The oldest neighborhood in Des Moines is back with their beloved Halloween tradition after a two-year hiatus. Halloween on the Hill returns to the Sherman Hill neighborhood on Oct. 31, larger than ever.
“The event has really started as just some couple [of] Halloween nuts, or we’ll say Halloween enthusiasts, like myself, that were decorating and maybe needed to [or] wanted to put all that effort, energy and work into creating something that had a little bit more of a positive impact on the community. So, we just kind of started recruiting neighbors,” said Ryan Howell, the chair of Halloween on the Hill.
He describes the event as a “neighborhood-wide celebration of Halloween and community” that goes beyond a few hours of trick-or-treating. Des Moines typically celebrates Beggars’ Night, a Halloween celebration on the day before Oct. 31, promoted by municipalities across the country to try and cut down on Halloween vandalism starting in the late 1930s. The idea was to make kids earn their candy by doing a great trick or telling a funny joke.
“Because of our Beggars’ Night tradition, there’s just not a lot of great stuff going on on the 31st,” Howell said. “So, we need to have some fun on actual Halloween.”
Halloween on the Hill (HOTH) could be thought of as the Halloween version of when neighbors coordinate their Christmas lights and yard decorations during the holiday season — but more interactive and lot more spooky. Front yards are filled with fright and thrills, while traditions like a “Thriller” performance fill the streets and Freddy Krueger roams around. Another tradition returning is a reading of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, performed by trained actors on a Victorian porch.
New additions for this year’s HOTH may include spooky belly dancers and roaming Storm Troopers, but no promises, Howell said. “You never know 100 percent until that night, is it going to come together? Are people going to be able to pull it off? But I’m pretty optimistic that we’re going to have some new traditions to join some of the old ones.”
Locations for activities include Hoyt Sherman Place (1501 Woodland Ave), Mickle Center (1620 Pleasant St), the corner of 17th Street and Center Street, the UnityPoint parking garage’s Pleasant Street entrance, and the Unity Point parking lot at 15th Street and Center.
Back in 2019, the last year before HOTH’s hiatus, it is estimated that about 6,000 people came out to see what the Sherman Hill residents had to offer.
The celebrations are free, but attendees are encouraged to bring non-perishable food items or monetary donations for the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC) at one of five locations either before, after or during HOTH. When you do, you’ll receive a map of the neighborhood’s scariness.
Founded in 1952, DMARC is an equal opportunity organization that strives to meet human basic needs including culturally appropriate food with a context for interfaith dialogue. They operate a network of about 15 food pantries, a mobile food pantry, a home delivery service and other services.
Howell said HOTH attendees are supporting DMARC during a crucial season for giving.
“The timing’s really good; they need help. And they’ve come to, I think, kind of rely on us to help fill some gaps,” he said.
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Another crucial union is the partnership with two neighborhood breweries, Big Grove and Lua Brewing. Lua will be releasing a new HOTH-inspired beer, with all proceeds going towards HOTH, which will then go to DMARC. Big Grove Brewery will also be donating proceeds from their Sherman Hill Champagne.
The character and historic imprint of Sherman Hill makes it a “great Halloween backdrop as it is,” Howell said, but their Halloween tradition has also become a part of that character and history. Once visitors see how the community comes together, they want to move to the neighborhood, Howell said.
“One thing that’s really kind of neat for me is going from being one of the few or [a] minority of Halloween enthusiast, to now a lot of people have moved to the neighborhood knowing about the event and kind of bringing that excitement — people who bought houses, people who rented apartments, who maybe learned about Sherman Hill because they went to Halloween on the Hill with their friends, and they’re like, ‘this is kind of funky!’,” Howell said.
The Sherman Hill neighborhood is very diverse and is named after Hoyt Sherman, the first postmaster of Des Moines who invested in five acres of land in 1850. He was also a successful banker, businessman and lawyer. He finished construction on his Italian-styled home in 1877 and later added city buildings on the land such as the city’s first public art museum and auditorium.
The neighborhood officially adopted Sherman’s name in the ’70s to differentiate between the newly developed Homes of Oakridge completed in 1970. The confusion came from Sherman Hill being referred to as Oakridge before its official name.
You’ll have a chance to enjoy the family friendly scares of Sherman Hill’s Halloween on the Hill on Oct. 31 for two hours from 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Because of the traffic to the neighborhood, you are encouraged to either carpool or park at the UnityPoint parking garage.
Space is even more limited this year due to more road closures for the event. This year, HOTH expanded further west, and the 800 block of 17th Street will be closed.
Stay tuned to HOTH’s Facebook page for updates on the event.