Did You Know?
Did you know that on this date a hundred years ago, the Connellsville Daily
Courier was preparing its readers for the upcoming event known as the city’s
Hallowe’en had been part of a national celebration (one that carried with it
distinctly local flourishes) for quite some time by 1909.
But that year, and in Connellsville, the Daily Courier reported the, “costumes
being prepared are unique and beautiful,” for the upcoming Friday celebration.
Halloween hadn’t always been the source of such eager anticipation. The nights
of October 31st each year, have undergone as many changes in forms and fashion
as the word – Halloween – itself.
The word Halloween is derived from the Gaelic festival known as All Hallows’ Eve
(or Evening). I found the earliest references to Halloween in the November 10th,
1802 edition of the United Kingdom’s Edenburgh Midlothian.
It was a cautionary tale that warned young “Hallow-e’en” revelers to avoid
leaping from concealment and frightening people to death.
That certainly wasn’t the last newspaper warning of that kind of thing.
Halloween shenanigans of a varying degree of seriousness have simply become an
integral part of Americana – thanks in most part to the Irish immigrants who
traveled to the New World with their All Hallows’ Eve traditions in tact.
By 1868, the Davenport (Ia.) Daily Gazette claimed in that year’s post-Halloween
edition that, “the throwing of squashes through windows, and frightening people
half to death, is an outrage.”
It also claimed the “pagan” rites of All Hallows Eve shouldn’t be confused with
the Christian celebration of All Saints Day that directly followed it.
That may have been true, but it was quite clear at that point that young people
(I seem to remember I used to be one of them myself) saw Halloween as being the
only one of the year’s 365 days – that belonged just to them.
It may have been considered criminal offenses to newspaper writers and to local
police authorities for children to have embarked on expeditions of (and these
come directly from decades of articles written about them) “starting leaf and
tire fires, stealing porch furniture, overturning outhouses, deflating tires,
ripping down mailboxes, hoisting handfuls of dried corn kernels at homes,
covering your neighbor’s windows with soap or writing profane chalk messages on
the sidewalks of innocent homeowners – but to America’s young people it was just
“ALL Halloween to-day, watch your cabbage patches,” was the one line warning in
the October 31st, 1872 edition of the Indiana (Pa.) Progress. It might have well
said “run for cover.”
It may have been wishful thinking to some, however, that many of the youthful
Halloween indulgences were on the wane.
Under the headline “HALLOWE’EN DEGENERATING” in the November 5th, 1886 edition
of the Connellsville Keystone Courier, it was declared that, “Halloween is not
what it used to be. The time-honored custom of making a re-apportionment of
sign-boards regardless of incongruities, pounding of front doors with cabbage
stumps, and other freaks more or less lawless, but has been all but abandoned,
to the great relief of the peaceful citizen.”
Well, it’s not my role to knock another newspaper writer – especially one from
1886, but whoever wrote that was wrong.
Here’s the proof. “Two young men of New Castle (Pa.) pleaded guilty to
disorderly conduct paid fines in order to shield girl friends who had smoked
stuffed a chimney and smoked out the family of William R. Reynolds on
Halloween,” was an item I found in the November 7th, 1901 edition of Uniontown’s
Daily News Standard.
So, Halloween “violence” hadn’t, as predicted, receded.
In fact, only five days later the Daily News Standard reported a local event
that called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. “On Halloween night
some mischievous boys (how’d they know it was boys) destroyed and carried away
about 50 feet of paling (picket) fence from in front of J.T. Gorley’s property
on Walnut Street. That was malicious mischief that deserves to be punished,” it
Nothing, and that included frequent editorial admonishments, and the constant
warnings by local police chiefs, prevented Halloween nights (and even entire
weeks), from stemming the flow of petty marauding by happy Halloween celebrants.
That is, until local church groups and civic leaders devised new means for
exhausting the energies of those would-be vandals. They called them Halloween
parades and Halloween parties.
Across the country, parents, schools, churches, service organizations and city
fathers discovered that acting in concert to organize community-based
celebrations was one way of setting their fellow citizens at ease.
After all, it was much easier teaching a youngster to dunk for freshly picked
apples, than to clean up after one of them used a rotten apple for the purposes
of target practice on their front doors.
And the citywide parades, like the one in Connellsville in 1909, meant that
everybody could take part in a night of fun – not just school children.
But about that time, there was a new development. It was simply called “trick or
treat.” Ah, allow me to pause for a moment just to relish that phrase…….TRICK OR
I found the earliest mention of that particular activity in the Canadian
newspaper, the Lethbridge Herald dated November 7th, 1927.
“The youthful tormentors were at the back door and front demanding edible
plunder by the word ‘trick or treat’ to which the inmates (the residents) gladly
responded and sent the robbers away rejoicing,” it said.
Treat or treating was, at various times, considered “a demand, a threat, a
shakedown, an ultimatum, a cute little racket where well-behaved children are
transformed into grinning gangsters, a community nuisance or just
plain-begging,” by adults. Yet, it’s lasted in some form for the better part of
By the 1950’s, trick or treating was so well-accepted that there were fewer
mentions of widespread vandalism associated with it than ever before.
Corporate America, with its endless candy and costume ads, had clearly embraced
it – and so have parents and city officials.
While there will always be some concerns about the safety of the children and
for personal property, Halloween still has its delightful community moments.
And for trick or treating?
It still relies on a bit of charity, small surprises, and some good old
fashioned neighborly fun.