PROVINCETOWN — Say the words “Nelson Avenue” to local kids in October and watch their eyes light up.
For years, this small neighborhood off Race Point Road has made up for what it lacks in water views and fancy architecture by being the most decorated and most candy-filled place to go trick-or-treating.
Nancy Roderick, of 12 Nelson Ave., spends about $200 on candy to prepare for the onslaught of kids who arrive every Halloween at dusk. Their parents, who often drive to Provincetown from other towns, will struggle to find parking. And the police will close off the road to cars and then patrol on bicycles through the dark street and the gangs of revelers.
“It’s our own little carnival celebration,” said Roderick, who is known to be unstinting in giving out candy. “It has nothing to do with being straight or gay. We’re just Halloweening.”
When Shannon Patrick moved into an apartment on the block 12 years ago, she said she knew she had to participate.
Now the mother of an 18- and 22-year-old, her 27 Nelson Ave. address is one of the most decorated destinations.
Last year she had a 13-foot pumpkin-headed ghoul, fog machine, graveyard, smoking cauldron, trees with owls, candles, and more.
Patrick tries to keep her place at the level of“spooky” and not let it become too scary because her own children were terrified by her neighbors Rachel and Gene Peters’s haunted house. (The Peterses used to turn their home inside and out into a Halloween extravaganza. But Gene said they stopped two years ago so they could actually go out trick-or-treating with their grandchild.)
Patrick spends about $200 on candy on top of hours of decorating.
“It’s so much fun,” Patrick said. “Families know they can come here. They take pictures of the yard. It is patrolled by the police. It’s good the kids have a safe place they can enjoy the night.”
The origins of Nelson Avenue as a Halloween destination are part socio-economic and part personal.
It all started at 21 Nelson Ave. with Mrs. Pereira, Roderick said. “Everyone tried to get ready for Mrs. P.”
Carolyn Pereira, who died on July 18 at age 83, began the tradition about 20 years ago. She happened to have made franks and beans for dinner when a boy knocked on the door to trick-or-treat and then asked for a hot dog, said Dodie Pereira, Carolyn’s daughter.
The next year, her mom made more hot dogs. She even bought a machine that cooked dogs and steamed buns at the same time.
“Then we got a grill and we cooked about 20 hot dogs at once,” she said. “Then we got chili and soup and the parents would come and sit in the living room while the kids went trick-or-treating.”
It got bigger. They served 450 hot dogs in a record year, Dodie said.
Her mom would also prepare hot chocolate, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She made sure she had sugar-free candy for diabetic children.
Carolyn and her husband, Richard, who had Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t get out much, just loved the company, Dodie said. Halloween had always been Carolyn’s favorite holiday. And, as her obituary stated, “It brought her great joy to always be feeding others whether it be bringing plates of goodies to neighbors or a dining room full of local kids. Stop & Shop was her favorite store!”
She looked forward to Halloween all year, Dodie said.
What Carolyn started became a block party. Everyone got into decorating for the holiday, and word spread. Even when Carolyn became too sick to do her hot dogs and chili about five years ago, the neighborhood celebration continued full throttle.
Ralph Magerkurth has just moved in to 14 Nelson Ave. and is trying to get prepared.
“We heard we’ll get 400 people so we have 600 pieces of candy,” he said.
He’s got blow-up witch legs sticking out from under the house. A fog machine and more will be added as he tries to keep up with the Joneses — or, actually, the Pereiras, the Rodericks, and the Patricks.
The neighborhood was settled by “the second wave of Portuguese,” and for a while many neighbors didn’t speak much English, Roderick said. In the 1990s, when real estate prices started to push out year-round residents, Nelson Avenue stayed working class, becoming a haven for year-rounders and young families with children.
“I think it’s one of the last year-round neighborhoods,” Patrick said.
But that is changing. Walk down Nelson Avenue in daylight and it’s clear that most of the single-family homes have been chopped up into apartments and condominiums. There are fewer children living here, Patrick said. Fewer people are decorating for Halloween, Roderick added. And both women mentioned that last year was noticeably less busy.
“It’s just so expensive to live here,” said Mary Flaherty Peters, who bought her house on Nelson Avenue in 1972.
Dodie Pereira still lives in the neighborhood, but not in the old family home. They had to sell that. She now rents an apartment from the Rodericks.