For 69 years, costumed families have paraded through Irvington’s tree-lined streets. Pumpkins with goofy, toothy grins have rested on doorsteps, and storefront windows have been painted with eerie imagery. But the annual Halloween Festival is more than just the macabre—it’s a celebration of community.
The Irvington Halloween Festival—allegedly the oldest and largest festival of its kind in the United States—was first held in 1927. Goblins and ghouls marched down Washington Street. There was a costume contest. A street dance. And most impressively, it was all organized by the Irvington Commercial & Welfare Association in just three days.
It was still the largest gathering of spectators, merrymakers, and mischief-makers in Irvington’s history. Keep in mind that this was before the use of text messages, Facebook invites, and event hashtags. In 1927, you learned the big things, the small things, the anythings, and the everythings from each other.
The success of the first festival speaks volumes about Irvington’s dedication to community. Today, the festival is designed “… to bring awareness to the community, to bring commerce to local businesses and sponsors, and to provide fun for the children of Irvington and Indianapolis.”
The festival now spans an entire week and culminates with a street fair with more than 200 vendors. The Historic Irvington Community Council has a booth. So does the Irvington Development Organization. And the Rivoli Theatre. And neighborhood associations, churches, crafters, and artists. The streets are closed off, local businesses pass out cider, and passersby photograph the window paintings, which depict witches, gnarled trees, and tombstones. There is a home-decorating contest, a masquerade ball, and a spooky movie showing at the historic Irving Theater.
And the ghost tours. Those too.
Because Irvington—known for its stately architecture and characteristic mysteriousness—could be crowned as “Indiana’s Most Halloween-y Town.” In 1894, serial killer H.H. Holmes passed through, bringing with him the fate of a young boy. John Dillinger once robbed the drugstore that is now Dufour’s. And in 1925, grand dragon D.C. Stephenson—who lived in Irvington—decided to kidnap Madge Oberholtzer. Hell, Irvington is even named for the author who brought us the tales “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
It’s steeped in history, Irvington. The legends and stories of the past contribute to the community’s gothic charm and to the success of the Halloween Festival. So here’s to heebie-jeebies, to shivers and goose bumps, to long shadows, to hot cider, to scarecrows and the crunch of leaves, and to—as the Halloween Festival website says—“the one time of the year when it’s socially acceptable to look frightening and unapproachable.”