Madison charges admission to enter State Street on Halloween

Kathryn Nelson

Past Halloween celebrations in Madison, Wis. have been notorious for arson, looting and drunken brawls, sometimes instigated by students singing the Minnesota Rouser.

But this year’s festivities were much different.

For the first time in several years, riot gear and pepper spray weren’t used to control rowdy revelers, said Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz in a statement Monday.

Cieslewicz said he attributed the success to a new ticketing system which required students to pay a $5 admission fee to State Street, the city’s main drag and a hotspot for past riots and general debauchery.

Some University students said they were discouraged by the new policies, while others decided to attend anyway.

The admission cost also helped offset hundreds of thousands of dollars in public-safety costs, which in the past have been compensated by taxpayers, Cieslewicz said.

George Twigg, the mayor’s communications director, said there were 117 arrests Saturday – half the number of 2005 arrests.

“We’ve been making slow and steady progress each year since 2002,” he said. “This year was a more significant step forward.”

Twigg said the 2002 celebration was especially volatile, with large amounts of property damage and numerous injuries.

Jerry Rinehart, vice provost for student affairs, said the University usually gets information on student arrests several weeks after Halloween.

Students receive a letter from the University addressing the citation and “expressing our disappointment,” he said.

“It’s trying to reinforce that message about students representing the University, because whether they know it or not, they do,” he said.

The citation could be used against the student on campus if similar violations of conduct occur, Rinehart said.

Communications junior Amanda Vraga said she has attended Madison Halloween festivities since her junior year of high school.

Vraga, who dressed as a cowgirl, said she didn’t go to State Street this year because she didn’t want to purchase a ticket. Instead, she attended parties in the Madison area.

“They think (the tickets) will control the crowd, when I just think it’s moving (the celebration) to other places,” she said.

Vraga, who grew up in Madison, said she wasn’t sure if she would be going home for Halloween next year.

“It definitely wasn’t the same,” she said.

John Lucas, a University of Wisconsin-Madison spokesman, said this year’s Halloween was more managed than those in the past.

Lucas said attendees were noticeably less intoxicated, the crowd less dense and the party on State Street didn’t conclude in violence.

“You can’t argue with the results,” he said. This year was “definitely a step in the right direction.”

Sophomore Daniel Gardner said he has gone to Madison for Halloween in the past but wanted to see what it was like in Minneapolis this year.

Although Gardener said he was partial to Madison parties, the ticketing system seemed “ridiculous.”

Gardener, who is under 21, said he would be more careful while going to parties in Dinkytown.

“You kind of have to watch out for the cops more because they have the whole party patrol thing now,” he said.

– Emily Kaiser contributed to this report.