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Pumpkins, parties, pranks: A look at how Brunonians past have celebrated Halloween

Trick-or-treating, pumpkin carving, cow theft marked previous celebrations

Over the last two decades, Brown students have celebrated Halloween with pumpkin carving contests, long-held traditions and unexpected trick-or-treating alliances.
Over the last two decades, Brown students have celebrated Halloween with pumpkin carving contests, long-held traditions and unexpected trick-or-treating alliances.

Amid the frenzy of this year's Halloween festivities, The Herald took a moment to reminisce on the scares of Octobers past, going back through its archives to find out how previous Brown students celebrated the beloved holiday. Over the past two decades, Brunonians have recognized the spookiest season with pumpkin carving contests, long-held traditions and unexpected trick-or-treating alliances.  

‘Halloween Horror’

In 2007, The Herald’s front page highlighted a student pumpkin-carving contest held at the Sharpe Refectory. The article’s photograph displays a crying, vomiting pumpkin with a sign that reads, “I ate at the V-Dub!” 

While the rivalry between the Ratty and the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall has stood the test of time, it’s unclear whether the entry was awarded first place.  

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‘Halloween tricks and treats never go stale’

In 2011, The Herald published a feature story about an unexpected alliance during Halloween — Brown students and Providence’s “smallest residents.” 

According to writer Brielle Friedman ’12, there is no age limit on trick or treating for Brown students. On Halloween night, students joined local children in neighborhoods north of campus for some traditional door-knocking. Their age, students said, never stopped them from receiving Halloween treats. 

The relationship between Brown students and local residents went beyond trick-or-treating, through events such as the annual Ladd Observatory Halloween party. The celebration invited non-physics concentrators and Providence community members for a night of spooks. 

“They serve refreshments, turn the laboratory into a semi-haunted house and bring out the telescope so guests can check out constellations,” The Herald reported in the same feature. 

No matter how lively Brown’s Halloween celebrations might be, Kate Alexander ’12 noted that “homemade pumpkin pie just doesn’t compare to the Ratty’s.” 

‘Halloweek haunts College Hill’

In 2013, Herald writer Corinne Sejourne ’16 highlighted Brown’s deep-rooted taste for tricks and fall rituals

According to Sejourne’s article, in the 19th century, students would steal the University President’s cow and lead it to the top of University Hall as part of a Halloween prank. Students would also take any opportunity to celebrate with a bonfire, a tradition that “now lives on with WaterFire,” she said.

Thayer Street was also a hot destination for students scrambling for last-minute costumes. In the days leading up to Halloween, Shades Plus, a long-gone store on Thayer, would be so busy that it was virtually impossible to enter. In 2013, costumes on campus included “futuristic metallic space person slash powerful sex god,” “a piece of pepperoni mushroom pizza” and “Finn the Human from Adventure Time.” 

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The year’s most coveted events included the Rhode Island School of Design’s former Artist Ball held downtown and fraternity-hosted nighttime parties.     

‘Local artists’ pumpkin carvings draw national attention’

In 2014, Providence’s Halloween scene, specifically the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular display at Roger Williams Zoo, drew national attention, The Herald previously reported.

Started by John Reckner, the showcase brought together artists to carve more than 20,000 pumpkins through the month of October. The impressive sight of thousands of illuminated, carved pumpkins quickly became a treasured Rhode Island tradition and was recognized by the U.S. Library of Congress as a “national Local Legacy,” according to HuffPost.

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The show also featured on major news outlets like CNN and the Travel Channel, convincing fans from around the world to travel to Providence with the goal of viewing the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular. 

The show continues today. In 2023, the display invited attendees to “take a trip around the world” and “be magically transported on a European vacation, wildlife safari and a trip down Route 66,” according to the event’s website. “No passports required!”


Julia Vaz

Julia Vaz is a Metro editor covering the environment and crime and justice beats. She is a sophomore from Brazil studying Political Science and Literary Arts. 



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