Of the Baker City Herald

Mary Bohn's screen door stands wide open, propped with wedges of wood in preparation for the hordes of trick-or-treaters on Halloween night.

It was only Thursday.

But she was ready at her house on Grandview Drive.

andquot;We have tons of trick-or-treaters. We used to have them start at 4:30 and last until 9:30,andquot; Bohn said.

It's not quite the same these days.

Ever since the two-hour downtown trick-or-treat started nine years ago, fewer costumed kids are venturing into neighborhoods.

And those who do seek more candy usually hit the streets after 6 o'clock when Main Street merchants finish handing out candy.

andquot;I used to buy 15 bags of that fun-sized candy,andquot; Bohn said.

This year she purchased a little less only 13 sacks of chocolatey, bite-sized candy bars.

She said her area has always been popular on Halloween night.

andquot;The kids just start here, then run to the next house and the next one. There's not very many cross streets or much traffic except for moms and dads going 10 mph and stopping,andquot; she laughs.

And she has a bit of a surprise for the kids.

She greets them at the door with a bowl of candy and dressed as a witch, complete with a pointy hat, red hair, black cape, black skirt, black boots and a face painted in hues of green, red, black and white.

andquot;I've had the little kids scream bloody murder,andquot; she laughs. andquot;It's very, very good. I use it every year after all, it doesn't get a lot of use.andquot;

Across town near Brooklyn Elementary, Keith and Virginia Long were also ready for Halloween a day early.

They too have experienced a drop in visiting ghosts, witches and punk rockers.

andquot;We used to get, oh dear, I'd say a couple hundred,andquot; Keith said. andquot;Now, with the uptown thing, we get about a third.andquot;

But those who do knock on the door at 1522 Washington Ave. will be greeted by the same thing as thousands of trick-or-treaters before them.

Her name is Witch Hazel.

andquot;She has long underwear I've stuffed with newspaper,andquot; Virginia said of the cloth witch seated just inside the front door.

For each visitor, the Longs andquot;stir the potandquot; that sits at the witch's feet and wow the children as sparks fly from the black cauldron.

The secret is dancing fire crackers from the Philippines. Virginia sprinkles the fireworks in the pot, then crunches them up with a metal weight to make the sparks dance around.

Her andquot;first-gradersandquot; now get to stir the pot themselves, the retired teacher says.

andquot;I have two more years of first-graders, then they'll be graduated,andquot; she smiles.

Virginia taught first grade at South Baker Elementary for 24 years, and retired in 1998.

Those students accounted for many of the knocks on her door come Halloween night.

andquot;I would tell them at school to be sure to come trick-or-treating. Then I quit teaching, so we had a little less,andquot; she said.

Virginia said she misses the mass numbers of visiting kids.

But these days a new crop of trick-or-treaters are knocking on her door.

andquot;What's fun now is I have a bunch of first-graders with little kids, and they bring them by,andquot; she said.

The twisted, curving streets of the Hillcrest area are also a little more empty on Halloween these days, though it used to be overrun with sugar-hungry children, said Howard Brooks.

He and his wife, Colleen, have lived at 950 11th St. since 1961.

andquot;We used to get over 100 carloads. They'd bring them up on the hill and drop them off,andquot; Colleen said.

Howard said those numbers started to decline as the neighborhood youth grew up and moved away.

andquot;There used to be a lot of kids in this neighborhood, and there's not anymore. Kids tend to stick close to home, the little ones, anyway,andquot; he said.

They still had quite a few knocks on Halloween night, but it's declining every year, Colleen said.

In recent years, they've only handed out candy to about 60 youngsters.

andquot;With the downtown thing, it's down even more,andquot; Colleen said. andquot;Some don't even bother to come to the neighborhoods anymore. They used to come with pillowcases.andquot;

Though she doesn't have to run up and down her stairs as often on Halloween, Colleen said she still misses seeing all the trick-or-treaters.

andquot;I do really enjoy some of those little kids who are so excited and can barely say 'trick-or-treat' and are freezing to death,andquot; she said.