The more Holloween changes, the more it stays the same


I was sitting, looking out my window one morning recently, watching the falling leaves fluttering by, and waving goodbye to the summer when my thoughts turned to Halloween at the end of the month.

I am sure most of us have warm memories of Halloween from our childhood and so do I. It was the one night when you could be whatever you wanted to be, and be given candy and treats if you just asked. I used to ring doorbells and yell “Trick or treat. Smell my feet. Give me something good to eat.”

The phrase “trick or treat” used to be an implied threat, give me candy or I’ll play a trick on you. As young children, we didn’t mean it literally. But eventually, as adolescents, we outgrew trick or treating and used Halloween to preform pranks and light forms of vandalism.

I used to go down Bailey Avenue in Buffalo the day after tricks or treats night and see all the store windows waxed and soaped up. I never used wax myself but did use soap. There were quite a few raw eggs that had been thrown around also. In the residential areas, homes and trees would get TP’d. This would turn into a real mess when it rained.

Sixty years ago, children dressed like horror legends such as Frankenstein or the Mummy, policemen, soldiers, fireman, and sports figures. I had three basic costumes back then. One was a hobo. I would grab an old well-worn shirt out of the “rag bag” and maybe shred it a bit more. I would pair this with a worn pair of dungarees (this is what we called jeans back then) and take scissors to them, maybe sew a patch or two on them and this would be my outfit. I would also rub a burnt cork on my face to simulate some whiskers.

My second costume was as a cowboy. I would dig in my toy box and pull out my best toy cap gun, holster and a cowboy hat. The last costume I had was as a ghost. This was the best one because nobody could see your face. I would get an old sheet from my mother and cut two eye holes in it. Voila! Instant costume. None of those store-bought outfits with the plastic masks for me.

In the 1950s and 1960s, trick-or-treaters took whatever treat they were given. Every neighborhood had a house where a kindly old lady allowed us to pick our treat from a plate full of homemade candies, cakes or cookies.  Back then, families would permit their children to go out trick-or-treating with their older brothers, sisters or even the neighbor’s children.

My loot bag was an old pillowcase and if I didn’t fill it at least twice, it was a bad night. I would don my costume right after dinner and head out to pillage the neighborhood in ever-increasing circles. Once my bag was filled, I would return home and dump the contents on a newspaper in the dining room and head out for another round.

While I was gone, my parents would sort out my treasure separating out the fruit and anything homemade or repackaged. I was only allowed to keep individually wrapped mass-produced candy and wasn’t allowed to eat anything until my parents had examined my loot. For some reason though, Peanut Butter Cups also fell into the suspicious category and they would be gone when I returned never to be seen again.

I read that this was because of paranoia about contaminated treats and was the result of unsubstantiated urban legends involving razor blades in apples or poisoned treats. Wikipedia says that no child has ever been killed by eating Halloween candy from a stranger. Snopes has collected an impressive array of rumors about adulterated Halloween treats and found them all to be untrue.

One year I had a Halloween party in my parent’s basement. I produced “touch boxes” where my guests would reach thru a hole and feel things while I told a horror story, the few things I remember was a bowl of raw chicken livers, a natural sponge covered with Karo syrup to simulate a brain covered in blood and peeled grapes to imitate eyeballs. We also bobbed for apples and had a few other Halloween themed games. I hosted this party when I lived in Buffalo but discontinued it once we moved to the country.

As people moved to the suburbs, they found that these neighborhoods weren’t very favorable for trick-or-treating. The suburbs sometimes lack sidewalks forcing children to walk in the street. Many suburban neighborhoods boast large lots and this causes the kids to walk long distances going from house-to-house while trick or treating.

In rural areas, where the trek between homes is even longer, parents would sometimes pack up their children and head to more urban neighborhoods where the residents there might quickly run out of candy.

Nowadays, children aren’t very familiar with their neighborhoods, combine this with the danger of traffic and it is best that parents accompany trick-or-treaters. A fairly recent invention is called “trunk or treat”. People hand out candy from their cars in parking lots. They often decorate their car’s trunk for this occasion.

Halloween sure has changed since I was a kid.

Norbert Rug is a writer from Lockport.







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