Two Baltimore bankers masqueraded as M & M's, one man was a plate of leftovers, and one came covered in live worms and not much else (more about him later). One tuxedoed partygoer sported a blinking robot pin on his lapel and a dollar bill for a bow tie. Asked what he was, he answered, "America." A former nun came as a Playboy bunny.

Halloween in Washington.

The classic witches, goblins and ghosts were in abundance, but Halloween has its trendies, too -- three John De Loreans at one party, and two Extra-Strength Tylenol bottles at another. ("The tackiest costume," chuckled John Corcoran, WJLA's movie critic, a costume-party judge.)

Few, however, could compare with the two men and one woman dressed as herpes. Clad in red tights and red sweatshirts with balloons stuffed under their shirts and clustered at their necks, they strolled through one Capitol Hill party crooning "Strangers in the Night."

Who started all this?

The Celts of Europe celebrated a pagan ritual in late autumn to mark both the passage of their year from harvest time to winter and the passage of the dead from this world to the next. According to Smithsonian folklorist Jack Santino, Christian missionaries, in their zeal to convert the Celts, invented holy days to coincide with the pagan celebrations, hoping the Celts would transfer their devotion. They tried by creating All Saints Day (Nov. 1), then All Souls Day (Nov. 2). But the celebration now called Halloween -- All Hallows Eve -- persisted, and, centuries later, it is still All Crazies Day. Herewith, a sampling of the pagan partying:

There were eight of them with various injuries -- one hobbled on crutches with both legs in fake gauze casts, one had his arm in a cast, another had her head wrapped in gauze.

"They call us The Cast Party," said Bailey Lynn, the lawyer on crutches.

"I'm a basket case," said environmental consultant Kitty Adams, who was lying in a basket Saturday night near a table at the Decade Society's Halloween Party in the Pension Building. "We've got a lot of broken bones, one chicken pox, one stretcher case."

The stretcher case was Mary Painter, whose brainstorm was this group costume. She, appropriately, came with her head bandaged. ("She's had very bad brain damage," said Adams.) "We decided to wow them with a big group effort," said Painter as she sipped bourbon and branch in her hospital gown. She is the founding president of the Virginia Wildflower Preservation Society and a professional horsewoman. "Last year, we were the killer bees."

This was a sedate group by Halloween standards. Still, this was the party where Frank Newton of New Jersey came in 200 feet of crumpled tinfoil (the leftover) and where marketing manager Dana Lowry came dressed as Indiana Jones from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," complete with plastic snakes pinned to his pants leg. ("I'm Harrison Ford. I wanted something that went with the way I looked.")

One Tylenol bottle, Vicki Thornton, said of her costume, "It's quite sick."

The other bottle offered this explanation: "I've got a 2 1/2-year-old son. I have to keep down his trick-or-treat activities because of this. It's a crime. This is an open protest," said architect Jim Vipond, in glasses and a giant red bottle cap on his head. "I don't want this to come across as warped. Because I think people doing this are warped."

About 1,600 attended at $25 a head. The Decade Society, made up of young professionals and executives, expects to raise $15,000 to $20,000 from the party for the Special Unit of the Child Protection Center at Children's Hospital. Many of the guests opted for Washington's usual costume, the black tie. They roamed the floor, eyeing the other masqueraders through preppy glasses. Some refused to give their names. ("He works with the National Security Council and likes to keep a low profile outside of work," said one wife.)

Nuns were popular this year, too -- especially among men. One man at the Decade Society's party dressed as an "undercover nun" with mirrored sunglasses and his real mustache. Across town, at a party at the Capital Children's Museum, another guy came as a nun: "I didn't have anything else," said Wayne Stone, who says he had the costume from his days singing with a group in "drag bars."

Then there was the former nun who came as a Playboy bunny. Noel Malone, who works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, left an order in 1965. "Last year, I came as a nun," said Malone, wearing a black satin bunny outfit, black fishnets, and white cottontail. "I used black underwear."

About 200 guests, most in costume, danced in the Mexican room of the museum. The record spinner on a balcony played disco and rock. A couple dressed as giant pumpkins waddled back and forth to the music. Plastic surgeon Harvey Austin came in a black cape, feathers and a beak of a nose that needed his surgical attention. (His nurse, Leslie Super, came as a Walking Q-Tip.)

The party was a benefit for the Holiday Project, a volunteer organization that visits shut-ins and the ill on holidays, and most of the guests knew each other. "A lot of us have done est training," said Lucy Walters, assistant chairman of the ball.

For the artist, of course, Halloween is a busman's holiday.

"It's my favorite day of the whole year," said artist Patrice Kehoe, in glasses and pig nose and hoop-skirted costume, "because you get to dress up like a kid." She and artist-husband Chip Richardson dressed as "Porky and Bess."

Artists Charles Sleichter and Suzanne Codi opened their expansive two-story apartment -- a converted old schoolhouse -- in Northeast to a couple hundred costumed artists and friends. Guests wandered through on chicken feet and stilts, trailing chiffon, bird feathers and worms.

Artist Sal Fiorito, wearing underwear and covered with red fishnet, had attached fat, slimy worms to the net and carried a plastic cup filled with mud and worms. "I'm worm man," he said, "friend of ecology." Fiorito, who won last year's best costume prize as himself and a clone, was busy making the trophies for this year's winners, as is the custom at this party. He didn't have time for anything more elaborate than worms. "This was the cheapest I could do," he said. "Cheverly Sports Fair said they'd sell me 300 worms for $15."

Artist Margery Goldberg came as an urban guerrilla with a sash of bullets across a black tank top and sequined black shorts. ("Doesn't everyone have a pair?" she asked.)

There was a lot of skin showing at this party. Amazon Woman in fur bikini received much applause as she paraded up the floating staircase during the costume judging. She was followed by Peter Pan in green felt.

"I don't know if it takes more guts to be Amazon Woman or Peter Pan," mused one guest.

First prize went to the Regal Barbarians -- art therapist Kim Curry in skimpy metal breast plate, bikini bottom and headdress and her boyfriend, sculptor Stuart Land, in metal and leopard skin. Land designed their costumes. (He also did Amazon Woman's.) "Good thing it's not so cold this year," said Curry, beaming after the winners were announced.

Second prize went to the Bird Lord, who painted his body black and attached a partridge on one arm, turkey feathers on another, and a mask of feathers. "Five days ago, I weighed 10 pounds more," said Bird Lord David Beczak, patting his exposed painted stomach. "I went to Nautilus, I ate millet, and I had the tropical special at the health food store. I starved myself."

All this revelry took its toll. By the time painter Leon Berkowitz appeared at the Sleichter/Codi party, he was reduced to a mass of purple skin and clothes and white hair painted green. "I started out as a bunch of grapes," he said. "I was surrounded by 26 balloons. I couldn't get through doorways. But this is my third party and all I've got left is the stem."