For Highland Park resident Frank Puskas, Christmas arrives two months early – on the night of Halloween, to be exact. Frank, a Cranbury Township schools custodian, has no need to dress up as Santa Claus, because every year since 1977, he has embodied the spirit of Santa on October 31, instead of December 25. Frank’s house on North Fourth has been the North Pole for approximately 20,000 youngsters. Each Halloween, he has doled out five-to-10 dollars worth of candy and toys to any child who has shown up at his front door.
Even a kid can do the math. That means Mr. “Candyman” or Mr. “Halloween,” as he is called by the youngsters, has spent $100,000 to $200,000 delivering huge grins to the faces of the assortment of witches, goblins, fairy princesses, super heroes and this year Star Wars characters. They have opened wide their Halloween bags and their eyes, as Frank has deposited at least a half dozen different items into each bag.
Living in the North Fourth house his entire life, Frank has found a lifetime of joy from his Halloween enterprise. “The money spent on Halloween has brought him more pleasure than a fancy car, vacation or home. I do not know how much he spends. I never asked. It just doesn’t matter,” said Beth Puskas his wife of 34 years.
“The reason he does this is simple. He just loves kids and loves seeing them so happy. We have no kids, so this is really special for us,” said Beth, who spoke to The Planet on behalf of her husband. Frank was “okay” with the Planet doing a story, but he felt uncomfortable talking to the media and calling attention to himself and perhaps sounding as though he were bragging, Beth noted.
Sadly, this year along with the candy and toys, the trick- or-treaters and their parents were given some bad news. There was a sign posted on the porch that said the party is over. October 31, 2015 would be the last year for Mr. Halloween.
“He is just tired,” said Beth, who is a kindergarten teacher in a nearby daycare facility. “The routine is really exhausting. This year we had 625 kids – a few short of our record attendance of 637. We worked from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. non-stop. We only took bathroom breaks,” said Beth who stood on the porch with Frank and helped organize the entire production. By mid afternoon the kids were lined up on Fourth Avenue as though they were waiting for a Disney World ride.
Frank, who is now in his mid-sixties, never planned the Halloween extravaganza – it just evolved. He first started handing out candy, when his mom developed a heart condition. Halloween arrived, and he did not want her getting up and down from the couch to give out the treats. Instead of turning out the lights and refusing to greet the kids, Frank perched himself at the door and handed out the treats himself.
“That was the moment he caught the bug,” said Beth. “He had such a good time.” He decided to keep adding treats and treats and more treats. He would build up his stash of toys months ahead of time – looking for auctions and special sales. But he would wait to buy the candy and Crackerjacks, however, so it would not go stale.
Jenni Chapman, Main Street Highland Park Board Chair, business operator of Over the Moon Toys, and mother of two school-aged children, said that she is “so grateful for the joy and excitement he’s brought to the trick or treaters for so many years. He spends a minute or two with each group that approaches him with kindness and patience, and the children, big and small, are incredibly appreciative of his generosity.”
This year many of the youngsters have written thank you notes – “a particularly big one appeared on my porch. I cannot imagine what we will do next Halloween,” Beth said. Maybe the trick-or-treaters of Highland Park will start tradition of their own – and deliver treats to Frank’s house for many years to come.