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McNeal, Gabriel Alexander, and Jayleen Caban are on duty at Monsters on MainStreet in Downtown DeLand on Halloween, keeping the Anointed Olive and other retailers safe from any ghosts that might pass by.

BY PAUL CROCE

Do children worry about the debates and disasters that are daily fare in the news? Judging from the wild and wonderful outfits appearing at MegaHalloween on Minnesota Avenue in DeLand, the quick answer is, not much. But a closer look shows that the worries loom, even as they show up in some equally wild and unpredictable forms — and in ways more fun than most adults think about.

The trick-or-treaters were many more than the 200 or so in 2020, but fewer than the 2,000 or more in previous years. With the 750 we met and talked with, plus hundreds more who couldn’t be bothered with a brief inquiry to help identify the most popular outfit of the year, there were likely more than 1,000 fantasy-filled creatures walking the street this year.

There was not a single politician in the crowd, but one Robber of Dead Presidents, only one religious figure (Our Lady of Guadalupe), and many outfits representing characters on video games, in movies and from folk tales, history, and everyday life.

We saw mostly fun stuff, with a lot of dark references, including a Dead Bride, a bloodied nurse (just out of surgery), and a crowd of Chuckys (9), Michael Myers (4), Zombies (4), Grim Reapers (3), and Godfather Corleone himself.

Maybe that potential mayhem brought out the two firefighters (including one from Puerto Rico) and 10 police officers, including two women. And the closest to a political commentary was the officer saying he had “just killed someone.”

On backup, superheroes were ready to save the day, ranging from Wonder Woman to Iron Man (four each), along with three Supermen, two Batmen (but only one Robin), and one Superwoman. But beware, marvels of the universe! There’s a new antihero in town: Super Nope and (Pow! Bam!!) her Super Sound Effects Sidekick!

Popular media characters also showed up in big numbers and even mixed with the folk figures, including one Wicked Witch, one Apocalyptic and one Regular Witch. The Skeletons mixed it up, too, with one Ninja Skeleton, one on a skateboard, one Cheerleader Skeleton, one Skeleton Soldier, one Pumpkin Skeleton, and one doubling as a prisoner.

Next up were not just a bunch of clowns; some were “creepy,” some “scary,” and a full seven were Killer Clowns — but they should watch out for the Clown Killer and “the person who straightens the clowns out.”

Folk traditions gained support from the Dinosaurs, Fairies, Ghosts and Unicorns (seven each), along with Dragons and Hippies (four each), one Knight, one Hula Dancer, one Mad Scientist, one Blind Mouse (who couldn’t find the other two), and Rapunzel, with special appearances by two Cleopatras, Queen Elizabeth II and Napoleon.

Lots of pop culture characters arrived, including countless figures from Fortnite, IT, Masterchief, Minecraft and Purge, plus one Bhad Bhabie, one Ghostbuster, Godzilla, Ms. Frizzle, Paddington Bear, Peppa the Pig, Scooby-Doo, SpongeBob, two Care Bears, two Doc McStuffins, two M&Ms, two Minions, Harry Potter with friends (and rivals), a whole pack from Paw Patrol, along with the complete cast of the Addams Family.

Everyday families were also well-represented, even as their strains showed. Of the 16 Moms, three were tired mothers, but one was an energetic “Sports Edition Mom.” There were only seven Dads, including one “Casual Dad” (which may explain the tired mothers), and also two old men (including one “grumpy”), one gender-neutral Parent, two Pregnant characters, one Bad Wedding, and one couple bucking that trend as Love Birds.

One child was “abducted by aliens,” but other young ones fared better, including three upbeat Baby Sharks and one Daddy Shark.

Three Honorable Mentions from the Department of Clever T-Shirts: a Skeleton pulling the spine from the next skeleton with the assurance, I’ve Got Your Back!; Bone-a-Fide Blood Donor; and Here for the Boos.

Among representatives from the afterlife, Devils not only outnumbered Angels, seven to four, but also engaged in some successful recruiting from Team Heaven with one angel “dark” and another “fallen.”

Among predators, there were four Wolves. But, by far, the biggest predator of humanity was hardly represented: just one Mosquito, even though these critters, carrying deadly diseases, kill far more people than their mammal cousins who rarely attack people, except maybe the one Big Bad Wolf.

Other wildlife was also represented, but in small numbers, showing the challenges they face these days. Still, the pollinators had a good showing with seven Bees, four Ladybugs, and three Bats. Other creatures included two Deer, one Elephant, one Fox, one Lemur, one Luna Moth, two Macaws, one Monkey, one Raccoon, one Polar Bear, two Tigers, and one Zebra. They far outnumbered the one Hunter.

The three Rabbits bounced through human imaginations as Bugs Bunny and a Killer Bunny. And one pair of trick-or-treaters came dressed to do their part for endangered critters: a Monarch Butterfly and a Butterfly Gardener.

Not only did the crowd show little interest in the news; some showed little interest in dressing for Halloween, including the three dressed as Myself or Me, one Human, and one Nothing (but “with scars”). They were well-supported by six I Don’t Knows.

For all the reasons to worry, our children show us their ways to steer through troubles, with fantasy fears or by just turning away. Some of that playfulness may fuel their imaginations with creative ways to deal with the problems they are inheriting.

— Croce is professor of history and director of American Studies at Stetson University, and the author of Young William James Thinking. He writes for the Public Classroom, and his recent essays have appeared in Civil American, History News Network, the Huffington Post, Origins, Public Seminar, US Intellectual History Blog, and The Washington Post. Croce included “mega thanks” to Caitlyn Bishop, Lexie Falance, Katie Kraft, Madi Goff and Matt DiMinno, who assisted with interviewing trick-or-treaters and organizing the project.  

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