One student’s simple question has created a staple bucket-list item at Emory: trick or treating at President Wagner’s house.
This event is a time for costumed students to make their way along the dark driveway, pay a visit to Lullwater House, enjoy the decorations, fellowship, a cappella music and of course, grab some candy.
According to Emory University Chief of Protocol and Executive Director of the Office of University Events Michael Kloss, the event runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and the entrance to Lullwater Preserve will most likely be closed around 9:30 p.m. to avoid having students walk all the way to the house just to be disappointed by not being able to get in before the event ends.
“The tradition sort of started itself,” President James Wagner said. “For the first couple of Halloweens that we were living in Lullwater, Debbie would purchase some candy, but not a single person came to the door. On the week of Halloween during our third year in the house, I was addressing a group of students and taking some questions. One student asked if she could come trick or treating at Lullwater, to which I responded, ‘If you do, you will be the first ever to come.’”
That Halloween, the Wagners had about 65 students show up. They came in small groups and would sit around the fireplace until another group would come. In the following years they hosted about 100 to 150 students.
“In the early days before so many students put this on their bucket list, I used to bake cookies and participate in what used to be very informal conversations around the Lullwater fireplace,” Deborah Wagner said.
In 2012, the event got on some lists and entire floors from residence halls showed up as did groups from Fraternity Row.
According to Mrs. Wagner, around 400 people came that year and the cookies were gone early. Since then, it has become a more formally-planned event with close to 600 students coming to the house each year.
“I went my freshman year with my hall from Dobbs,” College sophomore Greta Luna-Priego said. “I thought the decorations were really with the theme of Halloween and it kind of got everyone really excited to be there. There was a performance from AHANA, the a cappella group, which I really enjoyed as well. I think it was a really good first year experience and it kind of got me excited for the next few years of Halloween as a college student.”
The Wagners now work with the house manager, campus events staff and the Student Alumni Board to plan, execute and host the event. As it has grown, so have the traditions.
“My favorite memories are of the informal conversations. I still enjoy the conversations, although now a bit more hurried,” President Wagner said. “Another great memory was the year that The Gathering [an all girls a capella group] just showed up and sang for us all. Now a cappella music is part of the tradition.”
Some come for the many a cappella groups that perform and most stay for the conversations.
Chai Tunes member and College sophomore Alex Caldwell performed there last year.
“I thought it was really nice that the president of a university would open up his home like that to all of the students for Halloween,” Caldwell said. “It was nice to see Mrs. Wagner because she was so friendly and she was talking to a lot of the different students.”
Regardless of what brings the students to the Lullwater house, it is something many enjoy.
“Certainly it’s something you should shoot for,” College sophomore Matt Lamourie said. “It happens pretty early… so there’s no harm in going there and then going out to a party later on. I would definitely recommend you do it for the freshman experience.”
This will be Wagner’s last time hosting the event as he is stepping down after this year.
“Interestingly, your article will be the first formal publicity that trick or treating at Lullwater has ever received,” Wagner said. “We have never publicized the event or issued invitations. But in spite of that, it has grown. We have had fun being part of it.”
Correction: The article is updated to reflect that the actual event is to run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and omits part of a quote that suggests the event is at midnight.