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Halloween Party Brings Out Revelers

October 29, 2006

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ From the pedestrian to the profane, costumed college students and others roamed downtown Saturday in the early hours of an annual weekend party that in recent years has ended with drunken mayhem and police spraying pepper gas to control the masses.

But this year, with new constraints in place _ including ticket sales for the first time _ police were estimating a far smaller crowd than the more than 80,000 that jammed Madison’s State Street in 2005.

As of 7 p.m. Saturday, shortly before the party officially began, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said just 84 people had been arrested, mostly for alcohol-related offenses, compared with 234 at the same time last year.

And judging by ticket sales, which have been sluggish, he estimated the crowd would top out at only around 20,000.

The crowd on Friday night _ estimated at up to 10,000 _ was much better behaved than in years past, said George Twigg, a spokesman for Mayor Dave Cieslewicz.

``We had no reports of serious crime or injury resulting from crime,″ he said.

Early arrivals Saturday were treated to a nearly empty street and costumes ranging from a pregnant Dracula to the Power Rangers and a variety of ghouls, goblins and old standbys such as witches and mummies.

David Peterson of Madison said he’s been to the Halloween party every year since 1976. This year he came with his 4-year-old daughter, who was dressed as a unicorn.

Peterson wasn’t sure whether the new efforts at restraining the party _ including charging a $5 admission fee and blocking off the street _ would quell the violence of past years.

``You can’t call this one,″ said Peterson, who was dressed as a wizard.

At least in the early hours last year, there were a lot more people on the street, he said.

Jesse Holst, who has attended the annual party since he was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1998, agreed that things were more mellow, at least early Saturday night.

``I think everyone just wants to see no trouble this year,″ said Holst, wearing camouflage pants and a referee’s shirt. He said he was a Civil War referee.

As they have in recent years, police had more than 250 officers on patrol along State Street _ a pedestrian-only avenue that runs from the Capitol on the east to the university campus on the west. High-powered cameras kept an eye out for possible lawbreakers, while officials watched from a command post just a block from the action.

Playboy magazine cited the party in April as one of the reasons it named UW-Madison the nation’s top party school.

This year, in addition to the entrance fee, the city imposed time limits _ 7:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. _ but the bars were staying open until the usual 2:30 a.m.

The dearth of ticket sales led some to worry that the crowds would instead spill over into neighborhoods that house mostly students. A home football game and an extra hour to party thanks to daylight-saving time ending also had city officials on edge.

Joe Buettner, in an emergency-room doctor’s clothing but also sporting two head wounds, was optimistic that even with the changes State Street would be the place to be.

``It’s still going to be awesome,″ he said.

Significant problems date to 2002, when revelers threw rocks and bottles, breaking at least 12 windows and damaging police cars. In 2003, store windows were broken and at least two cars were tipped over. In 2004, a small bonfire was started and 450 people were arrested.

Last year, between Friday night and Sunday morning, 447 people were arrested. As they had since 2002, police used pepper spray to quell a crowd of about 2,000.

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Associated Press writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

City of Madison Halloween information: www.halloweenmadison.com

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