The Irvington Halloween Festival Rides Again

The beloved Irvington Halloween Festival is back October 30 for its 75th year along Washington Street. Here’s your insider guide to the only festival in the nation that’s authorized to shut down U.S. 40:

Do The Math

This year marks the 75th festival, but not the 75th anniversary. The event debuted in 1927 with a costume contest, a street dance, and a parade along Washington Street—all planned in just three days. After a few years, the festival fizzled, but it was revived in 1946 as an economic development initiative. The parade and costume contest were joined on the agenda by a new window-painting competition, with a badminton set as first prize. “Four generations of my family have painted on the windows,” said lifelong Irvingtonian Nancy Tindall-Sponsel. The festival died out again in the late ’60s, only to be resurrected a few years later. Since 1974, it has been organized by the nonprofit Irvington Community Council.

Practice Safe Hex

After last year’s cancellation due to COVID, the festival has added extra sanitation stations and implemented social-distancing guidelines for vendors. “We’re hoping the mask thing will fit right in,” says festival chairwoman Carrie Yazell.

Get To Know The Neighbors

On Friday and Saturday evenings throughout October, Irvington Ghost Tours partners with the festival to offer haunted moonlit strolls. “The first few years, I was terrified that they would walk by my house and say, ‘Let me tell you what happened here,’” Yazell says. Guides share gruesome but true stories about bank robber John Dillinger, serial killer H.H. Holmes, and former KKK grand dragon D.C. Stephenson. Participants often report feeling nauseated near the home of Madge Oberholtzer, whom Stephenson raped and murdered in 1925. Fortunately, Oberholtzer lived long enough to give a detailed statement to police. Her testimony landed the seemingly untouchable Stephenson in prison and broke the KKK’s stranglehold on Indiana politics.

Build Up To The Big Event

In the week prior to the street fair, local mediums lead a séance at the former Masonic Lodge #666 (it’s haunted, naturally), and Our Lady of Lourdes presents an eerie organ concert. At the annual Night Out in Sleepy Hollow event, schoolchildren present the winning spooky stories from a writing contest, followed by a reading of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” written by the neighborhood’s namesake, Washington Irving. The Headless Horseman generally makes a well-timed appearance, and the Black Hat Society presents a choreographed number reminiscent of the Sanderson sisters in Hocus Pocus. “I think we’re the only Indianapolis neighborhood that has a group of witches,” Yazell says.

Make Time For A Beer Run

The Street Fair kicks off with the morning Vampire Run, a 5K loop along the paved Pennsy Trail. The greenway follows the former route of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which in 1865 carried the body of Abraham Lincoln through Indianapolis en route from Washington, D.C., to his funeral in Illinois. Ghost hunters still report frequent sightings of the train. This year’s run ends at the new Black Acre Garden, and runners who are 21 or older will receive vouchers for free beer.

Ditch The Store-Bought Costume

Favorite entries over the years have included living versions of green plastic toy soldiers, the cast of Bridesmaids in zombie form, and the evil plant from Little Shop of Horrors. Dogs can join the costume contest, too.

Stay For The Day

Other festival traditions include a pumpkin-carving contest, fried rice and caramel apples, and an evening battle of the bands. “Usually it’s a crisp day, the sun is shining, and it has that wonderful smell of fall. It’s just a full experience for all your senses,” Tindall-Sponsel says. The street fair closes at 4 p.m. with the costume parade, which she calls “the crowning jewel of the week.”