Halloween at Park Towne Place

by Emily Fox
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trick-or-treat.jpgIn Philadelphia there is an apartment complex on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway called Park Towne Place. It is a cluster of four high rises – cleverly called East, West, North and South. I had three friends who lived there – Laura, Adam and Erik – and most years I spent Halloween night with them, riding the elevators in our costumes and tearing through the hallways, ringing every bell we could get our little hands on in an effort to collect maximum quantities of candy.

It was widely understood that trick-or-treating in an apartment building was the most efficient way to trick-or-treat, and for that reason Park Towne Place was the ne plus ultra because there were four apartment buildings arranged in one lucky clover shape – the prospect of that much candy simply boggled the nine-year-old mind. Our method was to exit the elevator, dash up and down the hallways ringing every bell, and then we’d wait a breathless moment to see who answered their door.

march56.jpgMany of Park Towne Place’s residents were older people, empty-nesters who might not have thought to stock up on candy and who looked very peevish to open their doors to find four panting children shouting and holding out plastic pumpkins in hopes of scoring some Rollos or Tootsie Pops. The older folks gave out apples or dropped quarters into our orange UNICEF boxes, and I’m sure there were hangdog expressions behind our Halloween masks. We dressed up as butterflies and hobos, Mafia hitmen and molls (we even carried violin cases where we would have stashed machine guns if we were real hit men), cats and superheroes and princesses and the Crest Kids and pierrot clowns and Cyndi Lauper. Sometimes we’d be asked to explain what we were dressed as, but most of Park Towne Place just seemed eager for us to move on to the next building.

Then in 1982 the Tylenol Terrorist laced tablets with cyanide in Chicago, a tragic event that rocked our sense of safety and trust in, among other things, manufacturers’ packaging. The long arm of consequence reached out and grabbed Halloween, too, and our blind faith in the innocence of all that free candy was completely destabilized. We were still allowed to go trick-or-treating, but (in our irrational, nine-year-old way) we were fearful of copycat attacks and decided not to eat the candy in case it was laced with poison.

trick-or-treat-the-stash.jpgSo we sat at my friend Laura’s coffee table in her family’s apartment at Park Towne Place South, unwrapping countless little Almond Joys and Milky Ways, squishing the chocolate and caramel bites between our fingers and pulling them apart, looking for telltale signs of poisons that we imagined would look like white powder. You know what else looks like white powder? Sugar. Nevertheless, we pitched (almost) all the candy into the trash, our hearts heavy. Eventually we learned to trust Halloween candy again, but that quick brush with danger was a rather macabre introduction to the real evils of the world beyond the ghosts and goblins and grumpy old Park Towne Place neighbors.

These days I live in a neighborhood where there is no trick or treating. I’m not quite sure why – it just doesn’t seem to happen around here. Los Angeles does not boast anything quite like Park Towne Place, so my daughter – reluctantly dressed as a shark – will be ferried across town to a friend’s house, where we hope to see some princesses and hobos at the door. And I hope they gobble up their Almond Joys without a second thought. Because isn’t that the prerogative of every child?


Emily Fox writes both feature films and television when she is not whipping up the same three recipes over and over again (chili, coq au vin, and Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies). She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and baby daughter.


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