PAWTUCKET — It hasn’t been a happy time at Halloweenland. Last weekend’s debut of the carved pumpkin- and Halloween-themed exhibit at Slater Park was delayed due to rain, and this week, it was spoiled by something truly sinister: vandals who snipped electrical wires, broke displays and pumpkins, and apparently tried to start some fires.
An angry and dejected Anthony Walsh, who has sponsored the family-friendly event for the past 13 years at Slater Park, said he couldn’t believe it when he arrived and found the damage. He said the type of damage, which included methodically snipping plastic ties that held overhead wiring in place, ripping out electrical wiring from inside wooden display houses and breaking into a sturdily locked storage shed that hid a stereo and speakers, led him to believe that this was not a random act by kids passing though the park.
“I believe this was someone older, who had a truck. That was the only way they could have reached those wires.” Walsh said. Even though the entire display is surrounded by a chain-link fence and locked, a vandal or vandals apparently scaled the fence to get inside.
From the extent of the damage, which included charred artificial pumpkins and sections of grass that had obviously been set on fire, it also appeared that the vandal or vandals had spent a good amount of time in and around the Halloweenland display, which is located directly in front of the boathouse headquarters of the Rhode Island Watercolor Society and across from the historic Looff Carousel.
Walsh showed a bashed wooden section of one of the wooden Halloween houses that he said he had built himself some 15 years ago. He said that he and a group of volunteers had spent countless hours over the past couple of weeks setting up the annual display, which is geared towards young children and families. Although nothing this serious ever happened, he did encounter some rudeness last year when he switched from real pumpkins to artificial ones, including a woman who spat at him and demanded her $4 entry fee back.
Pawtucket Parks and Recreation Director John Blais said there had also been some minor damage to a pallet at the Haunted Tunnel display that is located near Daggett Farm. There was also recent damage to the two wooden signs that advertise the Halloween events from the street. Both were chained securely to street signs, and Blais said it appeared that someone had used a vehicle to plow into them, bending the sign pole as well. Additionally, a few days ago, the sign outside Halloweenland was tagged with grafitti.
“It seems like someone is out to get us this year,” said Blais. “This is an event for the community. We’re trying to do something for the community.” He added that Walsh donates proceeds from the events he sponsors to Daggett Farm for its continued maintenance.
Blais also noted that the only reason that more of the display, which is filled with bales of hay and dried cornstalks, didn’t catch fire was because the grass and hay were wet.
Police Major Arthur Martins said that a detective has been assigned to the case, and extra patrols will be done inside the park. He said patrol officers do drive through the park during the night as part of their regular shifts, but resources don’t allow for an officer to be stationed there.
“This is under investigation, and if we find out who did it, they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Martins said.
In the meantime, Walsh said he is offering a $1,000 reward for anyone with the name of the person or persons involved. He is urging anyone with information to call him at (401) 722-9757.