Ghosts will be friendlier this Halloween

People already are talking about what costume or mask they’re going to assume on Halloween. As for me, at this season, I always recall my favorite costume horror story. It’s Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

The Red Death represents a horrible plague that ravages the country. Prince Prospero takes his retinue and shuts them all away in a castle, which he assumes will be safe from the pestilence. For fun, he schedules a masked ball. To everyone’s dismay, one mysterious figure appears costumed as the Red Death, complete with blood-dappled face.

The furious Prospero and his irate guests chase the offending figure through a series of rooms. When they catch up, they discover the masked one is indeed the Red Death itself. The scourge promptly zaps them all, stone cold dead.

There are signs that with all this terrorism and especially these cases of a modern Red Death, anthrax, this Halloween observance is going to de-emphasize horror and come out long on cheerful.

Nationwide, costume retailers report good guy costumes outsell the bad. Patriotism rates high, focused on Uncle Sam hats and beards. Red, white and blue face paint finds numerous takers. The New York heroes, the firefighters and police, inspire many costumed imitators. Soldier’s outfits of camouflaged fatigue uniforms move briskly off the racks.

Some people go for Miss America garb, especially attractive locally since this year’s Miss America comes from Oregon, for the first time in history. Another big winner this year is the Miss Liberty costume, modeled after the Statue of Liberty and calling for a green foam crown.

By contrast, nobody asks for an Osama bin Laden mask. Arab sheik costumes go begging. Skeleton suits head back into the closet. The public rules out slasher masks like Freddy Krueger. Fake body parts, normally a staple among the fright lovers, may as well be crated up for some future year.

The consensus rules that anything gory became inappropriate in view of what happened Sept. 11 and since. The trend holds nationwide. One young mother I know is steering her four-year-old son, Cameron, around the treat-or-treat circuit as Clifford, the Big Red Dog, as seen mornings on KOPB television. Her eight-year-old daughter, Shandell, will make the tour as a fairy princess. You don’t get much less ghoulish than those impersonations. Cameron’s choice, especially, seems appropriate. Puppy outfits are rated big.

The trend to nice put suppliers in something of a bind, since Halloween merchandise comes off the drawing board a year in advance and reaches the stores early in September. This year’s tragedies dictated a scrambling about-face for many manufacturers.

Past years sold big on masks of such “threatening” personalities as Richard Nixon. Now, the emphasis switches more to Harry Potter.

An inventory of Halloween merchandise at the PSU Bookstore shows how pervasively cheerful the event became this year. All the ghosts look friendly. A book on making your own Halloween costumes presents exclusively costumes that reflect silly fun. Not a grim reaper in the lot.

The Phantom of the Opera appears in one costume book, only this turns out as The Phantom CAT of the Opera, a personage mysterious, yes, as all cats tend to be, but hardly intimidating.

All this cheerful Halloween emphasis registers as a positive sign. Our national leaders plump for a return to some semblance of normal existence. Stressing positive images, rather than death and gore, may help the kiddies get their thoughts off the real disasters and onto more pleasant subjects.

Parents describe their children as still jittery over the violent disruption. This season, better to imitate the heroic or fulfill a positive fantasy than to ride broomsticks, rattle chains or portray things that go bump in the night.

As for me, I’ll put my copy of “The Masque of the Red Death” back on the shelf. I’ll bring it out again to enjoy in a more serene time.