Some tales from the Halloweens ‘of yore’

Happy Halloween!When ghosts and goblins by the score,

Ring the bell on your front door —

And your little white house, turns GREEN!

From gheelies and ghosties,

And long-legged beasties,

And things that go “Bump” in the night,

Deliver us,  O God!

Well, it’s almost Halloween again. It’s that night of the year when the kids trot — or, more likely nowadays, ride — around to the neighbors, Grandma’s house, kindly Mr. Joneses’, and so forth, suitably garbed to scare the crap out of people (adults often can be good actors on Halloween), and shout,  “Trick or Treat!” in hopes of getting a bag of goodies — well, maybe half a bag. And nowadays, the parents hope against hope that no needles, or Ex-Lax, have been cleverly inserted into the candy.

I’ve often wondered why the phrase is “Trick or Treat.” Always seemed to me like it should have been, “Treat or Trick.” In other words, “Hey, kindly Mr. Jones, if you don’t give me some candy, or something equally yummy to the juvenile pallet, something unpleasant may happen to your windows tonight.” For the younger folk who may not have even heard of that, I’m talking about using a bar of soap to smear insults, vulgarities, or whatever, onto the  exteriors of windows at the homes where the young Halloweener got the bum’s rush, instead of some tasty snacks. Used to be a common practice used against those spoil sports who wouldn’t “come up with the goods.”

But some more on that subject a little later.

Pranks thought up by young Halloweeners were limited only by what their imaginations could conceive. There are probably many which have been lost to history, or were “one-off”  tricks thought up by an especially imaginative and sinister lad. I’m sure there were others, common, that I’ve never heard of. But here are a few I learned about from my dad, or read about in old books:

In the days before motor vehicles, all farmers of course had at least one farm wagon, and at least one carriage, surrey, buckboard, or whatever, that the horses could pull you to town in. Many a farmer arose early on the day after Halloween, went out to start his morning chores — and found his wagon sitting astraddle of the ridgepole of the roof of his barn!  Often several teen-aged troublemakers would sneak into a farmer’s barnlot in the middle of Halloween night, dismantle the wagon or other horse-drawn conveyance sufficient to allow them to hoist the pieces up onto the roof (with the aid of a ladder, also supplied by the farmer, of course), then re-assemble the wagon, leaving it sitting proudly on its high promontory, where the farmer would have a helluva time getting it down. My guess is that the farmer’s cuss words resounded over the meadows and down the dell on many of those occasions.

Did any of those pranksters get caught in the act by a farmer who was more alert than the average, and chased them off with rock salt from his shotgun stinging their posteriors? Possibly. No; probably. But, they saw the risk as worth it, in order to “put one over” on a farmer they didn’t like.

Dad told me about another prank he and his friends around Napoleon, in Ripley County, used to pull, in the early years of the 20th Century. It was called “tick-tacking.” Keep in mind, this was before both radio and television. Some families had a phonograph, or “gramophone,” as it was first called, but they didn’t listen to the records constantly in the evenings as most of us do with our TV sets. Hence, it was often relatively quiet in the living room of the average family of those days, during the evening hours after supper and nightfall.

The young scamps would obtain a long length of thread — probably from their mother’s spools; a bobby pin; and a small piece of resin. That’s the stuff violinists rub onto their bows so they will coax a tune out of the strings, in case you didn’t know.

The bobby pin would be bent out straight; the tricksters would sneak up to the living room window in the dark; and they would ease one end of the pin down between the wood and the glass. One end of the thread would have been tied to the upright end of the pin. Then the young impresario would rub the resin back and forth on the thread. “Tack-tack-tack! Tack-tack-tack! Tack-tack-tack!” would go the pin against the glass, causing those in the room to jump and look at each other and around the room with an “What was that?!” expression on their faces. A search would begin by the family for the continuing tick-tack sound. Of course, when a family member headed for the outside door, it was time for the young scoundrels to high-tail it down the road, pin, thread and resin in hand. There were other houses to be “tick-tacked”!

And of course (bet those of you of a certain age were waiting for this one!) there was the old “upset the outhouse” trick. Again, for those of you too young to remember, the outhouse was the predecessor of the indoor bathroom. Your grandparents, great-gJack-O-Lanternrandparents, and on back, had to journey out to it in the back yard, in all kinds of weather, day and night, to relieve those calls of nature which can’t be avoided for long.  An old Sears, Roebuck catalogue usually was kept by the “hole” (or “holes,” in larger latrines), for the obvious “tidying-up” required after. It gave you something to read while you were sitting there, too. And of course, the hole in the wooden seat wasn’t the only one; each privy had a pit dug underneath it for “deposits.” Sort of like a bank, you might say.

Again, a group of mischievous boys would sneak up to the outhouse on Halloween night, gather on one side of the little structure, and on the count of “One, two, THREE!” they would all heave-ho in unison, and over would go the privy. And away the urchins would go, laughing like loons, to upend someone else’s little house with the half-moon cut into the door.

Dad told me about one such caper in which he was an accomplice, which didn’t go quite as planned. One of his friends who was pushing on the side of the outhouse, became over-balanced just at the tipping moment, and fell forward, arms first, right into the pit. Dad said he heard some cuss words alien to even his ears as his friend struggled to get out of the pit, and his other friends, almost helpless with laughter, tried to help the befouled one. Dad said the boy had to go home, bathe and change clothes. And he said the friend told him later that his mother wouldn’t let him into the house until he removed the aromatic clothing — which he later burned.

There’s an old joke about the outhouse tippers. A young boy participated in the prank with his friends one Halloween, even going so far as helping them upset his own family’s privy. The next day, his father approached him, with a dark look on his countenance, and said, “Junior, was you out last night with them friends of yours, turning over outhouses?” Junior ducked his head, blushed, and finally said, “Yes, Pa, I was.” And Pa continued, “And did you boys turn OUR outhouse over?” Shaking now, Junior stammered “Y-yes, Pa; I cannot tell a lie: We did.” So Pa took Junior by the arm, pulled his own belt out of his pants with the other hand, and said, “Then, son, I’m gonna have to give you a good hidin’!” Desperately looking for a way out, Junior said, “B-but Pa, when George Washington cut down the cherry tree, and his pa asked him if he done it, and he said, ‘I cannot tell a lie — I done it with my little hatchet,’ why, his pa never hided HIM!” Junior’s Pa smiled just a smidgin, and he said, “Yes, but, Junior, George Washington’s pa wasn’t IN the cherry tree when he cut ‘er down!”

For some reason, that reminds me of something that I’ve been told happened three Halloweens in a row, right here in Madison, Indiana. There used to be a male teacher at Madison Consolidated High School who — well, let’s just say he couldn’t maintain order very well in his classes, and was often the target of students’ pranks. Now, no names; those MCHS grads “of a certain age” will know who I’m talking about.

This teacher lived downtown, and one Halloween Eve, several boys hatched up a bright idea — one might say it “flamed up” suddenly in their heads.

That Halloween evening, the teacher was seated in his living room, reading a newspaper, when he heard shouts from outside: “Fire! FIRE!” He jumped up, ran to the front door, and threw it open. There,  in front of the door on his porch, a pile of newspapers was blazing for all that was out. The teacher, terrified for his house, lunged through the doorway and began stamping heavily on the burning newspapers, to douse them.

Bad mistake. Wrapped up inside the papers was a large quantity of dog manure, carefully gathered from several alleys by the boys, who were hiding around the corner, trying with only partial success to stifle their laughter. The poor, gullible teacher had a lot of cleaning up to do on his porch — and his shoes — that night.

And — I kid you not, folks — these same boys pulled the same prank on that same teacher the next Halloween, and the one after that. And he fell for it, every time. He taught, every day; but he never learned.

I’ll wind up this meandering tale about All Hallows Eve with a personal story — to show you how stupid and irresponsible junior high kids can be.

When my best friend of childhood, Gavin Lodge, and I were 13 years old, we decided we’d have a final Halloween fling before we were “too old” (as if we weren’t already!) I’m using Gavin’s name here because, sadly, he’s been deceased for many years.

We bought a Halloween mask each — I don’t remember any more what the faces were. We didn’t try to put on any other sort of costumes — just our regular clothes.

After dark on Halloween, we left the Englewood Motel, which my parents owned then, and started down Michigan Road. We were “armed,” so to speak, with a bar of soap. Remember what I said earlier about soaping windows? Well, we decided to do that. But we were going to be real, smart-assed little jerks about it. We would knock on the front doors, do our “trick or treat” shtick, and then, with treats in hand (we hoped), we would depart — then sneak around to the back side of the house, and soap up one of their windows, just for meanness!

We did get treats most places — I remember at one of the first ones we stopped, we caught a glimpse of one of our female classmates, fleeing from the front room when she heard the knock on the door, wearing a revealing little nighty. We both regretted not getting to see more of THAT! We got a treat — AND some candy, at that house!

Most of the people found it amusing to see two kids both nearing six feet tall, doing the Halloween bit. They didn’t know what we were going to do after we left their living rooms, of course. I remember that at one house where they pleaded having no sweets on hand, Gavin wrote on their back window, “You didn’t give us a treat, so here’s your trick!”

We worked our way clear to the top of the Michigan Hill, where Gavin lived. Then we went way back to the last house on Fairmount Drive — some very nice residences up there! When we got to it, we knocked and knocked; no answer. No lights on. The family was gone, somewhere.

They had a large picture window. Gavin left his piece de resistance for the night on that: “Since you weren’t here to give us a treat, have fun cleaning this off!” He wrote it backward on the window so they could read it from inside.

Then we split up for the night; we’d done enough mischief. It never occurred to us at the time, that we could have been detained by the police as juveniles for some of the stuff we did, had we gotten caught. Kids! They can be stupid at times, can’t they?

Many years later, I had become friends with the son of the people who lived in the house with the picture window, on Fairmount Drive. Taking a chance one day, I asked him if he remembered someone leaving a soaped message on their window one Halloween.

He gave me a dirty look. “Yeah; I remember,” he said, without a trace of a smile.

I think I know who had to clean off the window.









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