Thursday 31 October 2013

Halifax Halloween Survey - Where Have All the Pirates Gone?

Halloween from my window on Duncan Street in Halifax, Nova Scotia

For the last 17 years I have conducted a census of Halloween costumes that come to my doorstep on Duncan Street in West End Halifax. This year the good news is: numbers are up, after a long-term decline. We had a total of 80 costumed trick-or-treaters, up from an abysmal 50 last year, but sill a far cry from 215 when I started my count in 1996.

However as a marine historian, especially one who wrote book on piracy in Atlantic Canada, I was mortified by this development:

No pirates!
Pretty much every year there have been pirate costumes with a peak in 2008 when they were the number one costume. No doubt the fading cycle of Pirates of the Caribbean films has much to do with this. (At least there were two sea monsters, a new category this year and a classic mermaid, reassuring in a port city whose connection to the sea grows ever more symbolic.)

Pirates joined a number of classics this year that were missing entirely. There were no witches, no ghosts, no clowns and no fire fighters. There was one fire fighter outfit but the little girl in it had converted it to a SWAT team policeman, part of new trend of 3 SWAT police officers. I am not sure where that is coming from - perhaps the influence of some of the recent television series featuring SWAT teams.

The Best Overall Costume was: A Ritz Cracker: an 8-year-old walking box of Ritz Crackers, English in front, French in back & nutritional information on the side.

Here were some other trends:

1. A dead tie between Vampires and Princesses and Ninjas for the most popular costumes. (6 of each)
2. Zombies were up with 5.
3. Batman is doing well, but no spidermen.
4. Not one, but 2 Medusas!
5. Quite a number of food costumes: a pear, crackers, cereal, banana

You may find it interesting to compare these results with a nicely illustrated infographic display about Halloween costumes elsewhere by graphic designer Kinnon Elliot. 

It was good to see the numbers up a bit. I enjoy the doorstep theatre represented by Halloween trick-or-treaters and what it tells us about kids and our communities. I grew interested in counting costumes when I did my History Masters and read about civic parades in Renaissance France where guilds, clerics, professions and the nobility all paraded in formal costume to represent their roles in society and the order of the parade telegraphed changes. While children at Halloween are a far cry from civic elites, it is still fun to speculate what they represent.

I did a CBC Radio interview with Bill Roach on "Mainstreet" about the survey, the day after Halloween which you can listen to here: Conlin's Costume Count.

In any case, here is the full data for your own interest and reflection:

Past Totals
2012: 50! 
2011: 80
2010: 88
2009: 99
2008: 103
2007: 125
2006: 168 
2005: 187
2004: 184
2003: 187
2002: 193
2001: 152
2000: 171

The journalist Parker Donham has kindly put my annual numbers in a graph on his Contrarian blog.

Angel: 1
Baby: 2
Banana: 1
Barney Dinosaur: 2
Batman: 3
Batgirl: 1
Bobba Fett: 1 (Star Wars)
Cat: 1
Cat in the Hat: 1
Cereal Killer  (Cereal boxed stabbed with knives): 1
Evil Cook: 1
Dead  Cheerleader: 1
Dead Doctor: 1
Evil Doctor: 1
Devil: 1
Dragon: 1
Football Players: 2  (One who was Michael Vick!)
Frankenstein: 1  (Good homemade green make-up)
Gangster: 1
Goalie: 1  (Fully equipped)
Goth: 1
Goth Bride: 2  (Beautiful costume with black bouquet)
Hulk: 1
Ironman: 1
Karate Guy: 1
Little Red Riding Hood: 1
Lizard: 1
Lion: 1
Mermaid: 1
Medusa: 1
Monkey: 1
Monster, misc : 1
No discernible costume: 1
Ninja: 6
Owl: 1
Pear: 1
Pirates: NONE!
Platypus: 1
Princesses: 6  (Including 1 Fairy Princess)
Puss & Boots: 1  (A very nice costume and keen to demonstrate his swordsmanship.)
Ritz Cracker Box: 1
Scream/Ghouls masks:1
Sea Monsters: 2
Skeleton: 1
A Shadow: 1  (The concept, not the crime fighter)
Storm trooper: 1  (Star Wars)
Swat Team policemen: 3
Unicorn: 1  (Very Young Baby)
Vampires: 6
Werewolf: 1
First Caller:  5:35 p.m.
Peak Traffic: 7 p.m.
Last Caller:  8:15 p.m.

Happy Halloween from Duncan Street! (The blue column in the window is a set of real chest and leg X-Rays that I use to give the sidewalk view a spooky blue glow.)


  1. Maybe the kids are showing solidarity for world seafarers - showing that piracy is a real world problem.

  2. My grandson dressed as a pirate this year but he would have had quite the trek to your home from Montreal.

  3. Dan - thanks for an interesting blog post! It was great to hear a Halloween update from my old neighbourhood.
    It may interest you to know that my husband Kyle was a pirate for Halloween every year of his childhood! I wonder if he ever stopped by your house and was included in your count...?

  4. Hi Dan: I drove into Mississauga late on the afternoon of the 31st. Got there at 6:30. Only saw one trick or treater and she was a pirate. For all I know, they were all pirates that night.