What it will look like during a pandemic


Many traditional Halloween activities are a risk to spreading COVID-19, so here are some suggestions the CDC has stay safe this spooky season.


There’s no reason spooky season should be any different than most of what we’ve experienced in 2020.

Halloween will be a holiday altered by the coronavirus pandemic, with fewer public celebrations and new rules applied to traditions still being observed.

In Indianapolis, the big cancellation is the street fair that serves as centerpiece of the annual Historic Irvington Halloween Festival. The street fair, which typically attracts more than 50,000 people, happens on a Saturday but doesn’t always fall on Oct. 31 as part of the eastside neighborhood’s eight-day festival.

Not only is Halloween on a Saturday this year, it’s the first time the holiday will feature a full moon in all time zones since 1944.

“It was going to be a special day, but unfortunately it’s not going to happen,” festival director Nancy Tindall-Sponsel said.

Of course, Halloween itself isn’t canceled, and much of the Irvington festival – including a night of scary storytelling and a different night of eerie organ music  – will happen in an online streaming format.

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Stephen Brooks, dressed as “Toy Story’s” Woody for Halloween, holds Juliet during the 2019 Safe Night Halloween at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the event will not happen this year. (Photo: Grace Hollars/IndyStar)

Indy Scream Park, a 120-acre “haunted house” attraction in Anderson, is open this fall with reduced capacity and an increased emphasis on social distancing and sanitized surfaces.

Jon Pianki, the park’s marketing director, said he understands if haunted houses aren’t part of your to-do list this year.

“You have to do what you feel is safe and best for your family and your health vs. what you maybe have done in the past,” Pianki said.

For people choosing to test their nerves in the presence of creepy clowns and relentless zombies, Indy Scream Park can accommodate more than 1,000 customers a night.

Will the streets of Indianapolis and surrounding towns be filled with trick-or-treaters on Halloween night?

Traditional door-to-door candy collection is not recommended by state and city health officials, who cite the challenge of maintaining 6 feet of social distance.

The 25th annual “Safe Night Halloween” trick-or-treat event at the Indiana State Fairgrounds is canceled because of the pandemic. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who’s greeted trick-or-treaters dressed as an Indiana Pacer and a “Jurassic Park” paleontologist in recent years, has yet to decide how the holiday will be celebrated at his Meridian Street residence.

Among the “low risk” Halloween activities recommended by Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box is carving pumpkins at home.

Pumpkin patches such as Kelsay Farms in rural Whiteland are open to visitors. Amy Kelsay said her family’s business is made for social distancing.

“The thing that’s helped us all along is that we’re an outdoor venue,” Kelsay said. “It’s pretty easy, with the acreage we have, to spread out.”

Nevertheless, the pandemic is influencing protocols at the farm. Visitors are asked to sign in and provide phone numbers in case coronavirus contact tracing is necessary.

‘Getting into the spirit’

Irvington residents will compete in a Halloween house-decorating contest this year, extending a tradition in the neighborhood named after “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” author Washington Irving. (Photo: Photo provided by the Historic Irvington Halloween Festival)

Beyond traditional trick-or-treating, health officials frown on “trunk-or-treating,” where candy is handed out from trunks of cars. The practice of leaving candy in bowls for visitors to collect also is not recommended.

A suggested alternative is “one-way” trick-or-treating, in which households prepare wrapped goodies for families to grab from the end of a driveway, for example.

Irvington festival director Tindall-Sponsel expects people will be inventive on Halloween. She said neighborhood residents have posted on social media about tubes they plan to use to deliver candy from their porch to buckets held by children on the sidewalk.

Despite the street fair cancellation, Tindall-Sponsel said Irvington will live up to its spooky pedigree, which was established when the neighborhood was named for “TheLegend of Sleepy Hollow” author Washington Irving in 1870.

“If you drive through Irvington, you’re going to find that a lot of people are going out and decorating their houses and yards,” she said. “We’re really seeing a large number of people just getting into the spirit this year, because that’s all they can do.”

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Irvington residents can register to compete in an exterior house-decorating contest at the festival’s website. Judging is scheduled Oct. 26-27.

A 5K run on Halloween morning is one in-person festival event that’s happening. With participation limited to 200 entrants (down from as many as 800 in past years), the Vampire Run is scheduled for Pennsy Trail instead of its traditional course on closed streets in the neighborhood.

Tindall-Sponsel plans to wrap up five years as festival director in 2021, the 75th anniversary year for the event. Her parents, Larry and Kathy Tindall, are former festival organizers who have seen Irvington’s stature rise as a Halloween destination.

“When my parents were doing it, they would go out and literally ask people to come and be participants,” she said.

Masked up at the midway

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In this 2016 photo, Indy Scream Park actors prepare for a night of scaring guests at the Anderson attraction. This year, Indy Scream Park reduced its visitor capacity to 50%. (Photo: Michelle Pemberton/Indy Star)

To protect customers and 300 actors portraying scary characters, Indy Scream Park mandates face coverings for everyone on site.

Health officials have highlighted screaming as a way for the coronavirus to spread via respiratory droplets.

Indy Scream Park spokesman Pianki said the masks worn by actors replicate makeup that would be seen underneath the face coverings. He said the masks are inconspicuous in the low lighting of the park’s attractions.

“You can’t really tell there’s been a disruption to what you would traditionally see at a haunted house,” Pianki said.

Unlike previous years, Indy Scream Park’s actors aren’t allowed to touch customers during “immersive scares.”

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“People were upset about it, obviously,” Pianki said. “We had a lot of social media comments. But we cannot do that and keep you and our staff safe. We had to modify a lot of our interactive sections.”

Indy Scream Park straightened its entrance and exit lines at attractions to avoid crowding experienced in the traditional “switchback” line design. The city of Indianapolis designated haunted houses as “high risk” activities if people congregate at entrance and exit areas.

With a season running from Sept. 11 to Nov. 7, Anderson’s Indy Scream Park is open until 10:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. 

Pianki said the presence of uniformed police at the park’s midway discourages reckless behavior.

“It is a fun atmosphere, but it is not a ‘no rules’ kind of atmosphere,” Pianki said. “We make that very clear even not during pandemic times.”

Not the year to pack people in

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Kelsay Farms in rural Whiteland first opened its gates to fall visitors in 2007. This year, the pumpkin patch is keeping records of visitor names in case coronavirus contact tracing is necessary. (Photo: Joe Vitti/IndyStar)

Hayrides are available at Kelsay Farms, where wagons run continuously to help accommodate social distancing. Box, the state’s health commissioner, said it’s risky to go on hayrides with people outside your household.

“We’re allowing families to self-monitor, so they spread out a little bit,” Amy Kelsay said. “We don’t want to pack everyone in like sardines. It’s just not the year for that.”

Kelsay said some members of the farm’s staff of 22 high school students are dedicated solely to sanitation efforts. Play areas are sprayed with disinfectants every hour, she said.

Open to the public on weekends through Oct. 25, the farm grew a bumper crop of pumpkins during the pandemic, Kelsay said.

“I think families are wanting to get out and have some tradition again,” she said. “It’s a chance to enjoy fresh air. We feel like we’re one of the places where they can do that, relax a little bit but also feel safe.”

Contact IndyStar reporter David Lindquist at dave[email protected] or 317-444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.

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Wednesday November 2, 2022