A witch on stilts towers over others at the start of a costume parade during the 2018 Spooky City event in downtown Burlington. The Halloween event returns Saturday following a one-year absence due to the coronavirus pandemic. (File photo)


By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

Downtown Burlington will be bustling with traffic, and people dressed in costume, Saturday as Spooky City and Autumn Festival return after a one-year COVID-19 induced hiatus.

Spooky City, an annual event dating back decades, kicks off the day’s festivities and features pumpkin decorating and face painting, free hayrides, a costume parade, street performances, coffin races and trick-or-treating at participating downtown businesses.

Shad Branen, owner of the Plaza Theater and Spooky City organizer, said the Spooky City event has brought favorable reviews since he and his wife, Kristine, launched it 32 years ago.

“We are counting this as our 32nd annual with an asterisk,” Branen said in a previous interview, adding businesses have been receptive to the event. “I think the reception is very positive, to continue for 32 years, it would have to be.”

Spooky City, which has about 50 businesses participating in some capacity, looks to raise awareness of downtown establishments.

Spooky City begins at 10 a.m. with pumpkin decorating and face painting at Greenwoods State Bank, 241 E. Jefferson Street.

Organizers plan to offer free tractor hayrides circling downtown, beginning and ending at McDonald’s on Jefferson Street, from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Spooky City also features a costume parade, where kids can show of their Halloween costumes at Wehmhoff Square Park at 10:45 a.m.

From 11 a.m. until noon, downtown businesses displaying a banner will hand out treats to costumed children, which Branen calls a “very safe environment.”

Coffin Races, which drew positive reviews in 2019, will return for the second time from noon until 1 p.m.

“The Addams Family 2,” will play at the Plaza Theater at 12:30 p.m. with free tickets available only at McDonalds beginning on Wednesday.

For the adult crowd, at 9 p.m., Plaza Theater plans to show cult classic “Rocky Horror Picture Show” with tickets available for purchase at plaza4.org.

Spooky City, however, isn’t the only event happening in downtown Burlington Saturday.

The City of Burlington is encouraging visitors to stay for the Autumn Festival, which features a barbecue rib dinner, live music and a handful of vendors at Wehmhoff Square Park, 355 N. Pine Street, from noon until 5:30 p.m.

Burlington Mayor Jeannie Hefty, who reports the rib dinner comes at a cost of $12 per person, said she looks forward to partnering with Spooky City.

“It is great that we have teamed up with Spooky City and it just helps both of us,” said Hefty. “Spooky City, along with the costumes and everything, they make everybody laugh and smile and get into the Halloween spirit.

The Autumn Festival, which also includes a handful of vendors on site, will feature sit down and drive-thru service for visitors looking to order a rib dinner.

Hefty said drive-thru visitors will need to use Perkins Boulevard to order.

“We will go to their cars and take their orders for people who don’t want to get out,” Hefty said.

The rib dinner includes potato salad, baked beans and a cookie made by members of the Burlington Senior Activity Center.

The Runaway Micropub and Nanobrewery also plans to sell some of its beer at Wehmhoff Square Park, according to Hefty.

Autumn Fest has an alternate food option for children, according to Hefty.

“If the children do not want ribs, there is also going to be hot dogs down there,” she said.

All proceeds from rib dinner will be applied to the Tri-County Fire and Rescue Training Center located on the city’s Department of Public Works property.

Hefty, who consulted the forecast, said Saturday should be a beautiful day for people to come downtown.

“The weather is supposed to be great and sunny,” she said. “How much more do we want from a fall day?”

Spooky City 2021


  • 10 a.m.-11 a.m.: Pumpkin decorating and face painting, Greenwoods State Bank
  • 10 a.m.-1 p.m.: Tractor hayrides circle downtown, beginning and ending at McDonalds.
  • 10:45 a.m.: Costume parade at Wehmhoff Square Park
  • 11 a.m.-noon: Safe Trick-or-Treating at businesses
  • 11 a.m.-noon: Live street performances
  • Noon-1 p.m.: Coffin races
  • 12:30 p.m.: Free showing of “The Addams Family 2” at the Plaza Theater
  • Noon-5:30 p.m.: Autumn Festival
  • Noon-6 p.m.: Live music, gourd bowling and dog costume contest at Low Daily brewery.
  • 9 p.m.: Ticketed showing of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Plaza Theater