All through the mid to late 1970s/ early 1980s, Halloween in New York City was an all year event. It was celebrated in a rather unusual if befittingly grotesque manner: dirt and grime carpeted the streets, danger lurked amid the glow of neon to the tincture of shadow, while destitution and despair ceaselessly loomed.
This new Halloween was born at the end of the 1960s when the Vietnam War really began raging, inciting an unprecedented anger and distrust towards government, only to be complemented by the Watergate scandal. Resentment became coupled with malaise as the US economy underwent a dismal sea change brought on by the Arab Embargo of 1973.
Sections of the city that were already depressed became wastelands riddled with abandoned buildings and widespread poverty. Graffiti was everywhere, from decrepit subway trains to gated storefronts, a misbegotten yet brazen response to an apparently crumbling infrastructure.
The political ideals and goodwill of the 1960s that many politicians had aspired towards, had become the political corruption and incompetence of political hacks consumed by cynicism and self-interest. Tourist meccas, stretching from Times Square and Central Park in Manhattan to Coney Island in Brooklyn, were overrun by sleaze and vice. Crime was on the rise with each sunrise while an emaciated police force merely looked on. In many ways, the appearance of a Son of Sam was anticlimactic.
But the most shocking humiliation came on October 30, 1975, following NYC’s request for a federal bailout, via one of the New York Daily News’ most infamous headlines: “Ford to City – Drop Dead.” While this headline is an intentional misquote on the part of the Daily News (President Ford never said that), the essence of what he had (arguably) said was conveyed; but, at that point, people would’ve believed anything negative coming out of any branch of government. After all, it was Halloween all year round: a time when the tricks far outweighed the treats.
A photo collection of New York City in those troubled times: When The City Was a House of Horrors (Lens-NYT).