LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Children and adults came dressed as every conceivable costume character, filing into Lakewood Ranch's Main Street well before the eighth Annual Boo Fest was about to begin Friday night.
A crowd of several thousand from Manatee and Sarasota Counties couldn't resist the opportunity to be a part of one of the biggest trick-or-treat "spooktacular" Halloween parties held in the area.
While sponsors lined Main Street in decorated tents, ready with bags of candy
and goodies to give to trick-or-treaters dressed as everything from Disney characters to pirates, cowboys to ghoulish skeletons, Main Street merchants opened storefronts and handed out candy. Crowds gathered outdoors to enjoy an evening meal at the Main Street eateries, looking relaxed and enjoying the spectacle before them.
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As in years past, the biggest draw of the evening was the Haunted House, set up in a large tent in the back of Main Street near the Barbary Shoppe, with a hearse conveniently parked nearby. Lines eagerly formed, waiting to be scared out of their wits.
Unlike previous Boo Fests, this year's Haunted House featured a theme of eight different rooms each representing legendary horror movies, such as "The Bride of Frankenstein," "Dracula," and "Motel Hell." A special committee of adult volunteers, many husband-and-wife teams from the Lakewood Ranch area spent the day preparing for their coming out party.
"My Haunted House committee exceeded my expectations. They did a fabulous job and they were so dedicated," said Lori Basilone, Director of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities, host organization for the Boo Fest.
For Jeff Gray of Palmetto, the Haunted House lived up to the hype. He's been bringing his family to the Boo Fest for the past five years and this year, he said, surpassed them all.
"The Haunted House was good. This was the best one and it was unique. They showed a lot of brains and body parts and my son, Jason, was pretty scared, but he waved to Frankenstein," Gray said as he and his family left the tent.
While music blared in the background, children enjoyed getting their faces painted, their pictures taken in a photo booth and having a balloon artist create favorite animal figures.
But one of the scariest booths, designed by Gulf Coast Girl Scout Troop 764 of Lakewood Ranch, produced squeals of fright and delight as kids reached into touchy-feely boxes of unknown "body parts."
"The first box has zombie toes, the second box has Dracula ears, the third box is filled with monster teeth, the fourth has goblin eyeballs and the last box is a mystery (but it's really candy)," said troop leader Stacy Workman.
At 6:30 p.m., as the festival was just beginning to take shape, the annual costume parade kicked off the event, led by a drum-and-bugle corps from Rowlett Magnet Elementary School, dancers from Jump Dance Co. and ReFlex Arts and the Moms of Lakewood Ranch club.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.