Screams filled the stone-white hallways as children raced from one darkened chamber to the next, pursued by phantoms and confronted by reapers that emerged suddenly out of the heavy fog.
This was just one of many scenes that unfolded Thursday night at the imposing Armory building at 290 Goffe St. — the site of this year’s city Halloween Extravaganza. Spanning two nights instead of the usual one, the Extravaganza featured a haunted house, a wide range of games, arts and crafts stations and dance and costume contests, while DJs spun rap and other musical beats throughout the evening. Even though anticipated guest Mayor Toni Harp did not ultimately make an appearance, many in attendance said they enjoyed their experience.
“Everything’s been fantastic!” said 17 year-old Diana Skinner, as she ran out of the haunted house. “
An equally enthusiastic 12 year-old Aaliyah Rodriguez said he would definitely return tonight, grinning broadly as he exited the Extravaganza, boasting of being less scared than his aunt in the haunted house.
These enthusiastic responses from community members were exactly what organizers hoped to see.
Mayor Toni Harp challenged city departments to better engage the community this year, said Rebecca Bombero, director of New Haven parks, recreation and trees — the department that organized the event. Bombero added that this encouragement spurred organizers to make this year’s festivities especially memorable, hence the larger venue, longer duration and more concerted publicity efforts. While Harp was planning on attending the Extravaganza, she did not ultimately make an appearance, and this might have been linked to Michelle Obama’s presence in town, Bombero said.
The parks department sought to create a safe environment for kids in the Elm City on Halloween, said Felicia Shashinka, one of two parks department recreation supervisors, who has been heavily involved in planning this Extravaganza.
In an effort to attract as many community members as possible, the organizers distributed 10,000 flyers, made visits to all 42 elementary schools, worked with government and community partners to spread the word and reached out to local media to promote the event.
Considering these significant outreach efforts, Shashinka said the team hopes to draw 400 kids each night, up from the 150 to 200 who have turned up in previous years.
While the festivities have typically been held at the Coogan Pavilion in Edgewood Park, organizers moved the event to the larger Armory because of ongoing renovations at the pavilion in the wake of a fire in 2012.
Though the organizers aimed at bringing in 400 children, the first night’s turnout quickly blew through that mark, hitting 546 by 7:20 p.m. Many of these kids made repeated trips back to the haunted house.
Children and families formed long lines in front of the bounce houses and games in the hall adjacent to the haunted house, while the costume parade featured everything from pilots to fairies to a little boy riding a shark.
The adults were also sold on the event, citing the event’s potential public safety benefits.
“It’s great that events like this take the kids off the streets so they’ll be safe,” said New Haven resident Pearlye Martin.
The event continues this evening at the Armory and will feature a special screening of the animated film “Frankenweenie.” All members of the public — Yalies included — are welcome.