Lambertville Halloweens like few other communities.
With much of North Union Street closed to traffic on Halloween night, costumed kids and adults crowded the road and sidewalks on either side of it. There was trick-or-treating, of course, but there was more to it than that. The atmosphere was akin to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Most porches and stoops along the stretch, and on many of the side streets, had been decorated for weeks. On Halloween night, they came to life, with glowing lights, scary sound effects, and live-action characters who handed out candy.
Our four-year-old had trick-or-treated only once before, two years ago. We hit a handful of houses in a small development just up the road from our home in Sergeantsville. So, he’d never experienced anything like Halloween in Lambertville. Nor had my wife and I.
At one point, we found ourselves standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the middle of the street with maybe 100 other people. We were fixated on this large front porch that had been transformed into a pirate ship. About a dozen pirates stomped their feet in unison and belted out a shanty. When they were done, there was a flash, a boom, and a cloud of fake smoke, as though a cannon had just been fired.
On another porch, a woman greeted trick-or-treaters with a mic, making sure every kid’s costume got a shout-out. Our son tried to play it cool, but he couldn’t hide his widening smile as he turned back toward the sidewalk, where we were waiting for him.
“SWAT’s here everybody! Be cool,” she said when he approached with his open bag.
About two hours in, the longest our son has ever walked without complaining, we decided we should start heading back to our car, on the north end of town. A pair of pirates – unrelated to the earlier ones – stood in a front yard just over our shoulders singing a shanty acapella, serenading a long line of trick-or-treaters who hardly even noticed they were there. Which said more about the sensory overload that night than anyone’s lack of appreciation for sea shanties. I mean, a block or two earlier, we weaved our way through a crowd listening to a live band perform on a corner.
After a couple more blocks, the crowds thinned and the silence returned. Once we passed Thai Tida, it was mostly dark, aside from the streetlights. A startling contrast to what was happening just a few minutes up the street.
This was, of course, where the flash flooding, almost two months earlier, exacted a devastating toll. Homes, shops, and restaurants were, in many cases, flooded up to their first-floor ceilings in a matter of minutes.
Some of the homes were illuminated inside by a single portable work light. I couldn’t help but glance through the windows as we walked. Many were stripped to the studs. Fresh drywall hung in others.
Owowcow Creamery had set up a small tent outside of the shop, from which a couple employees served small ice cream cones to trick-or-treaters. It was the oasis our son, who was starting to realize how tired his legs and feet were, needed. That ice cream cone bought us another block, which was all we needed to reach the car.
We walked past a darkened Liberty Hall Pizza, and he stopped slurping long enough to say, “Hey! Isn’t that where we used to get pizza?”
“It is,” I said. “But it’s not open right now. This part of town was wiped out by the flooding. The water came rushing through here higher than you are tall.”
That may have been the first time in his life he didn’t ask a dozen follow-up questions, or even one. Which I was grateful for because I’m not sure I could have answered what I thought would come next.