October 28, 2013

Halloween is not just for kids anymore

Not just one day, Halloween is a whole season now of parties, events, and fantasy for grown-ups.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Joie Grandbois heard it more than once when she was a youngster: “You’re too old.”

click image to enlarge

Anne Cote sits in the haunted funeral parlor she’s created at her home in Falmouth. Cote likes Halloween because it lets people explore scary themes while “controlling the horror.”

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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John Robertson and his daughter Isabel, 15, have created a haunting scene in front of their Cape Elizabeth home.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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Grandbois was always tall for her age, so grown-ups handing out candy on Halloween night would look her over and decide she was no longer a little kid. Halloween, they reasoned, was for little kids.

Those people might have been right then, 30 years ago. But they’re dead wrong today.

Now 41, Grandbois is part of a generation of adults who have never abandoned their love for Halloween. They are a generation that has helped Halloween grow from a one-day candy giveaway for kids into an entire season where grown-ups partake of parties and over-the-top theatrics, wear fantasy costumes and visit commercial haunted attractions.

To celebrate Halloween, Grandbois will dress in her scariest duds and attend Portland’s annual Goth Ball. Some years on Halloween she entertains other grown-ups, as part of the Portland-based Dark Follies, a Gothic-inspired variety troupe.

“It’s definitely become more of an adult holiday, and big business,” said Grandbois, of Portland, who works as a paralegal. “I think it’s partly because people today are so interested in the unexplained, in the spooky side of life. It’s also about escapism during tough times, and about people looking for a sense of community they don’t find in other places today. Plus, everyone loves to dress up.”

Halloween has become big business for sure, and retail data show that adults are fueling that. About 44 percent of the 5,290 adults who responded to a National Retail Federation Halloween survey said they are planning to dress up this year, as opposed to the 30 percent of grown-ups who said they were dressing up for the holiday in 2004. About 50 percent of respondents between the ages of 35 and 44 said they are getting decked out for Halloween this year, compared to just 34 percent in 2004.

The National Retail Federation estimates that American consumers this year will spend $1.2 billion on adult costumes, and nearly $7 billion on all things Halloween. That’s an increase in overall Halloween spending of more than 50 percent since 2005.

All you have to do is scan a newspaper to see how adult-oriented Halloween has become. There are ads for adult costume rentals at various stores. There are listings for Halloween balls and parties, as well as haunted hayrides and houses that are much too graphic for small children. Turn on the TV and you see commercials featuring adults psyched for Halloween, including a recent one for a new smartphone, with a whole family in costume trick-or-treating.

Or walk around in your own neighborhood to see how much grown-ups have become the drivers of the Halloween season. In Falmouth, look to the home of Anne Cote, which she turns into a haunted funeral parlor called Olde Blackwood Manor for her annual Halloween bash. Cote, 41, has acquired six caskets and an actual hearse for her annual revelry. She figures she’s spent $30,000 outfitting her Halloween dream house over the years.

“When I was growing up, Halloween was about kids getting dressed up in those godforsaken rubber masks and filling pillow cases with candy,” said Cote, sales manager at the Morong auto dealership in Falmouth. “For adults now, I think it’s about being something else for a little while.”

For Cote, her Halloween alter ego is the director of a haunted funeral parlor, where bodies are dismembered and scattered in nearby woods. She’s written a whole story about the fictional funeral parlor in her home, online at OldeBlackwoodManor.com.

Cote says her fascination with Halloween and all that it has come to mean began when she was a child and visited the Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World in Florida. She doesn’t like horror films, she says, but likes Halloween because it lets people explore spooky, scary themes while “controlling the horror.”

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