Young ghosts and goblins start lining up in the late afternoon for Halloween on State Street in New Ulm. Contributed photo
New Ulm neighborhood goes all out on Oct. 31
Halloween just doesn’t seem to be what it used to be. In years gone by, treats passed out generally consisted of homemade cookies, caramel apples and popcorn balls.
But spoilers of the nontraditional holiday began tampering with the treats. For that reason, as well as the price of candy soaring, homeowners began handing out miniature pieces of wrapped candy purchased from a store.
After that, Halloween just wasn’t as much fun as it had been in the past. So some youths transformed Oct. 31 from a night of fun into a night of juvenile delinquency. Older kids were stealing treats from the younger kids, destroying residential decorations, soaping windows and smashing pumpkins more frequently than previous generations.
And as quick as you could say “Trick or Treat,” the number of homeowners turning off their lights in a subtle protest has dramatically increased over the last two decades.
But don’t tell that to the people living along State Street South in New Ulm. Along Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth streets that run parallel to State Street South, homeowners are passing out candy to over 1,000 miniature costumed goblins, ghouls, princesses, Ninja Turtles and others on All Hallow’s Eve.
“We’ve lived here 40 years, and the first few years we passed out candy to maybe 50-100 kids,” said Jan Roeder, who lives on Third Street with her husband, Mike. “Last year, we had over 1,200 kids come to our house.”
Because of the vast number of trick-or-treaters, some homeowners no longer wait indoors and listen to the doorbell ring incessantly. Instead, they’ll sit out in the front lawn along the sidewalk and pass out treats.
And some of them do it in style.
“We bring out our patio furniture, a couple of chairs and a table with some decorations on it, and our cups of coffee,” Jan laughed. “And we have our fire pit lit. If it’s cold, the people love to warm their hands by the fire.”
Many of the homes along this section of town are decorated with lights, mock cemeteries, scarecrows, pumpkins, cobwebs and other items.
The mayor of New Ulm, Bob Beussman, and his wife, Cheryl, live along this route and have music playing at their residence to liven the mood.
“We play Halloween music like Monster Mash and some others,” said Beussman, who resides on Fifth Street. “You’ll see kids and their parents dancing to the music. It’s really a great time.”
And don’t think the adults aren’t into the, pardon the pun, spirit of the occasion. Many of the homeowners, as well as the parents accompanying their children, also dress in costumes. And they seem to be having as much fun as the children; sometimes even more.
“I dressed up as a witch, and Mike was a gorilla last year,” said Jan Roeder. “One kid that came to our house was dressed like a banana and Mike in his gorilla costume chased after him just to be funny. It’s all about having fun.”
Dan Backer as the “Just Take One” guy. Contributed photo
One of the highlights of the outside bash is at a residence where a man nicknamed “Just Take One Guy” resides. Dan Backer, a self-employed disc jockey as a side occupation, dresses in scary mask and a heavy hooded coat, so his true identity isn’t revealed to the trick-or-treaters. Inside his hood is a microphone equipped with a voice modulator to make his voice sound ghoulish.
And, among the things he is known to belt out as the children reach into the bowl, is: “Just Take One!”
“I usually sit real still in a chair and I have a plastic bowl with candy on my lap,” Backer explained. “I have a hole cut in the bottom of the bowl. I’ll put my hand through the bottom, and when the kids reach in to take out a treat, I grab their hand. Most of them jump and scream.”
Dan and his wife, Jeanine, also have Halloween music playing at their home on Fourth Street. And they decorate it with bright-colored lights that Dan uses at his DJ gigs, as well as fog machine. And he stacks leaf bags along both sides of the sidewalk leading up to his house to make it appear more like a spooky tunnel.
“I love Halloween,” he said. “It’s my favorite holiday. I feel fortunate that this area makes it so much fun for the kids and parents.”
Even if it’s a chilly evening, the number of trick-or-treaters still remains high.
“Everyone just dresses warmer,” said Beussman, who sometimes wears a Tigger costume and has the voice of the Winnie-the-Pooh character down pat. “It doesn’t seem to matter what the weather is like. They still have fun.”
And, like opening the floodgates when it’s around 5 p.m., the children and parents come in waves.
“You can see the long line of parents and kids coming down the street when we start,” said Jan. “It’s really a sight to see.”
Not all the trick-or-treaters are from New Ulm either. Many neighboring communities have heard about the four-block area and bring their kids because it’s a well-lit and safe area. And it’s much easier and quicker to fill the treat bags than to travel around looking for homes with their lights on.
Several local police officers scour the neighborhood, too, to make sure everyone is safe and traffic doesn’t get too congested.
Homeowners don’t seem to mind spending the money for all those treats either.
“We look for sales and stock up on candy,” Beussman said. “We try to give them the bite-size treats instead of a handful of parade-type candy. It’s easier to count the individual pieces.”
“And we give out something like Teddy Grahams or animal crackers to the smaller children,” he added. “And if the parents bring their dogs to walk with them, we give them a dog treat, too.”
Cheryl Beussman counts all the treats before the mobs arrive and then subtracts whatever, if any, candy is remaining at the end of the night to gauge how much candy to purchase for future Halloweens.
“We gave out over 1,200 pieces of candy last year,” Cheryl Beussman said. “I count the candy before we pass it out and just subtract what’s left at the end of the night.”
And that’s just in a few hours.
“Most people pass out candy from 5-8 p.m.,” said Bob Beussman. “Some people will just shut off the lights when all the candy runs out, especially if it’s getting close to 8 o’clock. Sometimes we’ve had to run to the store in full costume when we’re getting low on candy.”
The tradition began a number of years ago when Beussman was an elementary school teacher and many of his students would come to his house for treats. Jan Roeder has run a daycare center for many years and many of the kids she cared for started trick-or-treating in the neighborhood. Another elementary teacher has since moved into the neighborhood, bringing even more children. Soon, those kids were bringing their friends and the numbers kept expanding.
Jan Roeder relaxes in her witch costume before the mobs of kids start to show up. Contributed photo
“We don’t even have time to walk around and look at the other houses in the neighborhood to see their decorations or anything,” said Jan Roeder. “We’re all so busy passing out candy. It’s three hours of madness.”
“We’ve seen a lot of different ages come here just to watch, too,” Bob Beussman said. “A lot of the (Martin Luther) college kids will wear costumes and walk down the street. And adults that don’t have children will come to look at the decorated houses and to see the various costumes on the children and parents. The numbers just keep growing and growing.”
A haunted house is also available in the neighborhood for the first time this year.
“A man had a haunted house in a different part of town the last few years, and he was only getting 25 or so kids to show up,” Beussman said. “So he moved it to Turner Hall, a building on First Street, this year.”
And handing out candy along this section of town might even make you some sort of a celebrity once Halloween is over.
“I’ve run into people on the street or in a store that know me and I hear them tell their kids ‘There’s the scary guy’,” laughed Backer. “I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”