The Marshall Plan: The magic of Halloween

Lines of costumed children entered the gymnasium of Fayetteville Academy eager for a night of games, bake sales and costume contests at the schoolâ??s annual Halloween Fair. It was an exciting night for hundreds of elementary school children.

The year was 1977. Amid the clowns, ghosts, Charlieâ??s Angels, devils, Frankensteins, Draculas, mad scientists, princesses, witches and werewolves a small solitary figure moved with the arm-swaying locomotion of a gorilla.

At the end of the line, two boys wore KISS makeup—both were Gene Simmons.

Then it appeared, a war-like gorilla, inspired by a deep obsession with the Planet of the Apes films.

The gorilla wore a leather uniform complete with a metal helmet and toy-rifle
The costume was received with horror from parents and teachers. In contrast, there was unbridled-heavy-breathing joy behind the General Urko mask.

As the contest progressed into the final rounds the momentum and mayhem surrounding the costume grew.

There was a buzz every time the General tilted his furry head and walked with Simian swag.

The child behind the mask never offered a clue to his real identity.

â??I canâ??t believe parents would let a child wear something so hideous,â? commented a lady with extremely big hair. â??Itâ??s so strange.â?

A military father proudly smiled at the theatrics of his third-grade gorilla general.

The costume earned one of the top-prizesâ?¦the most ugly.

Upon receiving my award I emerged from my disguise, sweaty-faced and proud.

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday.

Why does Halloween charge my senses?

For one, it is an underdog of a holiday that celebrates pumpkins, creativity, death, spirits, candy, saints, naughtiness and great parties. This is why I refuse to let Halloween be the speed bump for Thanksgiving which then in turn serves as the speed bump for Christmas.

The selection and creation of a Halloween costume has always been one of my greatest joys.

I can remember a few winners and perhaps a few less than stellar creations that shall not be mentioned.

The human-hating General Urko was certainly a winner.

How great is it to create a character? Or be anyone or anything you want for a night?

Another favorite Halloween memory was the night my four-year-old brother stubbornly decided that he wanted to dress as Miss Piggy, of Muppets fame. All I have now is a Polaroid of my middle brother standing in horror next to Miss Piggy with his Transformers costume in full effect.

Thankfully, my little brother turned out to be a perfectly normal man in later years.

Halloween allows that freedom of creativity.

I also like that Halloween is a nice blend of old world traditions, myths, history, scary tales and free candy.

Old horror films are always fun to watch along with the endless crop of ghost and monster hunter shows that can over dramatize the faintest creak or drippy pipe.

What was that? Mr. Boots? Give us a sign!

After the doorbell chimes fade itâ??s always nice to read a few Edgar Allan Poe poems as the pumpkin candles flicker and fade to black.

I visited his grave site at Westminister Church in downtown Baltimore a couple years back on a cold spring evening. I took my own tour of Poeâ??s Baltimore haunts taking photos of foggy street lights and avoiding the places that recalled The Wire. Despite the hazards of the living, I have always had a soft spot for Charm City.

Sadly, no ghostly apparitions or Ravens spoke to me.

A late-mortician friend once told me that the dead are much more trustworthy than the living
I have walked across a few places that felt haunted and each spot had the stories to back it up. There was Gettysburg, the salt-marshes of Ocracoke Island, the I-95 bridge over the Rappahannock River and Grey Friarâ??s Cemetery in Edinburgh, Scotland. All were spooky in the classic sense.

The scary tales are never as bad as the real world, are they? In fact, they are quite tame compared to the parade of real horrors that flash across our television on a daily basis.

For me the magic of Halloween is contained in a sentence.

Who or what shall I be this year?

I think Blackbeard, the infamous terror of the Carolinas, will be holding the hand of his four-year-old daughter in a Rapunzel dress this Friday night.

Trick or Treatâ?¦and be safe my friends.

Marshall Conner is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at