At a certain hour Monday afternoon, Clayton’s Main Street saw villains stroll with heroes, princesses aplenty and a smattering of ghosts, goblins, trolls and that terrifying Bob the Builder.
For the past couple of decades, the town’s parks and recreation department has organized a Halloween trick-or-treating of downtown businesses. This year’s haunted holiday fell on an idyllic fall day in Clayton and drew several hundred preschoolers gathering candy and taking part in games on Town Square.
Hurricane Matthew put Johnston County students in class on Halloween, meaning the crowd was somewhat thinned compared to the past few years. Parks and rec director Larry Bailey, who credited his staff with organizing the event, said downtown trick-or-treating is geared to younger kids anyway.
“It’s a way of kicking off Halloween,” Bailey said. “They can come here and get their face painted and win a few prizes and then they can go into the neighborhoods and trick-or-treat. ... We really want it to be for the little, younger kids because a lot of them don’t get to stay up late and go out trick-or-treating.”
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Early on, the event was held in the library parking lot but has grown to use nearly all of Main Street, from Town Square to beyond Horne Square. Bailey said Clayton’s growth initially sparked the idea of trick-or-treating downtown as a way to get newer families to check out the shops and businesses in Clayton.
“When Clayton was first starting to grow, a lot of people were not familiar with what was downtown,” Bailey said. “They were working in Raleigh and living here and commuting, and we wanted them to see what downtown had to offer.”
“We geared this for the younger children because those were the new parents that were coming in,” Bailey said. “It’s just kind of grown. It was just a two-block thing, and now it’s obviously expanding to where it is now.”
Traditions don’t exist in a vacuum or just because they’re on the calendar every year. Steve and Skylar Strogen came last year with Skylar dressed as a Cabbage Patch doll still in the patch. This year, Steve dressed as a shark and pulled his daughter in a cart, her dressed as a scuba diver in a shark cage.
But likely few families have seen as many Clayton downtown Halloween events as Stephanie Pena’s family. She’s been to 19 consecutive years of Halloween parades, as the event used to be called, first with her now-adult son and now with her 4-year-old daughter Celeste.
“We come every year,” Pena said.