Ron Wagman admits it gets a little tougher every year to come up with the perfect costume for Freakfest.
But Wagman, who has been dressing up for Madison's annual Halloween party on State Street since 1977, hit the mother lode with his giant sheriff get-up for Saturday's bash.
"It's hard topping yourself every year," said Wagman, as he posed with a steady stream of fellow revelers from his post in front of Paul's Club, where he stood on 10-gallon paint cans inside his monstrously large boots, tipping his "30-gallon" cowboy hat to admiring passersby.
"I've got a real boring job," said Wagman, an accountant in Madison. "I sit and punch numbers 364 days a year. This is the one day I get to have fun. I just love interacting with all these people."
In previous years Wagman, 50, has been an Operation game, a Stratego game piece, a Viking Cruise ship — "That was a good one," he said — and infamous Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman.
"Halloween is my time of the year," said Wagman, who figured he would pose for at least 1,000 photos by the end of the night. "I'm an old-timer, but I just love it."
While Freakfest no doubt skews toward the college-age crowd, it also has become a tradition for those a generation or two older.
Kathy Dutilly, 61, and husband Henri, 60, of Stoughton came dressed this year as Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson — the English king who gave up his throne in 1936 and the American woman for whom he gave it up. The Dutillys have been regulars as long as there's been a Halloween celebration on State Street — "since he abdicated," said Kathy Dutilly, who enjoys "the fun, the creativity, the costumes."
They were joined by Cathy Broan, 58, of Green Bay, who drew on current events to portray the Maine Zumba instructor accused of prostitution. Her companion, Alan Carlson, 66, of Stoughton donned a scarlet A as John B. Good.
"It's reversal of fortune — it's a guy who got the A," Broan said of the reference to the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel "The Scarlet Letter."
"It's good to be around all ages and people who just want to have a good time," Carlson said.
Madison police spokesman Joel DeSpain described the crowd of more than 33,000 revelers as "spirited" but without the edge that brought violence and rioting to the event for several years beginning in 2002.
No significant incidents were reported, DeSpain said. Four people were arrested, and 32 were cited, most for offenses such as underage drinking or having open intoxicants on the street.
About 300 officers were on hand, including members of the State Patrol, Dane County Sheriff's Office, Capitol Police, Fitchburg Police Department and State Fair Park Police.
Traffic from a Badgers football game that went into overtime and ended after Downtown streets were closed for Freakfest created an anticipated gridlock, DeSpain said.
Despite the upcoming election and the accompanying hullabaloo it has inspired, there were relatively few politically themed costumes in sight.
Among early arrivals, there wasn't a Big Bird to be seen, though there were Angry Birds and at least a couple chickens.
While Halloween's commercial explosion in recent years has been a boon for costume shops around town, there was no shortage of homemade outfits.
UW basketball player Evan Anderson and his girlfriend, Karlie Ganzer, came dressed as a plug (Anderson) and an outlet (Ganzer) that they fashioned out of cardboard earlier in the day.
"We shopped at one place for about an hour," Anderson said, "but the cool costumes all cost at least $50. We just couldn't decide."
So Ganzer Googled Halloween costumes for couples to find inspiration.
Brian Heidemann and Leah Paape also dressed up on the cheap — he spent $3 on his night stand costume, complete with tissue box and a light shade on his head — while she sunk $7 into her clothes hamper suit.
"I figured you've got to wear something," Heidemann said. "So I just looked around the house and saw the nightstand."
State Journal reporter Dennis Punzel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6486. State Journal reporter Sandy Cullen can be reached at email@example.com or 608-252-6137.