If you’ve been lucky enough to live near Franklin Street during Halloween, then you’ve probably heard it: the roaring of a crowd of college students dressed up in costume and wandering the streets in a very interesting parade.
Community members line up on the sides of the busy strip, businesses offer deals and UNC students complete their spooky rite of passage — going down to the frenzy of students that makes up Franklin Street on this spontaneous Halloween night festival.
While no one is exactly sure how this event started, it was coined Homegrown Halloween in the 70s and lives on by word of mouth. Each Halloween is planned at the end of the last, according to Ran Northam, the communications specialist for the Town of Chapel Hill.
“We debrief and talk about what we learned from that event so we can carry that on to the next event and continue to improve on community safety,” Northam said.
“We will continue to put out information, especially throughout October.”
Northam said that the event is not actually planned and that the blocked-off roads and police officers are just stationed in response to what the event-goers do.
“The term Homegrown Halloween came about a few years ago because we noticed that crowds were getting to be extremely large and people were coming in from other areas of the state and possibly other states,” Northam said. “We wanted to emphasize the fact that this is a homegrown Chapel Hill event and it is safer to keep the numbers down.”
While this event is not put on by the Town of Chapel Hill, it is something that students are well-aware of. Alli Cooke, a class of 2008 alumna, said that it is something that is absorbed.
“It was just a part of the culture, by word of the mouth,” Cooke said.
Cooke’s most memorable Homegrown Halloween experience was in 2005 when she and her friends put together a group costume and trekked out to Franklin street.
“It was a lot of wandering but also staying with your friends and seeing all the crazy costumes,” Cooke said. “I was never once bored on Franklin Street.”
Eesin Oon, a class of 2016 alumna, said that she and her friends had a mission for their Halloween celebrations: to have the best Halloween ever, because some of them were foreign exchange students that would be gone when the semester ended.
“My friends were studying Italian so they decided to be Italian gondoliers,” she said. “We literally built a boat out of cardboard and went on Franklin Street and gave people rides in it.”
Perhaps one of the best stories of Homegrown Halloween comes from Sean Jarecki, a class of 2015 alumnus, who met his wife, a class of 2014 alumna, through photos that he took during the Halloween celebrations.
“I was taking pictures on Franklin Street at my first Homegrown Halloween at UNC,” Jarecki said. “I was a transfer student and didn’t know many people, so I thought I would have fun by trying to get some cool pictures to share with everyone.”
What Jarecki didn’t know was that one of these pictures contained his future wife.
“One of the girls I happened to snap a picture of was Michelle Helton, a girl in my volleyball class,” Jarecki said. “I didn’t know it was her until someone tagged her in a picture later.”
Jarecki said that they started talking and ended up getting married four years later.
Current students at UNC have similarly positive feelings about Homegrown Halloween as their graduated counterparts.
Sophomore Jenny Montoya said that although the event can be hectic, it is still a lot of fun.
“People get a little rowdy with the whole lighting fires thing, but seeing all of the costumes is cool,” Montoya said. “It gets super crowded but it would be hard to do anything about that.”
If you plan on making Homegrown Halloween a part of your celebration, visit the Town of Chapel Hill’s Parks and Recreation website for information about prohibited items and more safety information.