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Family's 'Last Hurrah' after 40 Halloweens on East 78th Street

By Amy Zimmer | October 28, 2011 5:05pm
Teri Slater handing out candy to kids from her townhouse at 119 E. 78th St.
Teri Slater handing out candy to kids from her townhouse at 119 E. 78th St.
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Eric Hunter Slater

UPPER EAST SIDE — After four decades of celebrating Halloween on East 78th Street, one of the key players who helped turn the block into a legendary spot for families to show off their costumes and snatch up loads of candy is moving.

Teri Slater moved to 119 E. 78th St. in 1972, when parents were wary of taking kids trick-or-treating on city streets. She decorated her house with Jack-O-Lanterns and doled out fewer than 20 small bags of candy and toys.

From then, the block's legend grew, and last year nearly 3,000 children jammed onto the street for what has become the neighborhood’s informal family Halloween festival.

"This is our last hurrah,” said Slater, who started one of the city’s first block associations, turning the East 78th Street Block Association between Park and Lexington avenues into a strong voice for the neighborhood.

She is downsizing her living quarters to a new apartment less than 10 blocks away, at Henderson Place, a mews on East 86th Street. 

Slater's official move-out date is Nov. 3, so she will have one final Halloween on the block to hand out candy alongside her older son, Eric Hunter Slater, who has enthusiastically picked up the mantle over the last decade.

“When my mother and father bought the house in 1972, New York was a very different city, to say the least,” Eric Hunter Slater said, recalling how his family’s first Halloween there made it safe for a 5-year-old like him and his friends to not worry about razor blades in apples or other scares at the time.

"They decided to continue the tradition because of this. People were afraid to let their children trick or treat," he said. "My parents were one of the few townhouses in the city to do this, opening up their doors to trick or treaters every Halloween, joining our neighbors the Maxtome-Grahams at 126 and the Guyers at 112."

Now up to eight townhouses on his block dress up for the occasion.

The crowds started swelling 10 years ago, said Eric Hunter Slater, who creates a ghoulish-looking dungeon in the gated entrance of his family's home every Halloween.

He responded by closing off the block to keep it safer. The festivities have spread in the last few years along East 78th Street down to Third Avenue and up to Madison Avenue. Besides townhouses, tenants in doorman buildings chip in for candy that their doormen hand out to kids on the street.

“It’s fun to see both the parents and kids enjoying it,” said Bill Brennan, of the East 78th Street Block Association, between Third and Lexington avenues, which joined in on to the tradition more recently.

“You can definitely see a lot of attention is given to the costumes, and between Park and Lexington they really decorate the townhouses. … Sometimes the candy is just a side thought.”

He said his block often takes the lead from what Teri Slater is doing for Halloween and looks to her before making their plans for the evening.

Teri Slater still makes 20 bags of candy filled with little plastic spider rings and other fun toys that she hands out to “the little ones,” the 3- or 4-year-olds who tend to come early. Her son fills the trick or treat bags of the others, stationed at an open door so no one even needs to ring the bell.

“It’s just a carefree energy. … It’s wonderful. All the neighbors pitch in,” Teri Slater said. “They try to outdo each other. It’s a bit of the suburbs in New York.”

And though residents trek to Costco to stock up on candy, most end up running over to Gristedes before the night is over to replenish their coffers, she said.

Still, the Slaters don’t know what will happen on Halloween at East 78th Street next year.

“It’s a sad sort of bittersweet Halloween,” Teri Slater said. “I don’t know if the person who bought my house will do it.”

Eric Hunter Slater added: “I’m tremendously sad. But we’ll have to start a new tradition once she’s at Henderson Place.”