Chris Rudolph bought his Maple Street house in Bangor the last week of October 2013. Excited about his new home, he and his future wife, Kate, and their kids went to check out the neighborhood on Halloween, since they’d heard it was a pretty good place for trick-or-treating and decorations.
They didn’t quite know what they were getting into.
“The entire street was full. People were parking multiple blocks away to come to Maple,” said Rudolph. “I asked our future neighbors if it was always like this, and they said ‘Yeah, get ready. This is actually an off year for it.’”
There are plenty of Halloween events in town. But only one street sees 2,000 or more people each year. Only one street routinely offers up DIY haunted houses, scary movies projected on pop-up screens and talking skeletons.
For more than 20 years, Maple Street has been ground zero for Halloween fun in Bangor, and the crowds — and the amount of money residents spend on it — have only grown.
It used to be that West Broadway was the major Halloween street in town. In the 1980s and 90s, Stephen and Tabitha King would give out candy at their iconic home. Stephen King would sometimes sit out on his front porch, handing it out himself.
But by the mid-1990s, Maple Street’s domination really began. Chris Buck, a 29-year resident of the neighborhood, was one of the first on the street to start decorating his house for Halloween, with his wife, Kim.
“I’ve always loved Halloween, so I started doing a little display, just something kind of cheesy. Cardboard cutouts of Frankenstein, that kind of thing,” said Buck. “We’d get maybe 40, 50 people. Pretty standard.”
By 2000, that number had increased to several hundred kids over the course of the night, with more and more coming each year as word of mouth spread. Kids would tell other kids, parents would tell other parents.
Decorations and costumes got more elaborate, and more candy was handed out.
Rudolph and Buck both estimate they each spend between $300 and $400 each year on candy, which is between 2,500 and 3,000 pieces, they say.
“I feel like when you buy a house on Maple Street, you should get your heating budget, your electrical budget, and your Halloween budget,” said Rudolph. “It’s insane. It can be a major investment for some people.”
There’s a strategy for candy-buying, as Maple Street resident Gwyneth Freeman points out.
“You can’t buy it all in one fell swoop. You have to budget it. As soon as they start putting candy out in stores, you start buying a bag a week,” said Freeman, who moved to the street in 2011, with her husband and two young kids. “People go to BJ’s and Sam’s every week. I’ve seen people who live on Maple there. We know what we’re up to when we see each other.”
There’s also a strategy for candy distribution, and it involves plying friends with food and beer.
“We have a party. I make a big batch of chili. My husband brews a special Halloween beer. All we ask is you bring a bag of candy,” said Freeman. “Everybody gets to take a turn handing out candy, because it’s close to impossible to do it all by yourself.”
Everyone that participates decorates and wears costumes in some capacity. Some opt for a simpler touch, with just a few lights, a jack o’ lantern or two and a basic costume.
“We just turn it into a chance to socialize,” said Tom Grogan, who has lived on Maple Street since 2004 with his wife, LyAnn. “We have a potluck. People fight over who gets to hand out candy. I think there’s a spirit of friendly competition among some of the houses, as to who can do the best job with decorations and stuff.”
Buck in 2003 introduced “Dead Fred,” a talking skeleton that sits inside his 1954 Chevrolet, parked on his lawn. Buck controls Fred’s voice with a microphone inside, interacting with passersby.
Some people go overboard. Rudolph asked Darling’s Auto to set up its traveling photo booth on his lawn one year, and another year he bought a giant inflatable Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and had friends dress up as Ghostbusters. Buck added a “garage” built out of PVC pipe to house Dead Fred, and added a fog machine. For several years, dancers from the Robinson Ballet have staged the dance from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video in the middle of the street.
“We had a neighbor at one point that dressed up in a professional Dracula costume and would come out on his balcony and scare people,” said Buck. “A few years ago, there were two houses that were keeping a big secret as to what they were doing, and then it turned out they both planned pirate ships.”
Buck believes that Halloween is part of what’s made Maple Street and surrounding streets such a great place to live.
“I think it’s become a selling point for the neighborhood. There was someone that bought a house here a couple years ago in part because they love Halloween,” said Buck. “This has always been a family oriented street. And I think it’s just the right mix of people. The right density of houses. It creates trust. It creates community.”