Witches, goblins, and ghouls made the first appearance at the original Irvington Halloween Festival the night of October 31, 1927. A parade of masked and costumed adults and children marched down Washington Street led by the Indianapolis Military Band. Stores and streets were appropriately adorned to the delight of the mob of merrymakers in what was then the largest gathering in Irvington’s history. After prizes were handed out in various costume categories, the evening’s events concluded with a street dance at the intersection of Johnson Avenue and Washington Street with music provided by the band. Organized by the Irvington Commercial & Welfare Association three days prior to the event, the success of the festival exceeded all expectations.
Halloween night continued to be celebrated with a parade, music, and revelry along Washington Street until 1929, and possibly into the early ‘30s, with Irvington merchants providing numerous prizes from two dozen eggs for the best animal mask to a $25 new or used car credit for the “best costume representing an auto or any of its parts.”
In October 1946, the Irvington Businessmen’s Association brought back the Halloween Festival to the great pleasure of Irvingtonians of all ages. Templates of Disney characters such as Mickey Mouse and Pluto were placed in The East Side Herald as possible subjects for window paintings. The Irvington Post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars was placed in charge of the parade which was judged by former Indiana governor Henry Schricker, Indianapolis mayor General Robert Tyndall, Indianapolis postmaster Adolph Seidensticker, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw, Indianapolis Star dramatic editor Corbin Patrick, Indianapolis News retail advertising manager Ted Young, and Indianapolis Times promotion editor Art Wright. A badminton set was presented to Wayne Craven who won first prize in window painting, and a small radio was given to Larry Galuppo who won first prize for his parade costume, “Redi-kilowatt,” the mascot for the Indianapolis Power & Light Company. Indianapolis WISH radio personality Reid “Chuckles” Chapman was the emcee for the evening event that drew a crowd of 9,000 with 500 costumed children marching in the parade.
The Irvington Businessmen’s Association would continue to sponsor the Irvington Halloween Festival for the next 19 years. Each year noted Indianapolis personalities would be event judges and emcees. Eastside high school marching bands from Howe, Scecina, Warren Central, and Franklin Central participated in the parade or other Festival events. By 1951 the Halloween Festival had expanded to include a talent show, street dance, music festival, and poster contest in addition to the window painting and parade. The first Miss Irvington to preside over the Festival was Howe High School’s Barbara Shugert in 1953. Two years later Howe High School’s Harold Ooley and Scecina High School’s Joan McAtee were selected, respectively, King and Queen of the Irvington Halloween Festival.
In October 1958 Irvington businesses held a month long Irvington Fall Fiesta Days featuring two Mexican burros to be raffled off at the Halloween Festival. By this time, radio and television had replaced the royal court at the Festival, and radio station WXLW’s “news mobile unit” covered the announcement of the window painting winners and drawing for the burros live on the “Billboard Show.” Television station Channel 4 taped these events and the parade, led by the burros, for replay with Les on “Dateline Youth.” This year also saw not-for profit organizations being asked to have concession stands along the parade route.
Over the years the Halloween Festival has been held in all types of weather, but only once has the parade been cancelled. Rain and heavy winds on Halloween night 1960 resulted in no parade because it would be “nothing but a breeding ground for colds and viruses.” Unfortunately, this experience with bad weather governed future planning, and although window painting would continue, there were no parades during the remaining years that the Irvington Businessmen’s Association sponsored the Irvington Halloween Festival.
The Irvington Halloween Festival had developed through the 1950s into a multi-day event, but beginning in 1961, activities were confined to one day. Children painted windows in the morning of Saturday, October 28, and prizes were awarded in the afternoon. Although there was no parade, young and old alike were “warmly and cordially” invited “to appear in the area in full costume to add to the spirit of the season.” During the afternoon, the Howe High School German Band roamed throughout the Irvington business district playing German songs and merchants handed out noisemakers to the children. This format for the festival continued for the next two years, but the candle in Irvington’s jack-o-lantern was beginning to flicker.
In 1964 a free kiddy matinee at the Irving Theater was added to the truncated festival, and this new “tradition” continued in 1965 with Irvington’s children being entertained with a showing of the sci-fi movie “Konga,” six cartoons, and a Three Stooges short. Irvington store front windows were devoid of images depicting ghosts, goblins, pumpkins, and haunted houses on Halloween 1967. Children were once again invited to a free matinee, but even this treat vanished the following year along with the accompanying sounds of All Hallows’ eve revelry in Irvington’s business district.
Witches, banshees, and little goblins would not return to Irvington until Saturday, October 31, 1970, when windows in the business district were once again filled with images of Halloween. John and Becky Readle revived the Irvington Halloween Festival with the cooperation of Irvington school PTAs, the Irvington Union of Clubs, Irvington churches, merchants, and many other helping hands. That evening, the Howe High School band led the parade of costumed children down Washington Street from Audubon Road to School 57’s parking lot. The Festival grew the following year with the addition sidewalk booths operated by Irvington scout troops and PTAs, and a jack-o-lantern contest. A “Teen Spook Dance” was organized on Irving Circle after the parade.
When the Irvington Community Council assumed responsibility of the Irvington Halloween Festival in 1974, the continued growth of the community’s annual October event was assured.
Thanks to Steve Barnett, Executive Director, Irvington Historical Society, for the submission
A Brief History of Irvington
Irvington was founded by Jacob Julian and Sylvester Johnson, who developed 300 acres into residential plots four miles east of Indianapolis. Named after 19th century writer Washington Irving, Irvington was annexed by the city of Indianapolis in 1902. Western Christian University (now Butler University) relocated to Irvington in 1873 and stayed there until 1928.
The neighborhood is situated on Washington Street, which is the route of the historic National Road, a National Scenic Byway. US 40 was formerly routed along the road. Through the early 1900s, a commuter rail/trolley system ran from Irvington to downtown Indianapolis along US 40. Ideally located just 10 minutes East of downtown Indianapolis, Irvington is a strong and growing community of quaint and magnificent homes located on tree-lined historic streets. Successful restaurants, coffee shops, retailers and parks all contribute to Irvington’s charm. The Irvington community is founded on strong ties to its historic past and is a great place to raise a family.