Trick or Treat (times 1500) (or $6 billion)

My family lives just off West Club Boulevard in Durham, a lovely tree-lined street with large houses that are close together.  It’s an ideal street for trick-or-treating, and over the years, a tradition has emerged where people with kids from all over the Triangle (not just Durham) come to Club Blvd to trick-or-treat.

My son is not into the holiday (yet), so we were more observers than candy collectors this year.  We actually walked from our house (far left) about half a mile down Club Blvd to Oval Park (far right), and our son was more into the swings and the slide at the park than he was into the candy, even though he did have a quasi-costume on — a Red Sox shirt and hat — and he did trick-or-treat at one house, where he scored a Tootsie Pop.

The scene along the street is pretty wild.  Here’s a snapshot from around 6:45 p.m. that starts to capture how “into” the holiday people get around here — the whole street looks like this from 6-9 p.m.

We headed home to put our son to bed around 7:30, but there were still tons of people out.  And what’s odd is that they are all on West Club — nobody comes onto the side streets, like our street.  We got a total of one trick-or-treater (our neighbors across the street).  But I figured that people on Club itself got several hundred trick-or-treaters.  I’ve heard the numbers often go up to 800 or even a thousand trick-or-treaters. 

Here’s what I learned today (well a few days ago, but I’m just writing about it now) while I was reading the local email listserv from our neighborhood: one house on Club Blvd indicated that it saw over 1500 trick-or-treaters this Halloween!

Here’s an edited version of the email posting:

Hi Neighbors,

Every year I bet against the numbers going up, and yet they continue to
climb! This year at 9:00, which is roughly when we usually stop handing out
candy, we had counted 1,564 trick-or-treaters. We kept going until 9:30,
when we stopped at 1,630 trick-or-treaters. I’ll put in past tallies below.
It’s just incredible!

We had a lovely time, and many thanks to all the neighbors who put out cones
and for the neighborhood association for organizing and paying for police

Happy Halloween!

2001 = 404
2002 = 536
2003 = 641
2004 = 741
2005 = 809
2006 = 867
2007 = 954
2008 = 1062
2009 = 1284
2010 = 1564

I always teach my students to corroborate their sources — to find other sources that say the same thing.  Here’s a blog post from 2008 (written by a couple that describe themselves as “Two Northern Liberal Urbanites, suspicious of the suburbs, living in the suburbs in the South.  We’re making our way through it and having some interesting adventures along the way.”) that confirms that 1000 trick-or-treaters on Club Boulevard is not unusual:

This blog post not only corroborates the volume of trick-or-treaters on Club Boulevard — it also shows that I’m not the only one whose life is so busy that I can’t write about Halloween until a few days after the event (this post, observant readers will note, is from November 30, 2008).  The posting also contains a link to a 2008 article from the News and Observer describing Halloween on Club Boulevard.  Unfortunately, the link does not work any more.  It’s supposed to go to:, but clicking that link brings up one of these fun error messages:

Normally, this would not be a big deal — things change on the internet all the time, and links often don’t work.  But in this case, I know I read that article back in 2008, and it was a good one!  My search for that article on Google led me to the blog post I just cited.  This raises a few points (which I’ll explore in a later post about the nature of doing internet research):

1) URLs are inherently unstable, and it’s good to cite a backup way to get the information you cite (I’m tempted to go to the microfiche at Duke’s library to get a copy of that great Halloween article from the N&O — I wonder if that technology — microfiche — still exists)

2) Students need to learn how to construct useful online searches

3) Students need to learn how to read URLS — let’s look at the URL from the blog posting I just quoted:

Let’s compare that URL to this page’s URL — yes, this page you are reading now.

See the pattern?  Many web sites — blogs and newspaper articles, anyway — have URLs that follow a similar pattern.

Students need to learn how to read web addresses (the “grammar” of the internet), and need to learn to ask where information on the web comes from, so that when they see something like this:

They think to check the URL, which in this case is:

If you cut off the URL at, you learn that is a site run by Lyle Zapato (if that’s his real name) that makes fake web pages:

Coming soon: a post devoted to “how to research online” (and when to research in a — gasp — LIBRARY, where they have — double gasp — BOOKS).

Getting back to Halloween (which was the point, wasn’t it?) I read somewhere that Halloween has become one of the top holidays, in terms of how much Americans spend celebrating it.  Indeed, a quick web search of “money spent celebrating Halloween” turned up this article from MSN Money (back in 2007) about the economics of Halloween.

Here’s a telling quote from the article:

Halloween has turned into the nation’s second- or third-biggest party night of the year, depending on who’s counting, behind New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday…

This year (2007), the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend a record $5.07 billion on costumes, cards, candy and decorations for the holiday, with the average consumer spending $64.82 compared with $59.06 [in 2006].

So there you have it — Americans are really into Halloween.  More than $5 billion seems extreme to me, given the alternative uses of such money in other places around the world.  But given that Halloween celebrations are part of the culture, it’s nice to live right near a street in Durham that has to be among the best places to trick-or-treat in the country.

Update: I just read an NPR round-up of the 2010 midterm elections, and I happened to read this factoid:

Linda McMahon in Connecticut and Meg Whitman in California taught us that you can spend millions and millions of your own money and still lose. More than $3.5 billion was spent in this election cycle, according to CNN, making 2010 the most expensive midterms in history.

So of course, I wanted to compare that $3.5 billion that candidates spent on “helping” us decide who will lead our country with the amount of money spent on Halloween 2010.  And Halloween spending, it turns out, is up to about $6 billion, according to statistics from the National Retail Federation.

So let me get this straight: in our representative democracy in 2010, we spent nearly twice as much on making ourselves look scary as we did on choosing our leaders.  Truly frightening.  Oh, by the way, speaking of a representative democracy and a country of well-informed citizens, we have a lot of work to do.  When we previewed the elections in my 9th grade world history classes on Tuesday, most of my students could not name the governor of North Carolina, let alone their two US Senators or their Representative in Congress.


About Steve Goldberg

I teach U.S. History at Research Triangle High School, a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning.
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