Sophie Sonnenfeld, Contributing Photographer

On Wednesday night, the annual Halloween-themed event at popular dance spot Toad’s Place was disrupted by New Haven Police Department officers after the building was swarmed by students who broke barriers corralling the line.

Around 11:00 p.m., at least five police cruisers, two ambulances and a firetruck descended upon the event, popularly known as “Hallowoads.” Student party-goers in line and in the venue were asked to leave the premises. 

“I was seriously worried, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came out from that injured,” Josh Guo ’24 said. “There was a fence that was supposed to divide the line from everyone else, but the pushing eventually got so bad that the entire gate collapsed.” 

Toad’s Place employee Cory Vanhouten estimated that there were more than 2,000 people inside the venue or outside in line before NHPD officers intervened and shut down the event. 

Vanhouten described the event as “very unsafe,” explaining that students were standing on the barricades intended to enforce the lines, which eventually “snapped in half.”

Students on the scene reported that at least one attendee was removed from the site on a stretcher. 

“Saturdays get wild. It gets more crowded then but today it’s crazy,” Vanhouten said. 

Vanhouten, who has worked at Toad’s Place for nine years, told the News that he had never seen it more crowded in his time at the dance club.

Bryce Banks ’24, who attended his second Hallowoads dressed as a cowboy, said he was able to get into Toad’s through the exit, adding that “it felt like a trash compactor” while waiting in line. 

Holly Sexton ’24 echoed Banks’ sentiment in her description of the disorder in the line leading to the entrance, recalling a student next to her who seemed especially distressed.

“There was some girl next to us who was crying, and another girl was trying to help push her through the crowd,” Sexton said. “She was really hurt and they said they really needed to get out of there.” 

Sexton recalled NHPD officers asking students in line to leave, but added that many people remained in the line, which extended from Toad’s Place to Morse College. 

Vanhouten said police began by clearing the front of the venue at 11:10 p.m., before turning on the lights and herding attendees outside around 11:30 p.m..

In an announcement on the Toad’s loudspeaker, a Toad’s employee asked all party-goers inside to leave, adding that the shutdown was due to “anarchy out in the streets.” 

“We’re closed,” the speaker continued. “Nothing we can do about it. Any questions? Check with the New Haven Police Department or check with the Yale Police Department.” 

A NHPD officer who asked to remain unnamed confirmed that the event was shut down “for safety reasons” as a result of high capacity rather than because of concerns about COVID-19. 

Emma Peterson ’24, who was inside Toad’s at the time of the shutdown, described the announcement as “very sudden.”

Vanhouten added that he was not sure what Toad’s maximum capacity is, but said the New Haven Fire Marshal typically helps to enforce Toad’s limits on Saturday nights. 

Inside of Toad’s, students reported crowded conditions as they tried to leave the dance space after the event was shut down by police.  

Clancey Doe ’25 described the rush to leave the building as “outrageous” as he walked towards the exit.  

“It took me a while to get out.” Emmett Shell ’23 wrote to the News. “Couldn’t breathe for a while.” 

By 11:58 p.m., NHPD officers had also shut down the section of York Street outside Toad’s from Elm St. to Grove St. 

On Wednesday afternoon, Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd and Associate Vice President for Student Life Burgwell Howard had emailed students about responsible Halloween celebrations. 

In that email, Boyd and Howard reminded students to cap indoor gatherings at 20 people and 50 outdoors, both on and off campus.

“If you choose to socialize in the community, be respectful of your fellow New Haven neighbors — particularly when it comes to noise, music and time of gatherings,” the email read. 

In a phone call with the News, Toad’s Place owner Brian Phelps described the situation as a “nightmare.” 

We got descended upon by a ton of people — the entire student body it seemed like,” Phelps said. “It was more than we could handle.”

Phelps noted that closing the venue came at the recommendation of the police. 

I had 10 security guys who were working and we needed even more to stay afloat,” Phelps added. “We’ve had ‘Hallowoads’ before, but in years past it was never like this. If I had any idea I would have tried to hire cops.”

The “chaos” occurred outside the venue — not inside — according to Phelps, but he noted that no fights broke out amidst the horde of students exiting the premises. 

Phelps was not in contact with the University both prior to and following the event as of Thursday afternoon.

Toad’s reopened in August to host concerts, dance parties and events after closing due to the pandemic.  

Update, 10/28: This story has been updated to include additional sourcing and information. 

Update, 10/29: This story has been updated to include comments from Toad’s Place owner Brian Phelps.

 

JAMES RICHARDSON
James Richardson is a staff reporter covering athletic administration. He previously covered men's basketball and squash. Originally from South Florida, he is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards majoring in East Asian Studies and Ethics, Politics, and Economics.
LUCY HODGMAN
Lucy Hodgman covers Student Life. She previously covered the Yale College Council for the News. Originally from Brooklyn, New York, she is a sophomore in Grace Hopper majoring in English.
SOPHIE SONNENFELD
Sophie Sonnenfeld covers cops and courts. She is a first-year in Branford College majoring in anthropology.