Some call it "Boo," others call it "ghosting." About a week before Halloween in Towson's Armagh Village, neighbors start to "ding-dong dash" each other — ringing the doorbell and running away — but leaving surprises, say candy or baked goods, on each other's doorsteps.
In Riverside Park south of Baltimore's Inner Harbor, families gather by the hundreds the weekend before the holiday to hear live music, eat ice cream, decorate pumpkins and watch a parade of costumes. On trick-or-treat night, neighbors in Rodgers Forge in Towson huddle around fire pits sharing food and drink while doling out candy to the hundreds of children who traipse from yard to yard.
Neighborhoods around Baltimore increasingly define themselves not only by neighborliness, schools and architecture, but more and more by how they embrace the holidays, particularly Halloween. As Halloween nears, home facades glow orange and purple, oversized webs envelop shrubbery, ghosts hang from trees, and giant spiders, skeletons and handmade coffins lie in wait in on porches and in yards.
When she moved from a suburb of Atlanta to Federal Hill South about six years ago, Julie Carper couldn't believe the Halloween hype. Now she and about eight of her neighbors string lights at their homes, then, on Oct. 31, sit on their front steps, share food and drinks, and hand out candy while the kids play.
"It's like nothing I've ever experienced anywhere," said Carper, the mother of a 3-year-old and 3-month-old. "So many of the residents are engaged and sitting out front and interacting with the trick-or-treaters. And for the trick-or-treaters, it's a great way to hit a lot of houses in a short amount of time. It's, for all of us, one of our favorite days of the year."
Carper's neighborhood, like many in the Baltimore area, seems to have all the attributes for prime pickings on Halloween — a high density of single-family homes, high property values, safety and a lot of residents under age of 10.
Because of such features, Baltimore landed among a handful of large and midsized cities recognized as trick-or-treat hot spots this year. In a survey by real estate website Zillow, Philadelphia topped the list, but Baltimore broke into the top 15 for the first time, ranking 12th.
Zillow, which based its rankings on density of single-family homes, median home values, the share of population under the age of 10 and crime rates, cited Patterson Park, Upper Fells Point, Canton, Brewers Hill and Riverside among city's best trick-or-treat neighborhoods.
By mining the data, "we can look at ways that we live, and identify areas that are important to people, not just areas around the country, but what neighborhood would be a place I would like to live that would fit my lifestyle," said Skylar Olsen, a senior economist at Zillow. "Families in particular are going to be interested in this type of metric."
Such areas tend to have steady home values, low crime and strong schools, she said.
Baltimore ranked in the top 20 in 2014, then fell off the list last year. Zillow changed the equation this year, adding the percent of population under 10, which may have bumped the city up in rankings, Olsen said. It also excluded multifamily, or apartment, housing this year because the millennials and single residents who tend to live in such places don't always participate in Halloween.
Interest in Halloween and other holidays has surged over the past five years in many neighborhoods throughout the Baltimore region where real estate agent Misha Guy works with buyers and sellers. He's seeing more elaborate decorations and lights, and more festivals, ghost tours and other activities.
"It's an easy way to create a sense of community," said Guy, an agent on the Ron Howard team at Re/Max Preferred Properties in Fells Point. "It's something everyone can identify with. People have really taken an interest in their individual neighborhood and pride in their neighborhoods."
He's seen growing participation in neighborhoods such as Lauraville, Hamilton, Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Patterson Park, Remington and Hampden in the city; Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh and Catonsville in Baltimore County; and Columbia in Howard County.
"I'm not sure if it's a new generation of parents or newer generations wanting a sense of community and solidarity," Guy said. "The fact that this is happening speaks well of the city, not only of our locals but people who move here who make Baltimore their home and are proud of where they live."
Though he has no children, Martin Luplow acknowledges that he goes a bit overboard for the spooky holiday, more so than some of his neighbors in the Donnybrook neighborhood of Towson, where the Michigan native has lived since getting married four years ago. To Luplow, creating a yard of inflatable dragons and spiders and musical skeletons is his way of giving back.
"The neighborhood seems to appreciate it," said Luplow, a quality manager for Stanley Engineering, who said the number of trick-or-treaters has grown from just a handful to more than 100 last year. "The kids enjoy it, and I like doing things for the community."
Deborah Anzalone, who moved to Rodgers Forge in 1976, recalls that when her children, now in their 30s, were growing up, "everyone put out a carved pumpkin and went trick-or-treating, but that was about it."
Now part of her street closes to traffic, and children run from yard to yard as neighbors light fire pits and eat dinner outside. The neighborhood has become so popular that some years she hands out 800 pieces of candy by 8 p.m.
"I think it brings the neighborhood together," said Anzalone, who displays a 6-foot-tall witch outside her door. "People are outside on their porches. People walk with their children and stop and talk to neighbors. It's a whole night they can enjoy, and they're safe.
"I'm starting to see people come with their children who were friends with my children," she said.
The Halloween party atmosphere is part of the neighborhood's appeal, said fellow Rodgers Forge resident Dan Hochrein. At his own home, the DJ and father of three boys adds scream sound effects to the mummies outside the rowhouse and often greets trick-or-treaters in costume.
"It's a fun time, a giant party," he said. "I like being able to walk out the door and having people around."
In Evesham Park in North Baltimore, decorating their duplexes with lights and fog machines used to be a joint Halloween project between Lindsay Ayers and a next-door neighbor who recently moved away. This year, Ayers said she is continuing the tradition with her new neighbor. Though her street isn't known for drawing large numbers of trick-or-treaters, her house has become a go-to spot for up to 300 kids.
"We know that because we buy full-size candy bars and count how many are in the box," said Ayers, a 33-year-old marketing administrator for a technology company.
When she and her fiance talk about the type of neighborhood they will move to if they have a family, they lean toward one with Halloween spirit.
"That's something that's important to us, and we want to be around other people who enjoy the holiday as well," she said.