Family continues Halloween trick-or-treat tradition

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 29, 2005

Halloween…the sound of spooky music and bloodcurdling screams, the sight of grinning jack-o'-lanterns gleaming in the fog-filled night.

Strange creatures lurk behind timeworn tombstones and ghost-laden trees.

Hey – is that a coven of well-dressed witches sitting on the veranda?

Halloween central

Welcome to the College Street home of Steadham and Mints McGowin.

For nearly a decade, their front porch has been the destination for Halloween trick-or-treaters from across the city who are in search of a few holiday thrills and chills.

It all started eight years ago with Steadham's sister-in-law, Frances McGowin.

&#8220One weekend around Halloween, she wanted to do something special, and our kids were at an age where it was a lot of fun to be involved,” Steadham recalls.

&#8220Frances is super-creative and kids had a great time…so we continued.”

Frances painted tombstones for the front yard and created people &#8220out of black plastic and raincoats,” Steadham says.

&#8220She always came up with great ideas. One year we had dry ice for a spooky effect. Another time, we had a witch's cauldron with spaghetti noodles for people to reach inside. Frances would add something new every year.”

Passing on the witch's hat

When the resident &#8220Halloween Queen” moved to Montgomery three years later, Steadham more or less &#8220inherited” the Halloween tradition.

She gets a lot of help along the way.

Currently, eight Greenville families, including various members of the Poole, James, Crosby and McGowin families, along with several neighborhood children, gather each year at the College St. home during the city's official trick-or-treat time.

&#8220We always have at least a couple of dozen people who come for the evening. I ask each couple to bring a couple of big bags of candy to hand out,” Steadham explains.

Candy and creepy creatures

And speaking of candy, Steadham says the College St. Halloween brigade routinely hands out &#8220at least 25 to 30 bags of candy each year.”

&#8220That's why we stress, if you're going to be a part of it – bring candy,” Steadham laughs.

Of course, you don't want to be in boring street clothes when you're greeting the ghosts and goblins.

&#8220Most of ladies and girls dress as witches; the guys put on these monster masks and camouflage. They're largely homemade costumes, with a few store-bought items thrown in,” Steadham says.

She keeps a trunk in the attic filled with items – capes, wigs, fake hands, and other ghoulish props – for use each year.

&#8220Since 9/11, I have done away with anything that looks like a real weapon…though occasionally someone may show up with a prop ‘bloody knife.'

I encourage the guys to stick with making scary noises,” Steadham explains.

A ‘rite of passage'

While they hope to bring some haunting Halloween memories to those who visit, Steadham says the intention is not to terrify &#8220the little folks.”

&#8220I think the sheer number of us out there can be intimidating to the children. Once they get a little older and more confident, they seem to love it,” she says.

Neighbor Mary Ann Hamilton agrees. &#8220When my children were two or three, they were just too frightened. Now, they are really into it. It's like a rite of passage for the youngsters in town,” Mary Ann says.

Spooky music, strobe lights, glowing jack-o'-lanterns, cobwebs and ghosts are all a part of the evening, along with those costumed characters offering sweet treats – and a few hair-raising tricks – along the way.

Grown-up ghouls

The number of youngsters in the group of participating families dwindles a little each year.

&#8220All our little witches and ghouls are growing up,” Steadham says wistfully.

&#8220We lost several children who went away to college last year, and we have three more who will be graduating high school this year…so I'm not sure what we will do in the future.”

While Steadham is not certain the parents will want to continue the tradition in the coming years, rest assured, the College Street Coven will definitely be back on the McGowin home's front steps for a happy haunting this Halloween.

Steadham is dusting off her witch's hat, pulling out the tombstones and planning to soon test out a new addition for Halloween. I have a fog machine I purchased post-holiday…I've got to make sure it works before the big night.”

Steadham thinks certain grown ups enjoy the experience as much as the youngsters do.

&#8220We've already had friends calling, saying, ‘Are you doing the Halloween house again?'” Steadham says.

It's something people really seem to look forward to each fall. The kids love it – and I guess those of us who are kids at heart love it, too.”