, the “destination neighborhood” for trick or treaters in Newport News, Virginia.

People come from all over town to bring their kids to our neighborhood for Halloween. When folks move here I warn them: It’s like a street carnival! When we lived on a side street I’d go through 300-400 pieces of candy. We had a friendly rivalry with the retired couple across the street for most outrageous yard. A holiday I never cared about became one of the highlights of the year.

After my wife earned tenure and we bought a bigger house on Main that really upped the ante. It’s the first house on the right as you come into the neighborhood, making it ground zero for the Halloween onslaught. We are literally the gateway to the neighborhood. This year the party fell on a Friday, that only encouraged more folks to come out and stay longer. Last week I gave out 30 lbs of candy, 100 glow sticks, 200 stickers. It was a mob scene.

Gentle reader, this is an old post. I wrote it last year and hesitated for whatever reason. I quickly remembered it once I read this letter to the popular advice column Dear Prudence in which the correspondent feels put upon by the obligation of passing out candy to the kids from other neighborhoods. The original inspiration for the post came from this image, collected from my Facebook newsfeed via the reliably righteous Latino Rebels. I no longer have the link it came from (sorry), but my notes say it was first shared by ABC 15 Phoenix.

Kids from other

I know just what’s going on in this sign and in the crabby letter to Dear Prudence. The kids from other neighborhoods are brown and black.

I live in a white neighborhood. Chances are if you live in a city in the United States it is, to a greater or lesser degree, racially segregated. Here in the South the black part of town is literally on the other side of the tracks. Downtown is the shipyard and the coalyard, cross the railroad to the low lying land that floods in the hurricanes and its mostly black families. But upriver, past the bridge to pricy Isle of Wight and Smithfield where they make the bacon, is Hilton.

Why take your family to Hilton on Halloween? A federal housing project from 1918 for the shipyard workers that built the navy that sailed to Europe in WWI, Hilton boasts sidewalks on both sides of the street. The houses are all close together and the streets are narrow. Hilton is safe and well lit. Its recognized by the American Planning Association as one of the “Great Places” in America. I tell people its like living in a Norman Rockwell painting. And the city bus passes right by.

The middle class families in Hilton can afford to put on quite a show for the holiday. Me? I go all out. Decorating my house for the holidays is my favorite bourgeois indulgence. Each year I drop cash on decorations, candy, costumes, and beer. It took hours of leisure time to get that all set up and hours of leisure to take it all down last Sunday. Say you don’t want to go all out. Even if you want a few jack’o’lanterns and to pass out candy you’re going to drop seventy bucks or more right there.

Does this sound a little noblesse oblige? Kinda?

Let me tell you it is an honor to be the first white neighborhood, buffering the million dollar waterfront homes from the shipyard and railroad. And it is a joy to see all the kids enjoying the role reversal of Halloween/ Samhain/ Misrule/ Dia de los Muertos. You have your princesses and ninjas. The twelve year old girls with long, skinny legs and the toddlers scared by the weird faces and macabre lights.

Minecraft was big this year for boys, Ella from Frozen for girls.

You also see the kids with no costume at all and a pillowcase or grocery bag to hold the loot. Or the boys who come in their football uniforms and the girls in their cheerleader outfits.

And for them we had a group of teenagers putting on an choreographed dance routine in their front yard. A girl popping out of an open grave to pass out candy. Somebody with a high end digital projector broadcasting horror-themed animations onto a window screen. Fog machines! Inflatables! The old man with the license plate “GSTBSTR” who passes out cheap toys from Oriental Trading. The Presbyterian church had hot coco.

We have a thousand people, laughing, smiling with their kids, out in the street at night and no cops. No. Cops. Open container? Nobody cares. I’m drinking beer and eating chili in the cool autumn night outside with my front yard full of strangers.

Ever throw a party but nobody came? Those parties suck. Thank God for the kids from other neighborhoods. At least one night out of the year kids rule and get to stay up late, eating candy, playing dress up, and telling the adults what to do, structural racism or no.

Matt Thompson

Matt Thompson is Project Cataloger at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Virginia, and currently working on a CLIR ‘hidden collections’ grant to describe the museum’s collection of early 20th Century photography. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of North Carolina and a Masters in information science from the University of Tennessee.

16 thoughts on “The kids from other neighborhoods

  1. Bravo! When I was a kid, my ophthalmologist was in Hilton Village, and I was a devotee of the Warwick public library. But living all the way out in York County I never knew there was so much going on in Hilton Village. When did it all start?

  2. Well said! This person reminds me of the woman from last year (Or maybe the year before) Who instead of candy, chose to give the overweight children a note telling their parents they’re too fat for Halloween. You have to wonder about these people, they seem like awfully dreadful human beings.

  3. THANK YOU. I have been on both sides of this issue. I used to live in an inner-city neighborhood and NOBODY in their right mind would take their children trick or treating as there were too many drug houses in the neighborhood. In 7 years I got 0 trick or treaters. So yep, they bused the kids to the burbs. At another point I lived in a destination neighborhood and LOVED the influx of kids and yep, lots of them were brown. How hard is to buy a couple extra bags of jolly Ranchers to make some kids night?

  4. My neighbour and I went trick or treating with our kids and discovered that the housing complex down the block has an AWESOME set up for Hallowe’en and we were totally jealous – it definitely had the block party feel. We are now planning on how we can make our complex more awesome to try to lure MORE kids our way. Can’t understand feeling the opposite. Of course, we’re Canadian and our neighbourhood is mixed race and everyone seems fine with that. The Korean guy next door always stops to talk to our Caucasion son and the Indian family next door brought us some Lindt chocolates on Halloween as a thank you for the time when I drove the woman in to work when her car broke down. My neighbourhood in general is awesome, but Halloween is lame. My neighbour and I are talking about setting up a ghost strung on a string that passed from our bedroom window to their bedroom window…

  5. I miss Halloween in Hilton something fierce. And I never had a problem giving candy to every kid who came to my door. And shots for their parents, to boot. I heard neighbors complaining about the kids who obviously weren’t from the area, and I wasn’t super nice about asking them if they thought that was just a little racist.

  6. So great of you and your family, Matt! I wish more individuals could overcome such Calvinist (haves/have-nots) perspectives.

  7. Seems to me that instead of being proud that you live in a neighborhood that puts on such a grand event.. this guy has got his panties in a bunch. Dont participate then. Halloween is supposed to be about fun for all kids and there are many that live in neighborhoods that do not do anything at all. So are they supposed to just stay home and not enjoy the same festivities that the kids in his neighborhood do. Here is a better solution Ill come by your house sir and drop some money off to you so that youre not so put out. I would actually be glad too! Kids love coming to hilton because of the amazing display a lot of your neighbors put forth. Its not about going around and collecting the most amounts of candy and Hilton being a honey hole. ……. oh and to the person that commented on the color of skin that comes to the doors. YOU SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF YOURSELF.

  8. I was just telling my husband that I grew up in Hilton and It was the best place to raise kids, and that when I would trick or treat there I would go home with a huge bag of candy every year!

  9. So grateful I happened upon your post this morning. Thank you for your captivating insight into the heart of our community. I live in Glendale, but I truly feel my community is not restricted by the subdivision title alone. Community is all composing. I to love to see the children from our community run across the lawn to retrieve their treat. I sit out front to greet each and every one. I’m taken back by the excitement in their eyes as they anticipate the goodie coming their way. I truly believe I get more out of their visit then they do. Thanks again for reminding us that Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas is an opportunity to slow down, enjoy and anticipate in the community we are so fortunate to part of.

  10. Bravo Matt! I live in Hilton, and raised my son in Hilton. Each year I make homemade treats for the children I know well, and buy lots of candy for the ones I don’t. I enjoy all of the costumes and ingenuity kids and parents come up with. Why on earth would anyone even think of depriving any child of the fun and excitement of trick-or-treating just because they come from a neighborhood other than Hilton? Does it really matter where the kids come from as long as they come? I applaud the parents that do bring their children to safely walk the streets of Hilton and enjoy all the glory our Hilton neighbors have to offer. What better way to bridge relations among people than to show how inclusive we truly are. I say, “bring it on”.

  11. Having lived in Hilton my entire life of 63 years I can tell you Halloween has always been a big deal. I don’t remember a lot of decorations as a child but I do remember lots of trick or treaters. My kids are both in there 30’s and I remember them getting toys from Mr Farley. The Farley’s always made sure every child who came in there house to pick out a toy was accompanied by an adult. I clearly remember the last Halloween Mrs Farley was alive. Halloween went on as usually at there house even though she was so ill she was lying on the sofa. The smile on her face said it all. I can’t remember exactly when the tradition of sitting outside and decorating the house like crazy started. Many years ago my best friends husband was out to sea so I asked her over to give out candy. We set up a small table with Halloween lights strung on the umbrella. Since the trick or treating started at dinner time I decided to make a pot of chilli so we could eat outside and still hand out candy. That was the beginning of the Hurley Ave great Halloween event. It has gotten bigger and crazier every year. More neighbors started cooking chilli, decorating and making it a great celebration. Where else but Hilton could Halloween be so much fun.

  12. In our over-used neighborhood, the Halloween weariness comes from opposite reasons you insinuate here (non-racial). In our town, the wealthy families bus their kids into our middle class neighborhood because their houses are too far apart and the streetlights aren’t close together. They clog the streets with SUVs which inch by each house, whereas the neighborhood kids all walk between houses. It means that we are buying candy for between 400 and 1,000 kids and frantically running to the store to stock up if we underestimated that year. Literally the grocery stores nearby all run out of candy every year. We and our neighbors continue to participate for the local kids, including those from public housing adjacent to our neighborhood. The sentiment on our block is that we’re good enough for the wealthy residents when it comes to Halloween and public housing, but certainly not for their schools. Some residents can’t afford it anymore and are already starting to keep their lights off. It feels like a continuation of their blind privilege, so please please trick or treat in your own neighborhoods, folks!

  13. I grew up in Newport News, in a small neighborhood right next to Mariner’s Museum. Our Halloweens were safe and fun, much like what you described of Hilton. Now I live in New Brunswick, NJ. A predominately college town, particularly the street I live on. If I took my kids to the houses on our street, I am quite sure the only “candy” they would get would be beer and chips. So we drive to a neighborhood a few blocks over, and everyone there loves that we bring our kids. This neighborhood is growing older, less families live there now or the kids have grown up and moved out, so the grandmothers, uncles and nuns who live there love to see little kids coming to their doors again. I am so glad there are people like you in Hilton!

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