Phil Garber
6 min readOct 21, 2021

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Photo by Daniel Lincoln on Unsplash

Boo

The Scary Cost of Halloween

One of my favorite childhood Halloween memories was when I was dressed up as a wounded soldier and the skies blackened and I tried to race home, my paper bag filled with goodies, when the deluge began and my bag disintegrated leaving me frantically trying to pick up and stuff in my drenched pockets every Mounds bar, every Pez refill, every Lik-a-Maid package.

It didn’t work and I left a trail of tears in the form of soggy Milky Ways and mud stained, jaw breakers.

Back in the day, my mother made my costumes from scratch and rare was the kid who had a store-bought costume. A few kids had plastic masks of Frankenstein or Dracula but I can’t remember anyone with a full-body, store-bought get up. As a boy, my mother wrapped my face in a torn sheet, put ketchup on it and I was an instant war victim and that was fine with me.

The 2020 Halloween was scared off by COVID-19, when people didn’t answer the door for the goblins but instead left cavity forging goodies in a container on the lawn so kids wouldn’t touch your hand and get the virus. But this year, Halloween is roaring back. The most expensive costume I could find on Google was the Gray Eagle Mascot for $4,095, made by Alinco Costumes, formed in 1889. That’s a lot of dough for your kid’s Halloween but if your daughter wants to dress as Wally Lion Mascot, that would fetch a scary $3,099 and that’s a total of more than $7,000 in costumes for two little ones, enough to make you run away, screaming into the night.

If that’s too pricey, how about “Headless Helga Prop,” selling for just $1,779.99 from the Oriental Trading Company, which was formed in 1931 and was so successful that Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway reached into its bottomless abyss of money and bought the company in 2012 for an undisclosed price. Headless Helga is a hand made costume with the beheaded Helga carrying her bloody noggin around, which is included with the costume at no extra cost although the cost may make you lose your mind.

Halloween has morphed into a corporate tsunami compared with the quaint Halloween of my childhood. Consumers will spend an estimated $10.14 billion on Halloween-related goods this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

I was walking in a WalMart recently and it seemed everything had a Halloween theme, of course, there were the rows upon rows of every imaginable kind of Halloween candy, guaranteed to rot your teeth, suck out your cavities or both. But then there was Halloween themed underwear, Halloween sweat shirts, Halloween lawn signs and rows and rows of Halloween greeting cards, though I don’t remember ever sending out Halloween greeting cards. And at Home Depot, Halloween decorations went up in early September with all kinds of animatron characters, like skeletons that scream and witches that cackle. They are mostly gone now, making way for the fake Christmas trees although the holiday honoring the birth of the Christian lord, Jesus Christ, is more than two months away but Jolly Saint Nick and Home Depot just can’t wait and Home Depot’s billionaire co-founder Bernie Marcus backed trump’s 2020 reelection bid (I couldn’t resist).

The mother of all Halloween gimmicks is included in a series of chain stores called Spirit Halloween which appear each Halloween season, which start appearing in July and the stores remain open for one to three months before they vanish like very well heeled ghosts until the next Halloween. Spirit Halloween was founded in 1983 and is based in Egg Harbor Township. In 1999, the store had 60 seasonal locations and was purchased by Spencer Gifts, which has annual revenues of $250 million.

Just as an aside from the wonder and childhood fascination that Halloween brings, Spencer Gifts has come under fire for selling merchandise that has been considered to be sexually explicit and racist. In 1989, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) protested Spencer’s “sheik’ and “Arafat” Halloween masks, which were marketed as part of its “Fright Stuff” line of products.

Spencer Gifts has been criticized for allowing children access to adult toys and other explicit products. Police seized adult materials from the Spencer Gifts in Rapid City, S.D., because the retailer had not registered as an adult-oriented business.

In 2014, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, the largest Irish organization in the United States, protested that Spencer’s merchandise propagated stereotypes about Irish Americans, like a T-shirt with the slogan “F*** me I’m Irish” and a hat with the phrase “Irish Girl Wasted.”

Today, the pop-up retailer Spirit Halloween has more than a thousand locations across the United States and Canada and of course, you can buy on-line year around.

Spirit Halloween sells girl costumes and boys costumes, toddler costumes and baby costumes, women’s costumes and men’s costumes. There are ’80s costumes, ’90s outfits, alien costumes and angel costumes, NASA astronaut costumes, bat costumes, bear costumes, biker costumes, butterfly costumes, cat costumes, caveman costumes, cheerleader costumes, scary clown costumes, cowboy and cowgirl costumes, day of the dead costumes, deer costumes, dinosaur and T-Rex costumes and many others, but my favorite is the Plague Doctor, complete with a light-up LED Plague Doctor Half Mask for $39.99 and an adult medieval plague doctor costume for $59.99 and don’t be caught without your authentic, plague doctor lantern for just $12.99. Masks are everywhere but I like the “I see You Creepy Smile” masks, the Freddy Krueger Full Mask Deluxe ($69.99) and the Moving Mouth Rabbit Scarecrow Full Mask ($49.99). You want weapons, they have bloody fake knives, bloody fake hammers, axes and cleavers, guns, pitchforks and sickles, swords, a bloody, rusty red wrench and more. I didn’t see any authentic nuclear weapons. The cheapest I found was the bloody butcher knife for just $7.99. At the other price end is the Starlight Keyblade-Kingdom Hearts blade for $39.99. You can even get Edward Scissorhands gloves for $29.99 and I’m getting dizzy trying to check out hundreds of Halloween stuff.

I really despise spiders but I liked Spirit Halloween’s animatronics display of a giant hairy, black spider that jumps out at you if you step on the shoe outline and it costs only $129.99. I also felt attracted to another where you step on a shoe outline and a six-foot tall ghoul with a chain saw leaps forward, blood dripping from his gnarly teeth and he can be yours for just $279.99.

And there are decorations, collectibles, TV, Movie and Gaming items and thousands of masks, like full head Michael Myers mask from that popular love story “Halloween” for just $129.99 or a costume gas mask with respirator for $9.99. And for all you fans of “Mandy,” the 2018 psychedelic psychological horror film, you can get a Hyper-Realistic Mask & Bust of the film’s creepy star, Red Miller, who is played by Nicholas Cage and it costs $1,999 but it is hand-crafted by FX artist Rubber Larry, known for creating ultra-realistic stunt masks for the studios’ stunt doubles. I just have to have one. Fortunately I did not see one trump mask as that would have truly scared the living daylights out of me.

Despite all of the elaborate and often, obscure costumes, kids and adults still like the old reliables. The search analytics firm SEMRus reported that the top 10 kids costumes this year are Spiderman, Princess, Batman, Superhero, Witch, Ghost, Pumpkin, Superman , Zombie and the Avengers characters. Adults prefer, in order, Witch, Vampire, Ghost, Cat, Pirate, Batman, Zombie, Superman/The Joker, Spiderman/Dracula and the Avenger character.

And if you’re the kind of strange family that dresses its pets in costume, the top 10 pet costumes are Pumpkin, Hot dog, Superhero/Cat, Bumblebee, Ghost, Bat, Lion, Dog/Witch, Devil/Pirate and Batman.

Halloween used to be such innocent fun. I don’t think I could afford it today.

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