Two Halloween celebrations in central Waco drew almost 4,000 people Saturday night, mostly parents with small children seeking an alternative to neighborhood trick-or-treating. Many came from from outlying areas.
McLane Stadium’s first-ever Stadium Spooktacular had pre-sold about 1,200 tickets by 2 p.m. Saturday, according to officials at the gate, and crowds were lined up to get in by the time the gates opened to the sheltered 100 level concourse.
About 2,000 people had come in before the event ended, said Tyler Gambrell, marketing director for SMG, which manages the stadium’s special events.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we had more than we anticipated,” Gambrell said. “It got a little chilly, but I think everybody had a good time.”
Almost all the children were in costume, as were most of their parents. Stadium personnel greeted guests with candy, and they could trick-or-treat at booths. Sponsors also offered booths with games and face painting, among other activities.
A costume contest preceded a showing of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” on the stadium’s video scoreboard.
Fort Hood-based soldier Colton Smith, from Iowa, was in Waco on business and brought his wife, Megan, and his 3- and 5-year-old sons to the event.
“We just saw this happening and decided it was the way to go for Halloween, and it’s good,” Smith said. “It’s clean, safe and friendly.”
Shanna Denson, of Moody, brought her 7-year-old daughter, Ali. They were standing in a long line of people who made the face-painting booth their first stop.
“When you have a little girl, this is what you do,” Denson said. “This event attracted us because it’s something different and something safe.”
Bradley Murphy, of Waco, dressed as the main character from the Dr. Seuss story “The Cat in the Hat,” and his wife, Stephanie, were leading their daughters, Samantha, 3, and Alyssa, 1, all in costume. Murphy said he dons a costume for Halloween every year.
“It looked like rain, and this is a good way to celebrate and stay dry,” he said.
On the other side of downtown, Cameron Park Zoo marketing director Duane McGregor expected the annual Zoo Boo to draw 1,600 to 1,800 people, slightly less than the event’s usual 2,000 because of competition from the Spooktacular. The zoo’s staff members decorate the exhibits to appeal to children ages 2 to 14.
Preston Herring, of West, brought his young daughter, Lacin, “because we’re tired of dodging traffic trick-or-treating.”
“Sometimes she’ll hold my hand and sometimes not,” he said. “We visit the zoo three or four times a year, but we’ve never been to this event before. I’m impressed with the numbers of people here. It’s great for kids.”
Mark Stromberg, who came with his wife, Janie, and their 4-year-old son, said he was impressed with the staff that was entertaining kids in the exhibits.
“We went through the snake house, and he started getting scared. But I just put my hand up as a signal to ease up on the acting, and they weren’t scary anymore.”
SMG’s Gambrell said her company’s goal has been to keep the stadium busy in its first year, and she hopes a regular movie series can be started. She said the first year of events can give organizers a feeling for what events can become annual as they try new ideas.