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9/11 horror scares away ghouls & ghosts at Halloween

New York, Oct. 28 (Reuters): Forget the ghouls, ghosts and things that go bump in the night.

This Halloween, after more than a year of al Qaida attacks, talk of war with Iraq and, most recently, the Washington-area sniper, scary and violent are out. Whimsy and fantasy are in for American trick-or-treaters.

Even last year’s popular police and firefighter costumes are likely to be scarcer this October 31 as cartoon and fantasy characters, musketeers and fairies — along with a few more grown-up Marilyn Monroes, Lucille Balls and Carmen Mirandas — seek candy on the front stoops of the nation. Martha Stewart may even make a, ahem, stylishly late appearance!

“We have not sold a lot of gory,” said Valerie Murray, co-owner of United Masks & Party Manufacturers in Sebring, Florida. “Things changed after 9-11.”

She said the hottest Halloween item now is angel or fairy wings. “It’s probably our number one item, isn’t that unbelievable! I’ve been shipping them all over the world.”

Murray, whose company sells costumes and masks online and to retailers, said she has sold out of Hamburglars — the McDonald’s character who steals hamburgers, a figure of fear hardly on the scale of the angel of death.

The shift to less violent costumes is understandable, said Dr. Joyce Brothers, a popular psychologist. “It’s all fairyland now. We’ve had so much real fear, people don’t want ersatz. The whole point of Halloween is that it gives us a chance to change our image, to deal with fears and show we can handle them.”

“But we’ve been so flooded that we just don’t need it now,” she said.

Paul Blum, owner of the giant Abracadabra store in Manhattan, which sells masks, costumes and props, said: “People are not going for the scary stuff, Frankensteins and Mummys.”

Although Halloween has become the second-biggest shopping holiday behind Christmas, manufacturers and retailers are not expecting a bonanza this year.

A survey by the National Retail Federation forecast that US sales of candy, costumes and decorations for Halloween will be flat compared with 2001, at about $6.9 billion.

Many retailers, like Gap Inc's Old Navy, promote special lines of Halloween products seasonally .“Our top sellers are frogs and firemen for baby, and the all-time favorite, the pumpkin,” said spokesman Jonathan Finn.

Old Navy does not sell adult Halloween costumes, but has lots of accessories for kids, including glow-in-the-dark skeleton or pumpkin T-shirts, special flashlights and bunny and doggie ears.

George Garcia, manager of Chicago’s huge Fantasy Costumes, said cheerleaders are big this year, including themed Zombie cheerleaders and patriot cheerleaders.

Also big are the usual cartoon characters and super-heroes — Spiderman and Batman, as well as Peter Pan. Another popular item is the Scooby-Doo family — both human and canine — following the successful movie version of the TV cartoon.

“We’re still selling a lot of props — skeletons, bones, blood, but lots of adults want to dress up in ’70s’ stuff,” said Garcia. “No (Iraqi leader) Saddams (Hussein) this year, and usually Presidents are big sellers, but not this year.”

A surprise hit is Marilyn Monroe, who was found dead 40 years ago this year, Garcia told Reuters.

He said some people were asking for Martha Stewart masks, after TV’s doyenne of good taste who is caught up in an insider-trading scandal.

And an enterprising man in California has a successful line of Martha Stewart items.

Gary Mittin, who works in real estate in the Los Angeles area, has websites (www.marthastewartlivinginjail.com and www.surrendermartha.com) cashing-in on Stewart’s notoriety.

But he took down www.marthamask.com, because he couldn't handle the demand for his homemade masks of the style guru. “They took too long to make and I have a full-time job,” Mittin said.

But he said he was doing brisk business in his $9.99 line of T-shirts. There’s an orange “Department of Corrections” with Martha on the chest, a “Surrender Martha” and the classic black with “Martha Stewart Living in Jail” written behind prison bars, a nod to Stewart's namesake magazine. “Martha is such a prime target because people didn't like her to start with,” said Mittin. “I wish her a happy Halloween and maybe I will dress as her warden,” he said.

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