Last year, the Swiss Avenue Historic District did something it hasn’t done in at least 35 years: it canceled Halloween. Or, at least, it canceled trick-or-treating. Each year, somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 kids pour into the East Dallas neighborhood from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
That didn’t happen, for obvious reasons, in 2020. Some neighbors didn’t decorate. They put up signs along the street announcing the event was off. But now, with vaccines available—and, honestly, I’m not sure how you could tell your kids they have to go to school but can’t go trick-or-treating—the event is back on.
“There’s just something about it,” says Christine Reagan Loh, the president of the Swiss Avenue Historic District. “There are all these little ones running up and down the street, it’s just such a fun time. And coming out of COVID, I think people are ready to get back to normal and have fun.”
I dialed Loh on Tuesday to talk about the return of the event. There are other neighborhoods that get into the spirit—Lakewood, North Oak Cliff, Highland Park, Little Forest Hills, and I’m probably forgetting a few—but Swiss Avenue goes all out like none other. The district hires security to work the intersection at Munger and Swiss to help make sure it’s safe for the kids and their parents.
If they wish, parents can drop off their kiddos at Fitzhugh and pick them up at the other end on La Vista, about a mile away. Some come in buses, others in vans.
Residents put up yard stakes and caution tape around their yards so kids don’t trample their grass. And then they hand out candy from the sidewalk, thousands upon thousands of pieces of candy, until the M&Ms and Skittles are all gone. Most don’t last until 9 p.m., when it ends.
“We have so many people who come from outside the Lakewood/East Dallas area,” Loh says.
And they welcome them. This is a tradition for Swiss Avenue, one that helped bring the neighborhood together. In 1985, the Dallas Times Herald ran a story quoting two residents who had fallen out of the holiday spirit. Based on the statements of these inhospitable neighbors, a particularly tense neighborhood association meeting, and a published newsletter, the newspaper reported that Swiss Avenue would be closing its doors “to try to curtail the droves of children—mostly Hispanic, Black, and Vietnamese—who pour into their neighborhood every Halloween.”
The Morning News wrote about this in 2010—and about the effort of other more welcoming neighbors to make this an annual event once again. The neighborhood met with community leaders and churches; one Black church canceled a bus that year after reading the report in the Times Herald. Homeowners spent the next year repairing relationships, getting churches and schools and civic groups to invite kids to the street.
In 1986, the district, led by longtime Swiss Avenue homeowner and former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt and other like-minded neighbors, made trick-or-treating Swiss Avenue a bonafide event. It’s an “opportunity to serve the larger Dallas community,” she told the News in 2010. A few jerks weren’t going to ruin that. Also in 2010, former Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze weighed in. He lives around the corner and laid out his nuanced take, one that highlighted the differences of the people who lived on the street.
Fritze [the Times Herald reporter] based his story on a published neighborhood homeowner association newsletter, on multiple interviews and on accounts from residents of a fractious neighborhood association meeting in which one new resident had demanded to know where all of these Mexican kids were coming from. The answer, of course, was: “From all around us. They’re not coming into our part of town. We live in their part of town. Dumbass.”
Schutze wrote that this was about far more than two jerks; it was about a neighborhood undergoing a personality crisis that used the Times Herald report as a motivator to grow past it and improve. The “really great people like the Ehrhardts … helped bring it back and want nothing more than to make it a congenial and welcoming place.” And it’s not just Halloween; it’s a celebration of Dia de los Muertos and, as Schutze recalls, “maybe 16 or 17 other cultural phenomena we can’t even sort out.”
What we have today, all these years later, is an event that welcomes the whole city. Complete with security and sometimes a haunted house and maybe, Loh remembers, even a one-act play in a front yard. And so trick-or-treating coming back to Swiss Avenue after a year off is a big deal. Loh told me she and her family bought somewhere north of 6,000 pieces of candy, about double what they normally do. She’s hoping her supply holds until at least 8:30 p.m.
Before I let her go, I asked her for a favorite story from her time on the block since her family moved here nine years ago.
“There’s always a family that comes and they must be super artistic,” she says. “It’s a mom, dad, and their kids, and they’re dressed like Day of the Dead characters and it’s amazing. I could stare at these people for an hour. Every year we’re looking forward to seeing them.”