Monday, November 01, 1999

Athens survives another wild Halloween


171 arrests, 68 jailed: an improvement

BY MARK CURNUTTE
The Cincinnati Enquirer

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Police officers escort a bloodied spectator away from the crowd in Athens late Saturday night.
(Thomas E. Whitte photos)
| ZOOM |
        ATHENS, Ohio — The only people outnumbering women dressed as Catholic school girls Saturday night on Court Street were young men dressed as women and security people dressed as, well, security people.

        Thanks to unseasonably warm temperatures in the 50s, Athens' 26th Halloween street bash attracted a crowd larger than the estimated 30,000 who jammed a three-block stretch of downtown last year, Athens po lice said Sunday.

        But the partyers, who gained an extra hour because of the time change at 2 a.m. Sunday, were relatively well behaved. Watching them were officers from several jurisdictions.

        Police said 68 were taken into custody — down from 98 in 1998.

        The number of arrests — including street citations without detention — dropped to 171, compared to 201 last year.

        Officers made 101 citations for under-age consumption and possession of alcohol.

        Half the crowd came in costume and this year's most popular look was inspired by the Molly Shannon film Superstar. Women in white knee socks, short plaid skirts, white blouses, sweaters and dark-rimmed glasses were everywhere.

        “I borrowed this from my roommate,” said Megan Marin, 20, an Ohio University (OU) sophomore. “She really went to Catholic school.”

        Miss Marin had three high school friends from Canfield, Ohio, down for the weekend. They weren't fazed that the Catholic school uniform was the unofficial party uniform. They were happy just to be there.

        “I had heard it was really crazy, and it is,” said Stacey Clark, 20, a University of Akron junior.

        College students from around the state flock to Athens at Halloween. Students from the University of Cincinnati, Miami and Xavier universities and Bowling Green, Toledo and Youngstown State were among the 22 from other Ohio colleges arrested overnight Saturday.

        Eleven OU students were arrested, down from 21 last year, which pleased OU administrators. They're trying to distance the school from the event and divert OU students toward other activities.

        Administrators say the lingering, generation-old tag as a party school masks OU's gains in academic programs.

        “It's not our party,” Provost Sharon Breahm said at midnight in the lobby of the Baker student center, a block from the stage where rock bands played until 1:30 a.m.

        Ms. Breahm was one of 150 university staff members dressed in green windbreakers who patroled the campus perimeter. “We've had no damage, which shows the respect our students have for the campus,” she said.

        OU added several social events to its regular weekend calendar to try to lure students away from the block party.

        The movie, The Blair Witch Project, was shown twice Friday night, and Dracula was the 10 p.m. feature Saturday.

        The student center was also the site of a coffeehouse concert and dance Saturday night that went head-to-head with the street party.

        The coffeehouse didn't fare well, but the dance drew several hundred students — the vast majority African-Americans.

        The street bash was attended overwhelmingly by white students.

        “We kind of have our party, and they have theirs,” said Derrick Blount, 23, an OU junior from Cleveland who went to the dance. He stood with a date outside the student center ballroom where a deejay played dance music.

        “It's not a forced separation,” Mr. Blount said. “It's a matter of choice.”

        The location of choice for Halloween partygoers in Athens over the years has been the brick-paved Court Street.

        Most of those on the street appeared to be too young to drink alcohol legally and many had been drinking when they arrived.

        Inside the bars, bouncers checked IDs at the doors and turned away anyone not clearly of age.

        Athens and university officials have tried several times since the party's unofficial beginning in 1974 to move it to other parts of campus or kill it entirely.

        One of Athens' more memorable Halloweens was 1984. That's the year nationally syndicated astrologer Jeanne Dixon predicted a person dressed as Little Bo Peep would commit a mass murder during a Halloween party at a Midwestern university that began with the letter O.

        More than two dozen Peeps showed up but no one was killed. The rumor resurfaces each year.

        Attendance peaked at 50,000 in 1993 and attempts to clamp down on under-age drinking and open-container violations haven't detoured students from Court Street.

        Besides students, the party's biggest supporters are downtown merchants. An uneasy truce exists be tween the business owners, the mayor's office, city council and the university.

        University officials, who wish the whole thing would go away, again forced students living in residence halls to wear hospital-style wristbands to gain entry to their dorms.

        OU also, for the second consecutive year, limited guests in residence hall rooms to one or two and restricted on-campus parking to OU-tagged vehicles.

        “To me, it's all worked pretty well. I understand why they have to do it,” OU freshman Joshua McNary, 19, of Amherst, Ohio, said at 1 a.m. while eating a hot dog in a student center cafe.

        Mr. McNary lives in Biddle Hall, a co-ed dormitory for first-year students, and once he unlocks the main door, he said, he had to show his wristband to a resident assistant to get in.

        “The halls are a lot safer,” said Mr. McNary, who could take off the plastic bracelet Sunday afternoon.

        Athens Police Chief Rick Mayer credits OU measures for helping to control the size and rowdiness of the Court Street crowd. The street was emptied of revelers for cleaning at 2:57 a.m.

        Even so, other problems have developed, police said, namely the number of partygoers exposing themselves.

        Some of the hottest spots on party night are second- and third-floor student apartments above storefront businesses along Court Street.

        Students in those apartments drink alcohol and watch the parade go by.

        Hordes of men walk the circuit from Court Street to Union (where the stage has been for two years) to State Street.

        When a woman in a suggestive costume is seen in an upstairs window, men stop and urge her — chanting — to flash her breasts.

        Some do.

        Male partygoers are revealing plenty of flesh, too, real and otherwise.

        Several men wore capes over G-string underwear Saturday night on Court Street, and oversized, toy female breasts and plastic models of male genitalia were the focus of several costumes.

        At least two ministers walked among crowd offering prayer.

        The Rev. Buddy Sammons, 53, of Marietta, made his second visit to Athens for Halloween. He carried a 10-foot cross made with two 4x4s.

        “Halloween represents evil,” said the Rev. Mr. Sammons, who was harassed and thanked for being there. “There is nothing good in it. Behind these witch costumes are people who are hurting. But we are mocked.”

        At that time, a young man dressed as Jesus walked up to the Rev. Mr. Sammons and said, “Where has this (the cross) been? I've been looking for it all day.”

        Some partygoers attracted attention in other ways.

        Keith Cousins, 20, an OU junior from Naperville, Ill., came as Duct Tape Man. He covered a shirt, jeans and pair of sneakers with the gray utility tape. “The thing is I don't know if I can get all this stuff off my clothes when I'm done,” he said.

        Two groups came as the characters from the Scooby-Doo cartoon show, replete with a Mystery Machine van fashioned from PCV pipe and bedsheets that they carried as they walked.

        Two dozen members of OU's marching band trotted up and down Court Street in formation, wearing the green and white school colors and using paint cans as drums and pan lids for cymbals.

        Neil “I forgot my last name,” 22, a member of UC's Class of 2001 and a Mason native, came dressed as a trash bag. He had a used paper plate, empty ketchup bottle and other garbage affixed to the black Hefty bag he wore.

        “There's nothing as good as this is America,” said Neil, throwing his arm around his best friend, an OU student dressed as singer Hank Williams Jr. "I wouldn't miss this for anything."

       



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