No Tricks, Only Treats for Oberlin’s Scarily Safe Halloween


Courtesy of Josie Gruber

This home’s Halloween decor lights up the night and may cause a fright.

Oberlin’s community has reenvisioned Halloween to ward off public health frights. Despite all the changes brought on by COVID-19, the city is still abuzz with sweets, spices, and scares. 

The City of Oberlin canceled this October’s annual Halloween Parade, and for many households, trick-or-treating is also off the table. Because of the pandemic, kids can’t bump hands in the communal candy bowl, eat baked goods made by strangers, or approach people’s front doors without bringing up public safety concerns. However, the City, program organizers, and parents are going the extra mile to ensure that kids still get a day filled with abundant candy and ghoulish delight. 

Adults handing out candy and chaperoning pods will need to keep intrepid trick-or-treaters off of doorsteps, groups separated from one another, and children satisfied with pre-portioned rations. Anticipating this challenge, the City of Oberlin suggested that residents use PVC pipes to build a candy slide. Other residents are pre-packaging candy and glow stick gift bags to leave out periodically.

Monster-themed inflatables are popping up all over town. (Anna Farber)

Other groups are finding innovative ways to celebrate the season safely. The Oberlin Kids’ Community Collaborative is hosting a virtual pumpkin decorating contest throughout the month of October. Winners will be announced on Nov. 2.  

Musician and Oberlin resident Kira McGirr, OC ’06, has come up with Halloween activities throughout the month for her five- and eight-year-old children. Spooky gingerbread houses, spiderweb-shaped pizzas, stargazing, and a Halloween-themed bean bag toss are only some of the fun.

“I’m translating all my normal intensity on practicing music, learning things, and performing things into how we are going to make things an awesome Halloween,” McGirr said. “Usually, this time of year, I’m in the midst of tons of rehearsals as well as my church job, so I’m usually really busy … but I’m actually home, and I have the time to think about Halloween and ways to make it special — and the time to follow through with all of that.”

On top of celebrating with her kids, McGirr also made a show of Halloween merriness for the whole neighborhood. She tricked out her front lawn, lining her pathway with cornstalks, tombstones, zombie flamingos, a colored disco light, and a spiderweb that descends from her second floor to her lawn, ornamented with a dinner-plate-sized arachnid. Her front door is mummified with toilet paper and two googly-eyes. 

For McGirr, the decorations remind her of the supportive sidewalk chalk messages Oberlin residents wrote in early lockdown.

“I feel like it’s a continuation of [the chalk messages] in some ways,” McGirr said. “Like an outward display of ‘here’s something fun for everyone else to enjoy, we’re also enjoying it’ — it’s a way we can all celebrate together.”

Kira McGirr, OC ’06, went all out with her family’s Halloween decorations this year, creating a spooky tableau for the whole neighborhood to enjoy. (Katherine MacPhail)

Some program organizers have arranged safe ways for kids to gather and celebrate. Lili Sandler, the leader of Oberlin’s girl scout troop, is hosting a party with socially-distanced activities. Halloween is also the birthday of Girl Scouts’ founder Juliette Gordon Low, so Sandler plans on playing Juliette Gordon Low bingo with the Scouts in addition to making glow-in-the-dark slime and painting pumpkins. 

Sandler says she sees kids opting for light-hearted costume choices and showing a lot of enthusiasm for the season this year.     

“I’ve heard a lot about Harry Potter, witches, divas, and glamorous actresses and [costumes] like that,” Sandler said. “I’ve heard some pretty typical ones. … But I think they’re so desperately looking for normalcy that they’re excited because this feels normal.”

The MAD* Factory’s sixth production of Hallowonderland — which went up on Sunday, Oct. 25 — also helped to cultivate a sense of normalcy and Halloween cheer in Tappan Square. The play adapts Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland into a haunted house. Two Alices brought small groups of audience members through the show on rotation. 

On top of engaging with the community, the production was also a great way to bring MAD*’s socially-distanced teens back into acting.

“We were trying to get our youth more involved with activities,” Fisher said. “We thought that this would be a really great way for them to help us connect with the community, and for them to act because they miss it. Our teenagers, they’re used to doing it all the time. Even if this is a Halloween play for children, they’re still getting out there into their element and getting to do their thing.”

The MAD* Factory’s new approach to their Halloween, along with residents’ commitment to creating magical Halloween experiences, exemplify how enthusiasm for community traditions and celebration has not waned.

“The community has been so good to us over the years, and we want them to know that we’re here, we’re still going through the pandemic,” Fisher said. “They cannot get rid of us that easily, and we just wanted to reach out and do something fun.”

For families that decide to trick-or-treat this Halloween, the City of Oberlin has posted a digital flier of safety guidelines. Official trick-or-treating will be conducted from 6–7:30 p.m. so households can prepare to the best of their abilities. Trick-or-treaters must remain in family-exclusive pods, wear cloth masks, and social distance from other groups.