Seattleites are determined trick-or-treaters. Rain or hail? No problem — there’s a fleece for that. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, and cities like Los Angeles canceled trick-or-treating, many people wondered if Halloween would become a ghost itself. Seattle neighborhoods met the challenge, however — in surprisingly creative ways. So even though the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has cleared trick-or-treating outdoors this year — especially for those who are already vaccinated — folks who are feeling extra cautious may still like to repurpose these ideas on how to safely deliver spooky fun and candy at home or in the neighborhood.

Gizmos and gadgets

Last year, an out-of-the-box thinker in Ohio made a 6-foot candy chute to propel candy from a distance. His video went viral in September, and Seattleites raided their attics for parts and decorations.

My husband made a chute from a 10-foot cardboard tube, which we decorated with streamers and propped on a sawhorse. He rigged a wire to a bell that trick-or-treaters rang for service. It worked great. Notable costumes we saw that evening were kids in an inflatable shark and yellow submarine — which of course have distancing built in. We may upgrade our chute with some of the ideas here.

The author’s candy chute features a tab that is pulled by trick-or-treaters for sugary service. (Erica Grivas / Special to The Seattle Times)

For one thing, this year we’ll market our chute to let people know where to find it — using a crowdsourced map like the one Melinda McClure Haughey of Columbia City created last year charting COVID-compliant Halloween sites from homes to pumpkin patches. Haughey says 2,300 houses signed up to participate last year. You can find this year’s map at mapyourhalloween.com. You can even see who has the full-size candy bars!

“I had to change the map category from ‘chutes’ to ‘distanced candy delivery’ because so many people had gotten creative with safe ways to deliver candy!” Haughey said. “We saw pulley systems, candy launchers, people dropping candy from second- and third-story porches.” She made a chute powered by a leaf blower to “launch” the candy into people’s bags.

“I think the (social distancing) constraints forced people to be creative and have a lot of fun with how they would set up for the holiday,” said Haughey. “We also saw people go all out on decorations more than ever.”

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In Tacoma, Kass Howdoroski formed the Candy Chute Network on Facebook with a map (tacomacandy.com). “We got a lot of people just saying, ‘You guys saved Halloween — it’s the best I’ve had in a long time.’ It really felt like a community effort,” Howdoroski said. A highlight last year was a pirate ship flying down the wire to deliver candy.

Alan White of Mount Baker posted his 25-foot PVC chute up on Nextdoor last October, and on Halloween, he estimates he welcomed about 90 visitors. “We went through all our candy. People loved it.”  

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White covered the chute stand with a ghost costume — the ghost’s mouth dispensed the candy. This year he plans to add a smoke machine for extra eeriness. One issue: Because of the steep drop, candy picked up significant velocity. Some of the shorter visitors, excited to get near the mouth, were hit by candy. If you have a similar setup, maybe have a basket underneath and ask kids to wait to retrieve the goods.

White said his neighbor had an interesting twist on distanced delivery — by attaching his electric drill to a wire and pulley, he sent candy to kids waiting below. On Phinney Ridge, Sheila Cane’s husband used a fishing pole to reel a witchy skeleton with chocolate down and back.

Elsewhere in the North End, Aley Mills Willis’ son was only too happy to borrow their dog’s ball launcher to shoot candy from the porch to trick-or-treaters. Meanwhile, in Queen Anne, Karl Fezer went next level with a voice-activated treat dispenser that worked like a tennis ball serving machine. (You can see the specs here.)

In contrast, Siobhan Wilder’s Queen Anne operation was all human-powered — her team of helpers was throwing candy from the balcony, the stoop and the “graveyard,” with flashlights ready to hunt for fumbles.

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Serve yourself

Self-serve methods abounded too, last year. Premade bags were set out on tables — ideally at multiple stations to minimize crowding. Tacoma’s Abdiel Rosa Martinez laid candy bags on a table of “potions” while she dressed as a plague doctor.

Others hung treat bags from clotheslines, on fences, put them in bins shaped like monsters or hid them around the yard under headstones.

Halloween at home

Looking for even safer ways to enjoy the holiday, some people celebrated with family at home, invited friends to their yard or had a block party.

Angela Fleagle’s block in Tangletown organized a costume parade, during which kids took treats from sidewalk tables at houses they passed. “Everyone on our street loved it so much, they said they want to do it every year, COVID or no COVID!,” Fleagle said.

Seattle offers Trick or Street one-night block permits for Halloween or — new this year — Dia de Muertos. (You can apply for a permit at seattle.gov.) If you live on a Stay Healthy Street, no permit is needed.

Other folks got even more elaborate with their pandemic Halloween setups. Nancy Johnson of Phinney Ridge turned her garage into a haunted house with karaoke and a fishing bowl for treats for her grandkids.

Ultimately, “Halloween is the original community holiday,” said Aleister Black, the creator of West Seattle’s Nightfall Orphanage, an elaborate pop-up haunted house done annually with actors. Donations benefit a local food bank.

“I think, in general, if we can do it safely, if we can find the right balance between COVID and life, communities can find ways to come together,” Black said. “I think this Halloween isn’t just about fear or scares, it’s about hope.”

And sometimes, hope looks like a tennis ball launcher.