Halloween masquerade party has become one of the biggest island bashes of the year
What began as an impromptu Halloween party is now in its 10th year, and has become a lavish masquerade ball some describe as “the best party on the island.” This year, it’s set to evolve again.
The Witches’ Ball is known for elaborate costumes, good food and music, an open bar, special effects and extravagant décor that bring the historic, imaginative and sometimes spooky themes to life.
The brainchild of Clyde and Kim Wood, who own The Witchery on Postoffice Street in Galveston’s downtown, the Witches’ Ball has a reputation for being a fantastic and fantastical night out. Held the Saturday before Halloween, it sells out weeks in advance with 300 people rushing to buy tickets, but it had humble beginnings.
“I thought it would be cool to have a Halloween party and give something back to the community at the same time,” Clyde Wood said. “It was all very impromptu. I ordered the food from Mosquito, got lights from Island Music and went to Economy Liquor to stock the bar. I couldn’t believe it when we sold 100 tickets and I never imagined we would still be doing it 10 years later.”
From the beginning, Wood has donated a portion of proceeds to charity. Each year, the ball raises about $8,000 that for the past four years has been split between the Galveston Island Humane Society and conservationist organization Artist Boat. Wood estimates the Witches’ Ball has given more than $80,000 to charity over the past decade.
“It’s a really good feeling,” he said.
The Witches’ Ball is held at the Scottish Rite Cathedral building on Church and 22nd streets, an ornate Art Deco building designed in 1929 by Alfred C. Finn and today managed by Clyde Wood.
“The Scottish Rite building really is the best kept secret on the island,” Wood said. “I wanted more people to see and experience it. My wife jokes the building is my mistress because I spend so much time there.”
Each year, HVK Studios, an Austin production company, transforms the banquet hall with a set, props and impressive lighting and sound equipment to bring that year’s theme to life. Past balls have featured everything from a circus tent over the dance floor to a realistic Stonehenge made from foam. There are no elevators in the building, so all the equipment and décor must be walked up the stairs, making preparation for the ball a two-day commitment.
Wood has many special memories of Witches’ Balls past and finds it hard to choose a favorite, but one does stand out, he said.
“In 2012, the theme was the end of the world and we had projections of the Mayan calendar and as we neared midnight we had a clicking countdown that resulted in a video explosion while the DJ played R.E.M’s song ‘It’s The End of The World.’ Everyone loved that.”
Elaborate costumes are another key feature of the Witches’ Ball, and the competition for most creative, best witch, best couple and crowd favorite are hotly contested.
“For the crowd favorite category, we actually use a decibel meter to measure the applause to make sure the winner is the person with the loudest response,” Wood said.
There are different judges each year and Wood ensures they remain anonymous to protect the integrity of the competition. This is especially important as people have been known to make big investments in time and money preparing for the ball, he said.
Galveston’s Becky Major and her friend Kathy Devries are two fans of the Witches’ Ball. In 2018, they won the best couple category for “Phoenix & Raven,” two ornate bird costumes covered in pounds and pounds of feathers.
“Usually, in July I will come up with my idea for that year’s ball costume and then I will work on it until October,” Major said. “Kathy and I must have spent at least 80 hours gluing feathers on our capes and costumes.”
In 2017, Major had another memorable costume when she and a friend dressed as the sun and the moon to mark the solar eclipse that occurred that year.
“I’ve always loved dressing up,” Major said. “It is great escape and a way to become a character in another world, to transform yourself.”
Major is creative director of the National Hotel Artist Lofts and is a member of the Krewe de Isle of Misfits, which decorated a bus with 40 pounds of glitter as part of its mission to celebrate creativity and community.
With such a creative pedigree, it’s perhaps no surprise that in 2020 Major and Mike Jordan from HVK Studios will take over organization of the Witches’ Ball from its founders.
The time is right for a change, Clyde Wood said.
“While it is hard to give up something you’ve created, Kim and I are done,” Wood said. “People don’t realize how much work goes into it. It’s basically like organizing a wedding every year.”
Major is excited to be able to keep the Witches’ Ball tradition alive, she said.
“Clyde and Kim have created something so lavish and legendary, I’m honored they are trusting me to do it,” she said. “I’m thinking of a futuristic theme for 2020, but otherwise I won’t be changing anything, including giving back to the community. I’m just pleased that next year Clyde and Kim will be able to come to the ball and just enjoy it.”
Visit witcheryonline.com for information about ticket availability.