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'Booing' on Long Island grows as coronavirus-era Halloween fun

Twelve-year-old friends Anna Calabrese, Serena Halikas and Madeleine Gaillard prepare treat bags that they will leave anonymously at other friends' doors for the Halloween season of "booing." Credit: Bruce Gilbert

When Madeleine Gaillard opened the front door to head to school one day in mid-October, she was thrilled to see her entire Rockville Centre front lawn decorated with baby versions of horror movie characters such as Chucky and Anabelle and a sign that announced, "We got Boo’d."

"Booing" friends, neighbors and family members in the weeks leading up to Halloween isn’t new. But usually families just put together small bags of treats and leave them anonymously on others’ doorsteps under the cover of darkness, to surprise them in the morning, and they urge the recipient to continue the game by "booing" someone else within the next day or so.

The boo-ers don’t typically take over the entire front lawn.

But this Halloween is anything but typical.

"This was just like amazing, like a little magic elf came by and threw some confetti and, poof, there’s a whole Halloween scene on your lawn," says Madeleine’s mother, Tara Gaillard, 46, a freelance marketer. Madeleine, 12, and her brother, Jack, 13, discovered it on Oct. 14. "It was like a little bit of joy in all the stuff that’s going on. They loved the idea so much, they want to do it for their cousins in Long Beach." Says Madeleine: "I started laughing because it was so funny. There was so much stuff on the lawn."

RAISING THE BOO BAR

Michelle James Wettstein, 44, of South Hempstead, started at the beginning of the pandemic offering to decorate people’s lawns with birthday signs after her face painting and entertainment business slowed down. Now she’s also doing the Halloween thing with her venture called Sneaky Signs and Celebrations, charging $40 and donating $10 of that fee to local charities for children. She plans to offer Elf on the Shelf-style decorations come Christmas season. The decorations stay up for 24 hours before she picks them up and moves them to the next target.

Wettstein’s not the only one who has ratcheted up the booing bar — some communities refer to the game as Ghosting — this season. Ali Kusinitz, 49, of Old Bethpage, started Sign Gals of Long Island, charging $22 for a ghost sign that recipients can keep and a goody bag that she’ll deliver within a five-mile radius. People can also pick up the package and do the delivery dirty work themselves. Connetquot High School’s student government is doing "Boo Buckets" as a fundraiser; for a $20 donation they’ll place a bucket of treat and a sign on the recipient’s lawn the day before Halloween.

BRIGHTEN THE DAY

Even families doing the old-school booing seem to have stepped up their game to make it feel a little more special and topical this year. Madeleine Gaillard and two friends decided to hit 10 houses, and include, in addition to candy, little bottles of hand sanitizer from Bath & Body Works in their drop offs. Michelle Dalto, 43, of Massapequa Park, who works part time at Staples, tie-dyed masks in orange, black and purple to symbolize Halloween; her daughter Faith, 9, will put them in the boo bags to deliver to eight friends.

"It’s fun," Dalto says. "We do the whole ring and run. She loves everybody guessing who it really is. I think she secretly wants to get caught." Faith also likes when people boo her — this year she’s received orange slime in a container shaped like a pumpkin, Sour Patch Kids, Skittles and a ring shaped like a spider. "It makes me really happy when I see it. I get really excited," Faith says.

Grown ups are also anonymously leaving each other wine, beer or other elixirs, with signs announcing "You’ve Been Boooozed!" and instructions on how the game is played. Tina Umlauft, 51, a medical practice administrator from Selden, has boo'd both kids and adults, and has been a recipient as well. She says it’s a way to show friendship and love to neighbors. "Being in the situation we are in now, it might be a nice way to brighten someone’s day."

And to brighten the holiday in this unusual Halloween season, says Grace Woodbury, 10, of Rockville Centre, who has been boo'd with lawn signs and candy. "As soon as I got to school, I told a bunch of people. Maybe that will pick up the Halloween spirit a little bit."

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