The overgrown and frequently vacant McCarthy Park was transformed into a haven for candy-hungry vampires, devils, and Little Bo Peeps this past Sunday. The Halloween celebration, organized by the University’s Public Cultures Sociology class, aimed to bring together Middletown residents and Wesleyan students in an effort to familiarize people with the underutilized field behind WesWings.
“We wanted to celebrate McCarthy Park as a unique public space in downtown Middletown,” wrote Professor of Sociology Robyn Autry in an email to The Argus. “The park is a local landmark and is the largest open space in the vicinity, but it’s under-used. We wanted to bring attention to this valuable community resource and encourage people to meet their neighbors, in a place where we rub shoulders with people we might not otherwise meet.”
Autry worked with students in her Public Cultures class and members of the Friends of McCarthy Park, a neighborhood organization dedicated to improving McCarthy Park, to plan the Halloween event. Students helped to set up tables with a cupcake walk, face painting, pumpkin painting, a Polaroid photo booth, little Halloween goodies, and lots of candy and food.
John Elmore, one of the organizers of Friends of McCarthy Park, helped to advertise the event in the Middletown community by putting up posters in Main Street storefronts as well as placing an ad in the Middletown Eye. Families and their little children came to celebrate Halloween afternoon before heading out for an evening of trick-or-treating.
“We were hoping to get Wesleyan students, people from Middletown, and lots of kids” said Lina Breslav ’13, a student in the class. “We wanted to give them something to do in the afternoon, and bring everyone together. It relates to our class because we’ve been learning about public places–parks specifically–so this is perfect for us.”
The space has not always been under-utilized. According to Jennifer Saines, a local Middletown resident and member of the Friends of Middletown Park, the bleachers, now overgrown with trees and underbrush, used to be filled with a thousand people to watch football games, but it hasn’t been used in years. There also been disagreement over how it can be best used.
“In the past, people wanted the park to be made into a senior center, but the city council decided to keep it a public park,” said Alexia Nazarian ’13, another student in the class. “We wanted this event to draw attention to this great public space, and to bring a greater sense of community to Wesleyan and Middletown, because this park is on the outskirts of each.”
Now, however, with the creation of Friends of McCarthy Park, and efforts from faculty like Autry, the park has shaped up. Saines has led the effort in receiving grants to develop the space.
“We are on our third grant from the Middlesex County Community Foundation and Community Development Block Grants to improve the quality and accessibility of the park, and we hope to apply for another,” Saines said. “We’ve already added the swing set, a handicapped-accessible ramp, and improved the landscaping. With this one we resurfaced the tennis and basketball courts and installed the swing set. For next year, we’re hoping to improve the old bleachers or develop the hill to make an earthworks piece that kids can play on.”
Already, the efforts by Friends of McCarthy Park have managed to bring University students and Middletown citizens together.
“Yesterday, Throw Culture [the club Ultimate Frisbee team] helped to clean up,” Saines said. “They put new mulch on the path and cleaned up the courts and the sidewalk. Twenty-five students showed up and worked for two hours.”
Autry also believes that the event was a success for both bringing awareness to the park and creating better public culture in the Middletown community.
“I think we managed to bring new people to the park,” Autry said. “The park is tucked away and a lot of people just don’t know it exists, so I hoped we changed that a bit. I also overheard people introducing themselves to each other, which was nice. In terms of my students, they’ve worked so hard to pull this off, so I hope that they saw that cultivating the type of public culture we’ve been studying in class is possible.”
Although the current grant is finished for this year, both Saines and Autry see this event as a start to a bright future for Friends of McCarthy Park, the Sociology department, and the University.
“We’re hoping that similar community events can be held at the park and that everyday usage will increase with the renovations that John Elmore and Jennifer Saines have organized, such as improving the tennis and basketball court and adding the swing set,” Autry said.