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Butte Halloween group works for betterment of the community

From left, James Jones, Gabriel Offutt, Toby Renner and Cassie Meixner are looking forward to hosting their second annual Butte Halloween Carnival to take place in Uptown Butte beginning at 5 p.m. Friday along Park Street and various vendors in the Uptown area. The event is advertised as an all-ages and "Living or dead, fun for all!" 

In 2012, Gabriel Offutt had a problem.

It was October. The Montana Standard had come out with a list of upcoming fall events, and there were lots of Halloween-related activities Offutt wanted to attend. He just didn’t know how to fit them all into his schedule.

“There was the Original Nightmare, Terror at Thunder Alley and lots of other haunted attractions I was trying to figure out how to navigate,” Offutt said, looking back on that year. “So I made a spreadsheet.”

Offutt detailed the times and locations of each event to ensure he could make them all. Then he posted his work on Facebook and everyone loved it, Offutt said, so his friend Toby Renner encouraged him to do more now that he had an audience. 

“I thought, 'Obviously this is a useful resource since everyone is sharing it all over the dang Facebook,'” Offutt said. “Then things spiraled out of control.”

From spreadsheet to event website to year-round party planners, Offutt and Renner have evolved into the “Pumpkin King” and “Pirate” of Butte’s most avid All Hallows’ Eve supporters: Butte Halloween, LLC. Since 2013, they’ve promoted the ancient holiday throughout the year to better the Butte community.

On a recent morning, Offutt walked into a local coffee shop wearing a vintage-looking black suit and top hat to match. With his tall, lean build and attire, he fit his “Pumpkin King” title — the incarnation of Jack Skellington from Tim Burton’s “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Another group member, Cassie Meixner, joined Offutt and together they shared their group’s ambitions to use Halloween for good.

It starts early each year with a Second Halloween celebration. For four years, Offutt’s group has hosted the dance party the weekend after Valentine’s Day to raise suicide awareness.

Last February, each floor of the Clark Chateau was a designated dance space for a different age group, with kids at the bottom and people 21 and over at the top. Proceeds were evenly divided three ways between the Chateau, Butte Halloween and the Jacob Wheeler Foundation, a local suicide awareness non-profit.

Offutt said he’s done research on the subject, detailed in blog posts on the group website, that shows suicide rates often spike in early summer.

Offutt’s logic is that summer is event-filled, fall has Halloween and Thanksgiving, and winter has Christmas. But the new year brings resolutions and lofty ambitions that many people don’t follow through with, followed by Valentine’s Day, which has a bright “couples-only” sign. Offutt believes it’s possible for some of the negative emotions that derive from this time of year to fester into self-inflicted harm.

“I have nothing against Valentine’s Day," Offutt said. "I just want to give people something they can look forward to in a month that may exclude them. It’s the only thing I can control and the best way I can help.”

After Second Halloween, the group hosts other, smaller events, such as a bonfire and storytelling contest on April 30 for Walpurgis Night, an ancient European holiday where summer meets winter and spirits walk the Earth, Offutt said. These events aim mostly to encourage community engagement and bring Halloween to months other than October.

This October, the group is hosting its second annual Butte Halloween Carnival in Uptown Butte. A midway with typical carnival games that are “messed up” (like tossing bloody steaks instead of rings), sideshows featuring things like spiders, snakes and xenobiological oddities, and a shadow carnival at participating venues. Offutt said the plan is to bring the scary spirit of the holiday to attendees while supporting Butte businesses.

“The idea is for the carnival to be like the Christmas stroll, where businesses can put their best foot forward,” Offutt said.

According to Offutt, this will occur mainly through the shadow carnival, where carnival-goers can buy tokens and play games at participating businesses. After playing, they receive another, special token. If all of these tokens are collected and brought back to the designated carnival location, people will be put into a grand prize drawing.

Last year, the group held a last-minute, indoor carnival at the former For Heaven’s Cakes on North Main Street. They didn’t think more than 30 or 40 people would come. Minutes before the carnival started, there were about 40 people in line outside.

“We could not hold the amount of people that came inside last year, so we wrote the city and applied for an outdoor permit,” Offutt said. “This year, we’re ready.”

And he says Butte is a perfect setting for the celebration. 

“Butte looks like Halloweentown. It has a certain character with the old buildings, twisting streets, the iron derricks, the dark alleys,” Offutt said. “It’s darkly beautiful and bizarrely amazing, so it draws those kinds of people in.”

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