Halloween brings with it ghosts and goblins and tricks and treats, but it also brings the community together with a variety of celebrations, parties and haunted houses to honor the wickedly fun holiday.
The Pleasant Hill Public Library is working with the Parks and Recreation Department to offer yet another fun-filled Halloween Party at the Youth Center in Doanes Park. The event will be entirely indoors this year because of the ongoing construction at the park and surrounding areas. Unfortunately, that means the annual hay rack ride will not be available, but kids will still have a wide range of activities to keep them occupied inside the Youth Center.
Library Director John Lerdal has been with the library for more than 20 years and says the event was already an annual tradition when he started. He isn’t sure how it began or who first started it, but one thing he does know is the party has grown from about 50 participants 20 years ago to hundreds in the last few years.
“Last year we had about 500 people, children and adults,” Lerdal says.
Event organizer and staff librarian Gale Rivas has been with the library 17 years and says she is starting to see kids from years ago returning to the event with their kids.
“Then you really start feeling old,” she laughs. “But it’s fun to see them.”
The free event, which will be held 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26, will have games — including beanbag tosses and bingo — candy, treats and prizes.
Kids can also win a pumpkin by guessing its weight, and adults can enter drawings for prizes from area businesses. There will be drawing and coloring stations for the younger children, while the older kids can get into more complex activities like the Swamp Walk — a balance beam with creepy crawly things such as fake spiders and snakes below.
A wide range of games will be available, from store-bought board games and things like the Lions Club Spin Art, to handmade wooden structures that include a pumpkin beanbag toss made by the spouse of a library staff member. They also have a homemade Plinko board, which has been popular at past events.
Rivas says she and other volunteers spent time creating simple games to play every year so they can keep shaking things up, making it new every Halloween.
“Because we have a variety of ages, we try to find different games to keep it interesting,” Rivas says.
The library staff spends about two months planning the event and bouncing ideas around until they come up with a solid plan. Rivas says the entire staff contributes and spends time lining up numerous volunteers from the library, Friends of the Library, Lions Club and community to help make sure the event runs smoothly.
“It’s a great activity for the whole family,” Lerdal says. “One of the neatest things is that the kids and adults come in costumes.”
While the Halloween party is a fun and exciting event in itself, it is just a warm-up to other community Halloween events.
The following Sunday, Oct. 28, residents are invited to The Orange Planet parking lot, located at 5650 Metro East Drive, to participate in the second annual Trunk or Treat from 4 – 6 p.m.
During this event, local businesses and residents will dress up, decorate their cars and hand out candy while Hy-Vee serves up hot chocolate to help ward off the October chill. Last year the event also had inflatable jump houses for the kids. Coordinators are still working out the details on this, but are hoping inflatables will be included this year as well.
The event began when organizer David Charleston, owner of The Orange Planet, was trying to find a way to bring area businesses together for a free event for the community.
“I’m a small business owner, and sometimes I feel disconnected from other business owners,” he says.
He joined forces with Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cathy Jensen to finalize the event and get businesses on board.
“The kids enjoy it, the parents think it’s great, and it’s very safe,” Jensen says.
Charleston adds that one of the highlights of last year’s event was seeing the mayor dressed up like a zookeeper and dragging around a guy dressed in a gorilla costume.
There were approximately 45 vehicles and more than 900 people in attendance at the last event, according to Jensen. She says that’s an impressive turnout considering it was the first year for the Trunk or Treat.
While Jensen attributes much of the success to the nice weather the event had last year, she also thinks people appreciated the atmosphere. Charleston feels like the success, in part, is because businesses weren’t asked to contribute anything more than time and candy.
One of the more popular vehicles at the event was the ISU Cyclone bus owned by Sue Gruber. She and her husband decorated the inside of the bus and let families walk through. The kids were met with a stuffed man wearing a Cyclone jersey and a scary mask with a bowl of candy. There was Halloween music playing and candy dishes throughout. Families could exit the back of the bus to keep people flowing through freely.
“There were a couple Hawkeye fans that stopped at the door and says they couldn’t be seen inside,” she laughs. “But we had more Hawkeye fans than not go inside.”
Even warring teams couldn’t stop residents from having a good time and enjoying the event. Because Gruber rents out the bus, she isn’t sure if it will be available to participate in the event again, but she hopes it will since she felt the kids really enjoyed it.
“It’s just community,” Jensen says. “It’s just being a community.”
And the community events continue Wednesday, Oct. 30, with the first annual Hotel Halloween Trick or Treating at the Sleep Inn and Suites from 5 – 8 p.m.
General Manager Lindsey Ubaldo says the idea came about after several staff members agreed they wanted to do something for the community for Halloween.
Attendees can expect popcorn and lemonade in the breakfast area of the hotel, rooms with doors decorated by area businesses handing out candy, and a scavenger hunt. The first floor lights will be turned off during the event, leaving only emergency lights to add to the spooky Halloween feel of the night.
Participants in the scavenger hunt will find smaller prizes along the way and will be entered in a drawing for a grand prize. One prize being considered is a pool party for up to 20 people. Ubaldo says it is still in the works, but details will be finalized well before the event.
Ubaldo and other staff members, including maintenance worker Alvin Lee and housekeeper Ranae Benshoff, are excited about this first-year event.
“I think it’s going to be great for the community,” Lee says. “It’s going to be very fun.”
While Lee has yet to decide what his costume is going to be, he does plan to dress up for the event. Benshoff says she doesn’t plan to attend in costume but will be bringing her own grandchildren to the event.
One benefit of the Hotel Halloween that Benshoff sees is having an indoor environment that won’t be negatively impacted by weather.
“We’re just trying to make a fun, safe place for children to go to indoors,” Ubaldo says.
The event is open to kids of all ages. While there is no monetary fee for the event, kids must bring a canned or non-perishable food item to donate to the local food pantry.
With all of this, don’t forget regular door-to-door trick or treating which is also taking place Tuesday, Oct. 30, from 6 – 8 p.m.
Those seeking out a scarier way to celebrate Halloween need not fear, as Pleasant Hill has plenty of that go around as well.
The Slaughterhouse Haunted House is open every Friday and Saturday in October as well as Halloween night from 8 p.m. to midnight. Cost is $12 per person. The Slaughterhouse Haunted House is located at 1300 Metro East Drive, Suite 126. More information on the Slaughterhouse can be found at www.theslaughterhousedm.com.
Another venue aimed for people high school-aged and above is the variety of haunts at Sleepy Hollow. This year they are offering several haunted houses, a 3-D gallery, a fog maze and revamped Zombie Laser Tag.
Events Coordinator Mary Flatt says they also have a new attraction called Club Blood, a non-alcoholic indoor venue with music where attendees can go to get out of the weather. The indoor area isn’t heated, but it’s always nice to get out of the elements on a cool October night.
There will also be a disc jockey — DJ Bones — located near one of the attractions and will be entertaining the crowds throughout the evening.
“Dress for the weather,” Flatt suggests. “It takes a while to get through all the attractions.”
She also suggests pre-ordering tickets online to avoid long lines. Times, dates and pricing are also listed on the website, www.sleepyhollowscreampark.com, including group and private party rates.
Flatt says while they see many young children at the venue, it is really more appropriate for older people.
“It’s designed to be scary,” she says. “Not gory, but scary.”
No matter what your taste is this Halloween season — family events or being scared out of your wits — Pleasant Hill has plenty to offer to make this Halloween one you’ll never forget.