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Families find creative ways to trick or treat in Delaware, but Sea Witch extravaganza is off

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Woman holding a toy skeleton

Jennifer McCloskey bought glow-in-the-dark skeletons and other items to decorate her yard. (Cris Barrish/WHYY)

Halloween is huge for Jennifer McCloskey and her neighbors in the Faulkland Heights neighborhood west of Wilmington.

“Everybody is really friendly so we have a lot of kids that come, so everybody in my whole neighborhood just about decorates for Halloween,’’ McCloskey told WHYY while picking up glow-in-the-dark skeletons and other items at a nearby Dollar Tree store to make her property a spooky attraction.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic raging and cases still on the rise in Delaware, where officials are discouraging door-to-door trick-or-treating, McCloskey is now figuring out creative ways to give out candy and enjoy the festivities.

“I saw some neat ideas on the Internet,’’ she said. “People were putting sticks in the ground with candy bars on them and having people just walk up and pick one. Everybody will have a mask and sit on the front porch and wave.”

She wants her 3-year-old granddaughter Ryder to enjoy the night.

“It’s a huge bummer,’’ McCloskey said. “She just wants to go out now and it’s like, ‘no, you can’t go out’ and she doesn’t really understand.”

McCloskey’s resilience and frustration is reverberating around Delaware, where major events have been canceled because they cannot comply with Gov. John Carney’s State of Emergency restrictions. For example, outdoor gatherings are limited to 250 people unless they have prior permission from the state.

The popular Frightland near Middletown — which features haunted houses, hayride and carnival rides — is operating, and public health officials applauded the operators for following state restrictions.

But Newark has canceled its annual Halloween parade that attracts some 10,000 revelers, and Rehoboth Beach scrapped its three-day Sea Witch festival, which draws up to 200,000 for its parade, musical performances, candy giveaway and dozens of other family-friendly activities.

Delawareans line the street for the annual Sea Witch Festival.
The 31st annual Sea Witch Festival has been canceled. (Courtesy of Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce)

Carol Everhart, president of the Rehoboth Beach/Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce that runs Sea Witch, calls the cancellation “devastating’’ to businesses and the community at large.

“It’s just very sad to have to do this because people have been coming so long,” she said. “They came as children years ago and now they are back with their children.”

Hotels and merchants are usually swamped during Sea Witch, which rivals the Fourth of July holiday for the busiest time of the year, she said.

“We are hurting,’’ said Everhart, echoing remarks she made to WHYY during the summer about the pandemic’s impact on Delaware beach tourism. “I’m very fearful we’re going to lose 30% of our businesses.”

The beach area is still having some events, such as a scarecrow-decorating contest.

And while Newark’s parade is off, the city is still hosting its annual Halloween Costume Party, albeit outdoors and by reservation only, with the number of guests limited. Newark is also hosting an outdoor double-feature movie night on a school’s soccer field.

“We’re showing E.T. and Ghostbusters,” said Paula Ennis, Deputy Parks and Recreation Director of Newark.

Delaware Public Health Director Dr. Karyl Rattay says private costume parties are a no-no, as are other potential super-spreader events.

“We really want to promote low-risk activities within your home, might be pumpkin-carving, decorating your home, holding a virtual costume contest, movie marathon,’’ Rattay said.

Carney added a jocular comment during his weekly briefing after Rattay stressed that face coverings were required during Halloween events.

“And it has to be done with a mask on. Imagine that?” Carney quipped. “We’ve been having trouble getting folks to wear a mask, but on Halloween it should be easy.”

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