Ohio University’s annual Halloween Block Party has a long history, one that spans all the way back to 1974. After two years of a deserted Court Street due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event is finally back this year, with students and Athens locals excited to see a return to normalcy on one of the best nights of the year.
Yet, many don’t know the origins of the block party, nor its significance, so let us indulge you with a history lesson as we look back on the start of OU’s most important Halloween event.
Nov. 3, 1974
An article from the Athens Messenger said that 600 students “flowed onto the streets,” and that one arrest was reported that night. At the time, police called students celebrating the holiday “good-natured.”
Yet, the night was full of chaos. The Post said the Uptown bar crowd, all dressed up in their Halloween costumes, tried to trap a semi truck’s delivery to Baskin Robbins, which was on West Union Street at the time. According to police, students took over the street for nearly two hours. The Athens News said, “Last night’s full moon brought out all the crazies who took time off from their revelry … and halted traffic on Court Street in front of the courthouse.”
Unbeknownst to these students, they would be creating a new tradition that would eventually garner over 30,000 guests yearly to the heart of OU.
“The Lost Year,” aka 1975
Sadly, Homecoming Weekend was somehow scheduled the same weekend as Halloween, so the block party was canceled and ignored widely by the student population at the time, with many referring to it as “The Lost Year.”
The 1976 comeback
Thankfully, the event came back in full force a year later, with more than 500 students in attendance. Some jumped on cars on Court Street, kicking and damaging property, which ended in 15 students being arrested.
The Athens Police were upset with the way then-Mayor Donald Barrett handled the situation. Barrett was photographed with some of the dressed-up students, forbidding the police from taking any action to stop the Halloween celebration. Additionally, The Fraternal Order of Police issued a statement, saying they were “humiliated” by the mayor’s actions.
In 1977, Athens began to realize the block party was getting out of hand, so City Council passed an ordinance, allowing the Court Street and Union Street to be closed for Halloween. The city would then host an “official Halloween celebration.” The first city-sanctioned celebration included a costume contest, parade, live music and a large cake.
The Halloween celebration grew to over 12,000 attendees, with 24 total arrests being made. It was safe to say that local police were not thrilled with how big the event was becoming.
A location change in 1979
A year later, the City of Athens and the university moved the event to the Convocation Center, worried about the large crowds and their known rowdiness from years past. Sadly, the event only saw 4,000 people in attendance, all of whom eventually left to venture down Court Street. Police interfered shortly after, blocking off the street due to the massive crowds.
That year, OU’s Parents Weekend was also occurring, causing police to arrest 141 people, with enforcement calling the crowd “large and belligerent.”
The next three years saw the block party remain unsanctioned even though students were leading efforts to organize peaceful and safe Halloween parties.
The 1984 solution, with a spooky rumor
Local business owners took the situation into their own hands, offering a solution to the community and student problems. The solution: the Athens Clean and Safe Halloween Committee.
Bruce Mitchell, the chairman of the committee, said, “The response from the business community has been overwhelming. We’re not trying to promote Halloween; we’re just trying to make it cleaner and safer.”
The group was able to raise $1,000 that went toward renting portable toilets for the block party, but this year was also a time of rumors.
Word spread that an escaped individual disguised as Little Bo Peep was planning to perform a mass murder. That year, 20 to 30 people were dressed as the figure, sparking fear in the crowds who were planning on attending. Fortunately, no mass murder occurred, but the rumor has resurfaced every year since.
Arson in 1985
The arson occurred on campus after 1:30 a.m. at Peden Stadium. The fire lasted for over six hours and caused $35,000 in damages. Even though it was determined by law enforcement as arson, the suspect of the fire was never caught.
The Block Party is officially city-sanctioned in 1990
Finally, the block party became city-sanctioned in 1990, following five years of debate and political arguments between the Athens Clean and Safe Halloween Committee and City Council. Court Street was thus blocked off and attendance was close to 24,000 people.
1996 sees new additions to the event
In 1996, a new feature was added by the Athens Police: 30 mounted police officers. The equine units watched over the crowds, ensuring attendees were behaving safely. As a result, 211 people were arrested that year.
Throughout the next several years, police reports included people exposing themselves to others in the crowd and flashing from second-story balconies along Court Street.
2001 and 9/11
Due to the 9/11 attacks, the party’s usual energy was dampened in 2001. The police reported that the crowd was the best behaved they’d ever seen since its start in 1974.
Violence ensues in 2002
Just a year after the United States experienced violence on a national level, the Athens community saw it again at the local level. Unlike the year before, no attendee of the block party acted with good behavior in mind, with one case of rape reported in the crowds.
During this time, police chief Mayer said the crowds were getting “less manageable and more violent.”
More violence in 2003
Multiple violent acts were reported throughout the event including stabbings, car theft, two young women being dragged behind an SUV on Court Street and a “riot” in the Mill-Stewart-Palmer street neighborhoods after 5 a.m., broken up by police officers in riot gear.
Additionally, a total of five fires were lit, using couches, and bottles were thrown at officers and firefighters. Rioters even rolled one car and attempted to roll another. Luckily, the police, with assistance from the OU Police Department and other agencies, managed to stop the riots.
Over the years, the crowds eventually evened out, with less rioting and more partying. Like all college campuses, this trend has maintained from 2003 and on, with recent years seeing arrests, usually for underage drinking violations, instead of violent charges.
In 2020 and 2021, the party was canceled by the city, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, disappointing crowds everywhere that the tradition was stopped after running for over four decades.
The revival of the Athens Halloween Block Party
After a two-year delay, the Athens Halloween Block Party thankfully will be making its return. Free and open to the public, family activities are from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., including face painting and live music. From 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the adult block party will see multiple musical acts such as DJ B-Funk and ATLNTS + Cloudboi. All events will be located at the intersection of Court Street and Union Street.