On Halloween night, there are so many trick-or-treaters in Mark McDonough’s Saco neighborhood that it can take an hour to drive the last mile to his house.

McDonough estimates that as many as 400 little ghosts and goblins visit the Hillview neighborhood every Oct. 31, coming from as far away as Hollis, Dayton and Limington. So even though his own children are now grown, McDonough makes a point of staying home and embracing the Halloween spirit, decorating his home with spooky music, strobe lights and skeletons.

“After 5 o’clock, I would not try to drive into this neighborhood,” McDonough said. “We’ve been here for 30-plus years, and it’s just gotten bigger and bigger every year.”

What makes a neighborhood ideal for trick-or-treating? Around southern Maine, there are neighborhoods that attract hundreds of children and their parents on Halloween night. Those crowds aren’t coming for mediocre candy, yards devoid of fake gravestones or porches empty of pumpkins and cackling witches. Surveying a few of the most popular neighborhoods, they all seem to have a few things in common: a safe and convenient layout, scary decorations, good candy, something fun for the adults, and quirky traditions that create fond trick-or-treating memories that can last for decades.

GOOD CANDY, DECORATIONS

McDonough believes part of the attraction to his neighborhood is its size, the fact that it’s off the main road, and there’s plenty of parking. “The streets loop around and connect, so it’s easy walking for everyone,” he said.

Trick-or-treaters show up at McDonough’s door eight or 10 at a time. This year, he bought enough candy to give 400 children two pieces each, which set him back about $70. But there are others in the neighborhood who, despite the crowds, still give out full-sized candy bars – the Holy Grail of Halloween.

“If it was a fishing spot, it would be a good one,” observes Saco Police Chief Ray Demers. “It’s like a kid’s paradise.”

The house at 17 Alba St. in Portland was decked out Monday for Halloween. The Deering Center neighborhood is extremely popular with trick-or-treaters. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

Demers can confirm that there are lots of well-decorated houses and “you get good candy there” because he used to take his own children there for trick-or-treating. “You can hear the kids go, ‘Wow,’ ” he said, “and you can’t help but chuckle.”

In Portland, residents of Deering Center point to streets such as Alba, Best, Fuller, Madeline and Leonard as a good collective trick-or-treating hot spot, partly because of the good candy that gets passed out there. It doesn’t hurt that the neighborhood leans up against Evergreen Cemetery. And just across Stevens Avenue, the Roots n Shoots Preschool at 161 Clinton St. sponsors a Halloween parade every year. Halloween parades, such as the popular one on the Portland’s West End that features life-sized puppets and music, are sure to lure little people in costumes.

Marnie Morrione, who lives on Fuller Street in Deering Center, says there are plenty of streets to zig-zag in her neighborhood, along with lots of decorations and great candy, including one house that is “incredibly generous with the big candy bars.”

“In all my years here, I don’t recall any apples or even pencils,” she said. “They really go all out with candy here.”

As for decorations, Morrione has seen the usual pumpkins and orange lights over the years, but also a man scaring kids with the roar of a blade-free chainsaw and a teenager dressed as a zombie who jumps out of the bushes at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.

Those are all traditional pranks and scares. Some neighborhoods go above and beyond candy and decorations, offering a little something extra for the children – and even their parents. When Julie Harrison moved into River Meadows in Steep Falls, her new neighbors warned her to plan for 400 trick-or-treaters, so she bought 1,000 pieces of candy. Turns out they weren’t exaggerating the neighborhood’s popularity. Last year, even after a five-day power outage, more than 350 trick-or-treaters showed up.

ICE CREAM, SHOTS FOR PARENTS

Why? One of the attractions is free ice cream for both children and adults from Kelly’s Ice Cream Truck, outfitted with Halloween lights. Angela Kelly and her husband give away their leftover summer inventory on Halloween – more than 40 different menu items, from popsicles to chocolate tacos. The ice cream probably won’t keep over the winter and would likely have to be thrown away. “It’s a nice way for us to give back,” she said.

River Meadows is a mile-long loop, where people can park their cars on a main road and walk around the subdivision safely – and collect a large amount of candy in a short amount of time. Visitors are basically crashing a big neighborhood party.

“It’s a very nice, friendly neighborhood,” Kelly said. “Our neighbors are amazing. They’re all nice, and we all hang out together, so this is just another thing that we do.”

For the past couple of years, one of Kelly’s neighbors, Tiffany Thompson, has made about 100 2-ounce shots for parents passing by. The first year it was a chocolate pudding shot with Bailey’s and whipped cream. This year, like last year, it will probably be Jell-O shots.

Thompson, who usually buys 400 pieces of candy, says she and her other neighbors put their fire pits at the end of their driveways and make a get-together out of it. Her husband shoots off fireworks.

SINGING FOR YOUR TREATS

The Oakwood Drive neighborhood in Yarmouth has a similar setup. It’s a mile-long loop where parents can either park and wait for their kids to walk around or follow them around the loop, where neighbors set up fire pits and party, too. Resident Mary Rehak estimates she gets 350 to 400 trick-or-treaters every year.

But the celebration isn’t confined to Halloween night in this subdivision. Throughout October, a “Halloween phantom” leaves a bag of candy on the doorstep of a house; then it’s up to that house to take on the phantom persona, fill the bag again and leave it on another doorstep, continuing until all houses with children have been hit. The weekend before Halloween, there’s a big bonfire with food and hot cider.

People line up last year before the annual Halloween parade on Brackett Street, which draws hundreds of people and is organized by a local resident. Staff photo by Derek Davis

But perhaps the most creative tradition you’ll find in the neighborhood began about 15 years ago. It was the brainchild of Randy Billmeier, who is a member of the Royal River Community Theater and loves to sing, especially with his grandchildren. Billmeier set up a little stage with a couple of microphones and speakers, and he told trick-or-treaters that they’d get two pieces of candy just because they were wearing a costume. But if they sang a song or recited a poem, they’d get three or four.

Over the years, Billmeier heard a lot of the “Alphabet Song” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” from the youngest trick-or-treaters. Six- to 8-year-olds would try putting on a skit. Teenagers would sing with their parents or recite something from their upcoming high school play. Some kids would refuse at first, but return later, having built up their courage.

“What always gave me joy was to look in their eyes and see them do a leap of courage,” he said. “It’s a little scary. Imagine a 3- or 4-year-old. And they immediately have success. I just feel they grew a little immediately inside.”

Billmeier hung up his microphone after his own children grew too old for trick-or-treating, but others in the neighborhood continued the tradition. When no one else is available, Billmeier volunteers to be the master of ceremonies, and it looks as if he may do so again this year. “If no one’s doing it, I’m doing it,” he said.

SOME TRADITIONS FADE AWAY

As time goes on, kids grow up and the demographics of family neighborhoods change, some of these Halloween trick-or-treating traditions start to fade. Ruth Weeks, 86, is a retired school librarian who lives in Harpswell and loves Halloween. When she was a child, she acted as a scout for her brothers as they soaped neighbors’ windows as a prank; today, she decorates her own home using a walker. Every year, she invites trick-or-treaters into her home so she can read them “The Haunted House,” what she called “this silly little pop-up book that I read at my school” in Topsham. Only after the reading do they get their candy – peanut butter cups, or Hershey bars for the ones who are allergic to nuts.

In years past, Weeks said she might have read the book 20 times on a single Halloween night. The Boy Scouts even brought a bus of children to her house. But now the local school is closed, and children go to the parade in Brunswick and trick-or-treat there afterwards. If she’s lucky, Weeks might read the book three or four times. Some of the people who drop by are parents whose children are now grown, but who miss the annual tradition. One year, a man sat down on Weeks’ sofa, called his daughter at college, and said, “Guess where I am?”

Weeks has heard there’s a neighborhood in Topsham that gets 500 trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.

“I wouldn’t want 500, but I would still love to have 50,” she said. “I love to see kids.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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