Beware! Of the Square

Philip Ferguson tapped a few words into his Google search bar in early 2021 expecting inspiration. Instead, he found a void.

As it turned out, his search for “Halloween Capital of Texas” had yielded nothing.

“I was like, ‘Really? As big as this state is and as many cities and towns there are, no one’s claiming the title of Halloween Capital of Texas?’” Ferguson said. “Not that I could find on Google, anyways.”

The Celina resident had intended to look at the images of whatever came up to garner ideas for the upcoming “Beware! Of the Square,” the city’s annual Halloween event. Instead the wheels in his head started to spin.

He thought back to Celina’s own event, which had gotten big and would keep getting bigger. Visions of Warren Valley, Ohio from 2007’s “Trick ‘r Treat” appeared in his head.

“I thought ‘Hey, that could be Celina,’” Ferguson said. “‘Why can’t Celina be like that?’”

‘An appetizer for trick-or-treating’

When Ferguson moved to Celina in 2014, Halloween celebrations in downtown Celina were a bit different.

As he described it, on Halloween, school would let out at around 4 p.m., children would rush to put on costumes and head downtown, they’d do some trick-or-treating and then go home to eat dinner before doing “real” trick-or-treating. The whole ordeal meant people were gone within about 30 minutes, Ferguson said.

“I didn’t see where the merchants were really benefiting and so forth,” Ferguson said. “So I thought, I would really like it if we could do something different on the square, something bigger.”

Thus was born “Beware! Of the Square,” featuring, yes, trick-or-treating, but also bounce houses, carnival rides, a movie viewing and even a Halloween-themed performance by the Celina High School Theater Department.

The event’s first run in 2019 garnered about 7,000 people, Ferguson said. In 2020, the same event, in the midst of a pandemic, attracted 5,000.

“People needed to get out and do something, and being an outside event where you can social distance if you want or even take whatever precautions are appropriate for you, then, you know, people were able to do that,” Ferguson said. “So it was a good time. But we’re expecting the biggest crowd ever this year.”

The zombie that won’t die

Back in February, Ferguson figured one way to make the event even bigger than before could be to claim the title of Texas’s Halloween Capital. It seemed like a winning idea until someone pointed out that any other Texas city could potentially do the same thing down the road.

“So I thought well, that’s a good point. I wonder how we make this official,” Ferguson said.

Enter Texas House Rep. Scott Sanford and State Sen. Drew Springer. Ferguson reached out to Sanford asking what could be done to designate Celina as the state’s Halloween Capital. The process sounded a lot like getting a bill passed into law, including going through floor votes and the necessary signature from Gov. Greg Abbott.

Ferguson said Alexis Jackson, Celina’s Economic Development Corporation director, suggested going with a North Texas designation to emphasize Celina’s geographic location and to avoid resistance from legislators.

Sanford penned a resolution that would designate Celina the Halloween Capital of North Texas, and it made it through a House vote with 144 yeas. Springer got the bill through a senate committee, but as the regular legislative session came to a close, the resolution was unable to get to a floor vote on the Senate. It had effectively died in committee because there had been no chance to vote on it, Ferguson said.

“So I thought ‘Well, we gave it a shot, we got most of the way there, just not all of the way there,’” Ferguson said.

Meanwhile, he had asked Collin County Judge Chris Hill about a county-level designation if the state resolution didn’t make it. Hill said yes and began working on the process. Then, Abbott called a special session of the Texas Legislature.

Ferguson reached out to Springer’s office and was told they were planning to file the legislation as soon as the filing period opened.

“It’s like the zombie you thought was dead and now it’s back to life again,” Ferguson said.

However, an absence of Texas House Democrats during the session meant the resolution was stuck in the Twilight Zone without a quorum, foiling Celina’s would-be state designation.

Hill, however, followed through.

On Thursday, the city of Celina shared a proclamation, signed by the county judge, designating Celina as the official Halloween Capital of North Texas.

“Transforming their historic downtown square into a Halloween showcase, the city of Celina has created one of the greatest annual fall celebrations in the region,” Hill said in a city press release. “I commend the city staff and the Celina community for making this a fantastic and safe event for families from throughout North Texas, and I was honored to name Celina the Halloween Capital of North Texas.”

The designation went into effect on Wednesday.

With the Texas Legislature meeting for its second special session this year, Ferguson said Sanford and Springer are also set to issue a joint resolution commemorating Celina’s event.

This year’s iteration of “Beware! Of the Square” is set for 4-9 p.m. Oct. 23. Ferguson said the goal is to make the event bigger and better every year.

“There’s easily going to be over 100,000 pieces of candy this year for kids to get, so it’s going to be nuts,” Ferguson said.

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