Trick or treat? Not in Douglas

Long tradition of Ghost Walk began with fear of tricks

Posted: Monday, October 31, 2005

Fifty-four years ago today - Wednesday, Oct. 31, 1951 - a short notice on page 3 of the Daily Alaska Empire heralded the Douglas Lions Club's first Halloween Ghost Walk

"It is hoped by the sponsoring group that all members of the community be present," the blurb read, "as it is intended that there will be no trick-or-treating for the homes whatsoever."

That night, there was no need to go door-to-door. The Douglas kids scored all their candy at the indoor carnival. Butch Fleek earned an award for "fanciest costume." Dennis Rice won a wristwatch - the coveted prize among the night's many parting gifts.

The next day's Empire beamed.

"School children and all Douglas youth kept their pledge faithfully this Halloween," the paper said. "They were provided a big party and lots of treats, and consequently, there were no tricks noticeable today. Even the customary soaping of windows did not take place."

Who could have imagined then that the Ghost Walk would keep the Douglas streets mostly free of trick-or-treaters for the next 54 years? As the youth of the nation don their ghoulish masks and haunt their communities this evening, many of the kids in Douglas will head for other neighborhoods, if they go out at all.

"You can trick or treat in Douglas, but I don't see a lot of it," said longtime Douglas resident Rich Poor. "Most kids take off and go to Juneau and hit the Governor's Mansion and the Parkshore."

"We're putting out candy and we'll have a pumpkin," said Douglas resident Cathy Connor. "There's usually a handful that tromp up and down the street. The smart kids in Douglas go over to the Federal Building and that neighborhood."

"There's trick-or-treating in West Juneau, but typically, downtown Douglas doesn't see a trick-or-treating crowd," said Dzantik'i Heeni teacher Bobby Jones. "Everybody keeps a little on hand in case someone shows up."

A lot of Douglas kids already got their fill of candy at this year's Ghost Walk, last Saturday afternoon at the Mount Jumbo gymnasium. Jones and the seventh- and eighth-graders in the Spruce House at DZ have organized the carnival since 2003. The Lions Club stopped after 2000 - a 50-year-run.

"We looked at what we could do in the community a couple years ago and someone said, 'Whatever happened to the Ghost Walk?'" Jones said. "We decided we could pull that off."

"Initially the kids think it's corny, but this isn't designed for middle schoolers," he said. "There's no blood and guts. They don't show pictures of devils. Once they figured out they were doing this for their little brothers and sisters, it was pretty cool. They turned it into something positive."

Volunteers ran out of candy Saturday after two hours. About 90 students helped organize the event. Brian Vandor, an eighth-grader, built a haunted house 20 feet long, eight feet wide and eight feet tall.

"I just wanted to scare little kids," Vandor said.

The Ghost Walk was followed by a Halloween Skate at the Treadwell Ice Arena, and an evening dance, sponsored by ORCA, back at the Mount Jumbo gym.

"When you come to Douglas for Halloween now, you can stay until 8," Jones said. "It's getting to be like the Fourth of July, with events all day."

A lot of neighborhoods are doing the same thing.

"For a while, in a lot of communities, there was a lot of energy to coming up with alternatives to trick-or-treating," said Mike Ciri, an adjunct professor at University of Alaska Southeast, a former Douglas resident and a Halloween expert. "For a while in the 70s and 80s, there were a lot of scares. You began hearing urban legends and horror stories about needles and razorblades in apples and people getting their food scanned through airport scanners."

The Ghost Walk is accompanied by its own set of urban legends. For years, the rumor was that Douglas began the event after a child was lost while trick or treating. To this day, some in Juneau believe that trick-or-treating is banned in Douglas because of the holiday's otherworldly implications.

In reality, the Douglas Lions Club started the event to quell the wave of petty vandalism that plagued area Halloweens throughout the 1940s.

On one infamous night in 1948, a group of kids took a joyride in a flatbed truck, smashing almost 40 bulbs and streetlights in Juneau before heading to Douglas, where they bombarded the Douglas Public School's windows with large rocks.

"They used to run around and soap windows in the business district and in downtown Douglas and just about everywhere," Poor said. "The Douglas Lions decided to bring all the kids off the street and put them into a fun zone area, to discourage that."

The Nov. 1, 1951, Empire had more to say about the first Ghost Walk.

"Everyone, both young and old, seem to agree this morning that the 'Ghost Walk' Halloween party sponsored by the Douglas Lions Club last evening was the finest thing that has happened in Douglas Civic events," the paper said.

The next two years were even more successful.

"The Douglas Lions used to have buckets out for making contributions," said Douglas resident Gerald Dorsher, a longtime Ghost Walk organizer. "The neighbors and the businesses would sponsor, and a lot of them wouldn't have trick or treating at the homes. They figured contributing to the Ghost Walk was ample, and in those days, the children just went along with that."

"After that, there was no more trick or treating," Poor said. "You basically went to the Ghost Walk, you got your bag of candy and you had a good time. Then you'd go over to Juneau and soap their windows. That's what I used to do."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at

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