Maui Halloween an Exercise in Creativity

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Celebrating Halloween in Lahaina would revive even the most jaded cynic’s faith in human creativity.

The annual event in Maui’s picturesque seaside town draws thousands of revelers to promenade along Front Street. Some stroll through the balmy autumn evening in costumes as homemade and traditional as witches or cavemen. Others wear outfits that would pass muster on a Hollywood set.

Some people plan for months in advance and construct elaborate outfits. Others come up with ideas that rely less on accessories and more on wit. Some I remember from years past:

Capt. Hook strolls by, towing a golden cage in which Tinker Bell twinkles.

A giant shark swims through the crowd, mouth opening to reveal a woman in a swimsuit.

A crew of toga-clad carpenters pushes an 800-pound wooden Trojan horse on wheels.

A group of dancers move slowly down the street, bobbing in time around several drummers.

There is music here and there along the way, and wherever there is music, people dance. Entertainment over the years has ranged from break-dance performers to itinerant Inca Indian street musicians to the Air Force Band of the Pacific.

This is one night, though, when what you see walking down the street is more entertaining than any professional act, and when it’s not only polite to stare, it is expected.

Lahaina’s Halloween crowd is friendly and cheerful, eager to be amused and wont to burst into spontaneous applause and hoots of approval at the appearance of a particularly good costume. Up and down the street, people in weird outfits take pictures of other people in weird outfits.

Even the cops stationed at frequent intervals along the street wear slightly bemused smiles. Halloween duty must be a mixed blessing for them—a chance to get paid for standing around watching this colorful parade, but also a big responsibility to keep the crowd safe on a night when the spirits are loose and a mask provides license and anonymity.

Alcohol, drugs and anything that looks like a weapon are quickly confiscated. Most years, the worst that happens is a few fights and some DUI arrests. Lahaina’s Halloween has a reputation for being safe and well-organized.

The town has had decades to work out the bugs on this event, although no one bothered to document how it all got started, or exactly when. According to one story, the tradition began with a wedding party who wore costumes for a walk down Front Street sometime in the ’70s.

Joan McElvey, who was running a shop on Front Street at the time, told me that the next year there was a reenactment of the mini-parade, and each year after that the event grew. By the end of the ’80s, it was getting out of control, with partying pedestrians and cruising vehicles sharing the street. Lahaina business people started organizing the evening, and Maui police helped coordinate the street closing.

More than a quarter-century later, there are Halloween fans who come from off island year after year. Some have been known to buy a seat on the plane for their costume. Other people bring part of their getup and pick up missing ingredients on the island. And some just bring their ideas.

One California couple I met got married on Halloween and usually have a costume party on their anniversary. When Tom and Susan decided to spend their 30th anniversary in Lahaina, they scrounged supplies on the island and put together a construction good enough to win a prize—an ornate gold picture frame attached to a cube-shaped plastic-pipe contraption, draped with black fabric and set on wheels. Tom dressed as an artist and pulled the frame, while Susan was the Mona Lisa, smiling beatifically within.

One year, I talked to two visitors who ended up winning third place with their “moon jellyfish” constructions. The two carried jellyfish made with about 40 pounds’ worth of stuff they had shipped from home—bubble wrap, a couple of iridescent dome-shaped kids’ play tents, and some battery-powered neon wire they found on the Internet. On Maui, they bought 10-foot PVC poles so their creations could float high above the crowd.

But some of my favorite costumes over the years have been simple ones, based on a good idea more than on elaborate parts or special costume-making skills.

There was a man wearing a crown and shorts made of Crown Royal bags, and a very pregnant woman with her bare belly painted to be a jack-o’-lantern.

And one of my favorites: Dan Shiraki, a local construction supervisor whom I saw in 2003, if memory serves.

When I spotted him in line at the contest registration booth, dressed in long-sleeved shirt and tie, with high leather boots, I was puzzled. What could he be that would compete with the complicated costumes all around him?

Only when he walked up the ramp to the stage did it become clear. He carried a tiny child in a monkey suit, and wore a hat the same color of yellow as his shirt and pants.

The contest MC got it immediately—it was Curious George and the man with the big yellow hat. As Dan bent to set his son, David, on the stage, the child reached up to take his hat, and squatted to examine it.

The contest audience went wild, the baby looked up open-mouthed in wonder, and it seemed to me that there could be no better costume than one involving a little kid in a monkey suit.

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