- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 15, 2005

Let us all stand for a moment of silence to honor the little holiday of Halloween, which once required just a Milky Way and a Mighty Mouse mask to be complete.

Beware. Halloween has become humongous Halloween, behemoth Halloween, colossal Halloween — and it begins in August.

That is when grocery stores bring in candy by forklift. That is when folks begin to puzzle over Halloween lighting, wreaths and tree ornaments.

That also is when all the adults begin planning the costumes they will wear on the big night. Forget wee ones waving wands and ringing doorbells: According to one recent survey, 60 percent of American — ahem — adults plan to become gorillas and break out the pumpkin martinis.

Adult costumes, in fact, present such an identity crisis to the addled reveler that one costume company supplies a personality quiz for those torn between characters. Tarzan or Cheetah? Marie Antoinette or Martha Stewart? Crustacean or Cro-Magnon?

“Are you sexy, scary, traditional or trendy? This is a public service,” notes Sal Perisano, founder of Iparty, which administers the quiz at 50 stores around the country.

And about those pumpkin martinis. Yes, they exist — five shameless versions are afoot, including the Jack O’Tini, which includes pumpkin spice liqueur and is garnished tastefully with a single candy corn. Why, how Zen, how civilized …

Ah, yes, candy corn. Formerly a mere sweet doodad to be catapulted at classmates, jammed upon the front incisors or lost forever in the couch — to be retrieved like a lost relic months, or years, later.

But candy corn has become concept, allegory.

The National Confectioners Association reminds us that 9 billion pieces of candy corn — kernels, if you will — were produced this year, enough to circle the moon four times.

NASA, perhaps, should be apprised of this.

The trade group also notes that Oct. 30 is National Candy Corn Day and that alternative candy corn is conveniently available for holidays around the calendar: Pilgrim Corn, Reindeer Corn, Cupid Corn, Bunny Corn. What? No Conifer Corn for Arbor Day?

This is somewhat akin to the alarming prospect that Marshmallow Peeps have migrated from Easter to Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Halloween. This year, the Peeps people introduced a decorating kit for their orange Pumpkin Peeps, just to add to the confusion.

Not to be outdone, Hallmark Cards has announced that only Christmas outranks Halloween for sales of cards and decorations, and the company is sponsoring a nationwide Halloween house-decorating contest. The grand-prize winner receives a selection of Hallmark’s new Hauntington collection of ornaments and a visit from Butch Patrick.

Yes, the same Butch Patrick who played Eddie on “The Munsters” four decades ago.

Meanwhile, it is a sure sign that things have gotten out of hand when the nation’s colleges assemble solemn armies of academes to expound about Oct. 31.

The University of Albany, for example, already has lined up a trio of “breaking news experts” for journalists to consult should they need wisdom about “Halloween and our popular culture” or “masks and ritual costumes.”

Without doubt, the leading press topic this time of year is how much we spend on Halloween, which varies from $6 billion to $9 billion annually, depending on the source.

Someone might want to tell NASA about that, in case it wants to get in on the action and perhaps fund a new flight to Saturn.

It’s all part of the “haunted attractions industry,” at least according to Illinois-based Trans World, which has staged the world’s largest Halloween trade show for the past 22 years. It attracts 10,000 people from 50 countries and includes seminars, demonstrations and multiple “haunt products.”

Everyone knows that dogs wear Halloween costumes these days, a phenomenon that caused considerable hubbub in this very column several weeks ago. But the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association also has disclosed that 3.5 million Americans will take their disguised animals trick-or-treating.

“Never leave a pet in costume unattended,” the group cautions.

But some wry vengeance lurks out there for those who pine for the days of yore, before the advent of haunt products. At least three companies manufacture reproductions of all those simple leering pumpkins, hooty owls and screaming cats from the days of Halloween before personality tests.

Those tacky old decorations gathering dust on the basement shelf? They may be worth a bundle. A sampling from Spookshows.com, a swell Web site that tracks the market values of Halloween antiques and vintage collectibles:

• Hard plastic jack-o’-lantern with witch and cat, large, $500.

• Papier mache lantern, American cat head, $200.

• Hard plastic masked man on cart, $200.

Boo. And don’t forget — only 15 shopping days left till Halloween.

Jennifer Harper covers media, political, cultural and assorted bombast for The Washington Times’ national desk. Contact her at jharper@ washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.

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