JOLIET – The trick-or-treat spirit was alive on Western Avenue, as hundreds of kids and their parents went door to door in what for years, if not decades, has been a Halloween destination.
While the number of trick-or-treaters has dwindled in many neighborhoods, residents in this section of the Cathedral Area of Joliet don’t know whether to expect hundreds or thousands on Halloween.
“I usually buy two to three thousand pieces of candy, and I’m out by 5:30 p.m.,” Alicia Tocwish said shortly after 4 p.m., opening time for trick-or -treating in Joliet.
Tocwish herself was in costume, wearing a Day of the Dead mask as she stood at her front steps and handed out candy.
“I love it,” she said. “I get to see all the people and their costumes. Everyone comes out.”
They come from the neighborhood, other parts of Joliet and even other towns.
“Western Avenue. It’s Halloween. We come every year,” said Kevin Bart of Minooka, who was in a Blue Man costume as he led three children through the neighborhood. “It’s the people, the spirit of Halloween. Not too many people do it anymore.”
Western Avenue of the Cathedral Area is a street of old, leafy trees in autumn splendor before the sun sets, and stately homes, some of which may take on a spooky aura in the dark.
Luke Blaszkow said his house in Romeoville would get 15 to 20 trick-or-treaters Monday night. Meanwhile, he was on Western Avenue with his 3-year-old son, Roman, both dressed as Mario Bros. characters.
“I come over here because it’s the coolest trick-or-treating place in the area,” said Blaszkow, who first came three years ago when a friend in the Cathedral Area invited him.
The haunted house
Much of the popularity of Western Avenue is attributed to Rick and Chris Miller, whose nephews first began creating special effects on their front lawn 26 years ago.
Eric Semplinski and his brother, Brian, were then in junior high school, and they kept making the special effects bigger and bigger each year as the crowds grew as well. Eric became more devoted, even starting his own business, Agony Props, and eventually he built an entire haunted house on the front lawn.
This year, Eric was so busy with clients that he almost skipped Western Avenue. But he started getting calls from all kinds of people.
“The mayor called,” Eric said. “It’s getting weird when that starts happening.”
Eric decided he could not let Halloween on Western Avenue pass, so he put on a downsized show, which still included a mad dog growling and lunging at trick-or-treaters, a wolf man howling at passers-by, jumping vampire ladies and more.
Even 26 years ago, Eric said, he and his brother wanted to do props at their uncle and aunt’s house because there were so many trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood.
“Back then, they had about three or four hundred trick-or-treaters,” Eric said. “We thought we’d start scaring some people.”
In recent years, Eric said, the police count of people on Western Avenue has been as high as 6,000 to 7,000, and Western Avenue has even been closed off at times.
That could explain the city’s interest in whether the Miller haunted house was on or not this year.
Joliet police, assisted by Joliet Police Explorers, an organization for young adults interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement, direct traffic and guard crosswalks on Western Avenue on Halloween.
“We make sure no cars are crossing while people are walking,” Explorer Evan Lopez said while working one intersection. “We make sure everybody is safe.”
The police add to the appeal of the evening.
“I like knowing the cops are patrolling all around here and making sure the kids cross the street safely,” said Tre Moore of Joliet as she guided two young trick-or-treaters.
Whether or not all the residents on Western Avenue like the crowds on Halloween, those on their porches with candy seemed to relish the evening.
“I love seeing all the kids,” said Dan Gewargis, who spent more than $160 to have enough candy for the evening.
“We moved here in 2012 on Halloween night,” Gewargis said, reflecting on his first Halloween on Western Avenue and the warnings from neighbors to be prepared. “We were told, but we didn’t expect anything like this.”
Visit this article at TheHerald-News.com for video of Halloween on Western Avenue