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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 29, 2004

In Lahaina, a monumental Maui Halloween

By Christie Wilson
Neighbor Islands Editor

LAHAINA, Maui — In the days leading up to Oct. 31, there is little hint of the Halloween hoopla that has become Lahaina's signature event, amassing the largest crowds seen on Maui.

Julie and Chuck Dicker wow the crowds every year with their costumes at the Lahaina Halloween extravaganza.

Photos Courtesy Lahaina Town Action Committee

"The funny thing about Halloween is that there is no sign of it before it happens," said Noel Monteleone, a longtime resident and surfwear manufacturer. "You would think you'd hear people talking about their costumes or what they're going to be doing, but there's no sign of that.

"Then all of a sudden, this thing magically appears about 5 o'clock in the afternoon."

That's when restaurant and bar employees can be spotted on their way to work in costumes, and about the time when a parade of small ghouls, witches and superheroes make its way down Front Street in the annual keiki costume parade. Then the adults are unleashed on the town.

Crowd estimates in recent years range from 20,000 to 30,000, all crammed into a span of three blocks, with activities centered about Banyan Tree Park. Remarkably, there have been few nasty incidents amid the controlled mayhem.

David Allaire of TS Restaurants compares the Halloween crush "to having a Rolling Stones concert in your garage." He says Lahaina and Halloween are a natural fit.

"Lahaina has a fun group of people who live here who like to stretch it out a bit, and Halloween is a way to be creative and be social," says Allaire, whose company owns the popular Front Street restaurant Kimo's.

Lahaina shopkeeper Joan McKelvey agrees. "It's the make-up of the town. They love a party," she says.

Allaire, McKelvey and Monteleone were participants in the genesis of Halloween in Lahaina in the 1970s.

"Lahaina was a sleepy little town. You could lie in the street and not get hit by a car, but you might get licked by a dog," Allaire says.

The Maui County Fair in Kahului and the Makawao Rodeo were the biggest events on the calendar. Allaire says a group of "Mainland transplants" decided Lahaina should host its own celebration and they began dressing up for Halloween. "It was such a small town and everyone knew everyone," he says. "It was one night when everyone was in costume and a little bit anonymous."

"Unsuspecting tourists would show up and half the town would be dressed up," he says. Many visitors couldn't wait to return to join the fun. "We started getting bookings for Halloween night three, six, nine months in advance," Allaire says. "People just fell in love with it."

Allaire and McKelvey both recall one New Yorker caught up in the spirit who designed an elaborate shower get-up with a curtain, pump and water tank. Except he hadn't thought about how to get it to Maui. He ended up buying a companion plane ticket just for his costume.

The Halloween crowds at Kimo's grew to the point where Allaire had to close the doors to regulate the mob. "People were pounding on the door to get in," he says. One determined patron found a way to bypass the bouncers by drifting in over the reef on a torch-lit raft and hopping the railing at the oceanfront eatery.

It took a gargoyle wedding to bring the party onto the street.

On Halloween 1980, Monteleone decided to stage a pageant, concocting elaborate costumes for an entourage of 40. He used 120 yards of fabric alone to fashion a gown for the gargoyle bride and rented a van to transport everyone to Longhi's restaurant on time for a party complete with wedding cake and 20 cases of champagne.

The wedding party pushed through the packed restaurant and marched down Front Street with 100 onlookers trailing. By the time the procession reached Pioneer Inn, Monteleone says the crowd had swelled to 1,000.

"Traffic was bumper to bumper. People were walking over the tops of cars," he says. "We headed back to Longhi's and partied til sun-up. And that was the beginning of it."

The next year, he says, officials closed off Front Street to cars, and by 1990, the event had gotten too big, and the LahainaTown Action Committee stepped in to formally organize the Halloween festivities.

Continuing with a matrimonial theme, Monteleone last year donned preacher's robes, printed up 150 marriage licenses and set up a bridal arch on the street to perform "weddings." The betrothed included couples, same-sex threesomes and just about every other combination, including a burly gentleman in a henchman's outfit carrying a battle axe who wanted to marry the live rat perched on his shoulder.

"So I married the guy and his rat. The wedding kiss was horrible. This guy really loved his rat," Monteleone says.

This year he'll also offer divorces to go.

You don't have to be a Lahaina old-timer to get bitten by the Halloween bug. Bunt and Ann Burkhalter moved to Lahaina in 1995 and had always shied away from crowds. But Ann says they heard the Oct. 31 event was fun and decided to give it a try, dressing up as a policeman and convict who were handcuffed together.

"One of our friends dressed as a gory bride with a knife sticking out of her chest. We all walked on Front Street, and she had the most fun because she had the neatest costume," she says.

Burkhalters decided to kick it up a notch, dressing in increasingly elaborate costumes and winning contest awards along the way. They took the grand prize in 1999 for "Pillars of the Community," dressing as classical Greek busts supported by columns. Last year they won again as Mount Rushmore, complete with park rangers and sightseers in supporting roles.

"It is truly fun. We have been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans just to look. We really don't like crowds," Ann says. "But the crowd in Lahaina is basically not drunk until late into the night, so it's more about people just having fun."

Burkhalters were mum on their costumes for Sunday night, except to say their group has grown to about a dozen people, ranging in age from 5 months to 73.

Reach Christie Wilson at (808) 244-4880 or cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.

• • •

Celebrating in Lahaina

How can I get to Lahaina? If you're on another island and don't already have reservations to stay in town, you're too late. Most hotels are booked at least a year in advance. For those driving in: The traffic jam starts early in the day. Front Street will be closed to cars from 4 p.m. until midnight. Paid parking is available on Prison and Shaw streets. The Holo Ka'a Public Transit (808-879-2828) leaves the Ka'anapali Resort on the hour, with the last return bus departing Wharf Cinema Center at 9:28 p.m.; fares are $1 each way. Taxis are another option. Or, sail to Lahaina Harbor on special Halloween cruises offered out of Ma'alaea Harbor by the Pacific Whale Foundation (808-249-8811) and the Pride of Maui (808-242-0955); both allow plenty of time on the ground.

Is it safe for kids? One of the highlights of Halloween in Lahaina is the 5 p.m. keiki costume parade sponsored by the West Maui Soroptimist Club and Lahaina Rotary. Participants should meet at Lahaina Center by 4:45 p.m. The parade ends at Kamehameha Iki Park. Participants receive a parade ribbon and a free bag of goodies. The Wharf Cinema Center will have free treats and face painting from 3:30 to 5 p.m., and is hosting a Haunted House for all ages, put on by the Lahainaluna Interact Club and the Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise. Admission is $3 for adults and $2 for children. Kids should be safely tucked in bed before it gets too late, though, as the scene can get pretty raucous and raunchy as the night progresses.

What else is there to do? The Halloween Arts Festival kicks off at 5 p.m. in Banyan Tree Park, with face painting, fortune telling, food booths and entertainment, including Hector Serrano and Tropical Force and the Air Force Band. Restaurants and bars throughout the town will be in full swing with their own Halloween events.

Where can I show off my cool costume? The Maui Tacos Halloween Costume Contest at Banyan Tree Park begins at 7 p.m., with a $1,000 grand prize. Registration is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the staging area, with winners announced at 10 p.m. The Wharf Cinema Center's 21st annual Ghoulish Gala Karaoke Costume Contest begins at 7:30 p.m., with registration at 5:30 p.m. The Pioneer Inn's contest starts at 10 p.m., with registration at 8 p.m. at the front desk.

Souvenirs? The official Lahaina Halloween T-shirt is a collector's item that sells out every year. It is available at select Front Street stores and at the Lahaina Visitor Center in the Old Lahaina Courthouse. The $20 shirt ($18 for tank tops) also can be purchased online at www.visitlahaina.com, and if any are left, at the event on Halloween night. The official 2004 Halloween in Lahaina poster is available for $5.

How can I get more information? Call the LAC Event Hotline at (808) 667-9194 or the Lahaina Visitor Center at (808) 667-9193.