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A brief history of Halloween at Swarthmore

in Around Campus/Campus Journal by

We just had that weekend again — the weekend of last-minute Target and Goodwill runs to put together an ironic Swarthmorean Halloween costume that nobody back home would understand — in short, we’ve had the weekend of the Halloween party. This year’s Halloween party was held in Sharples, as it has been for the past few years; however, it has certainly not always been located in our daytime dining space. The Halloween party’s locale has changed more times than a Swattie’s costume ideas, but it all started — perhaps unsurprisingly — with the Swarthmore Warders of Imaginative Literature (SWIL). That’s right — the same now-extinct sci-fi club that made the ’Dactyl Hunt such a success was also the club that gave us the Halloween party.

In 1981, Sherry Hartenstine, a brave freshman member of SWIL, suggested that the science fiction organization should have a Halloween party. Called the ‘Halloween Masquerades’ or ‘SWILloween,’ the party was a success and became an annual event. Memorable costumes from the early SWIL years included a ‘remove-your-own-spleen’ costume; a ‘human photocopy’; a Kate Bush album cover; and a sledgehammer accompanied by destroyed computer equipment. Needless to say, the creativity of the costumes brought a little-noticed group some well-deserved fame.

The annual party was held in Bond, the WRC, or wherever SWIL could secure a party space until 1990, when it was permanently moved to Mary Lyons dormitory. When SWIL declined in the late ’90s, the dedicated RAs of ML took over organization of the party to keep it alive, and for a while longer, ML-ers were more than happy to host hundreds of students dressed as sundry monsters. However, ML’s off-campus status posed a safety concern for intoxicated students who were cited by the police on their way back home; additionally, not all residents were thrilled to have a school-wide party in their living room. In 2006, residents protested, and Mary Lyons’ RAs decided they could no longer organize the party. To save the popular event, the Student Activities Committee took over Halloween and began searching for an on-campus location.

Once moved on campus, however, the party’s game of musical chairs was far from over. In 2006, after considering erecting a tent in the LPAC parking lot, SAC decided to host the party in crowded Paces, with an additional dancing space in Upper Tarble. Upper Tarble, usually a dry space, was controversially made wet just for the night (though the decision was reversed the next year). Confusingly splitting the party between two locations introduced the added danger of steep staircases between Paces, restrooms, and Upper Tarble. This issue became glaringly apparent when a student tripped down the stairs in 2007 and sustained minor injuries to his head. PAs called the police, and the student was taken to the Crozer-Chester Medical center and cited for underage drinking.

In response to this incident, the next year the party was held in Sharples (perhaps with the assumption that Sharples’ staircase was somehow safer) — but it was far from smooth sailing. In fact, a coffee table was thrown off the balcony and injured a student, and several students, apparently hungry enough to crave Sharples food, attempted to sneak into the kitchen. A ‘cereal fight’ and several incidents of vomiting rendered Sharples a disaster by the end of the night, although some dedicated students stayed until 5:00 AM to clean up the space. Due to the utter failure of the event in Sharples, the Halloween party had to go elsewhere — but where?

The brilliant but ambitious idea to hold the Halloween party in a large tent on Mertz field was received with enthusiasm, despite the small issue that the only available bathrooms would be in Mertz itself. Mertz residents, not wishing to brush their teeth with intoxicated zombies, protested; tent planning ground to a halt. With no other options, SAC was forced to move the party back to Paces. This time, although nobody fell down the stairs, the fact remained that there was simply not enough space in Paces to accommodate all the students who wanted to attend. Therefore, SAC took a leap and moved the Halloween party back to Sharples, where it has stayed put since 2010. Nary a coffee table has been thrown from the balcony since the move, and this writer highly cautions against it: let’s not risk the poor party’s stability yet again. We may not have had a ‘remove-your-own-spleen’ costume this year, but turnout at Sharples proved that Halloween is one Swarthmore tradition that is going strong. Happy SWILloween!

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