Halloween Activities Turned Violent Vandals to Trick or Treaters
October 31st, or Halloween as it’s commonly known, has earned a special place in American culture. What was once a celebration of the harvest and a day of reverence for the souls of the dead is now one of the most beloved family traditions.
On Halloween, in the words of Buffy Summers, “it’s come as you aren’t night.” People wear costumes, some fantastic, others ghoulish, and party the night away. More indoor types can settle down for frights in front of their TV or laptop screens, courtesy of countless horror movies and shows. Teams of craftsmen can transform abandoned buildings or even townhouses for sale into haunted houses.
Sure, things can get a little rowdy, especially if people hit the punch bowl a little too often. But Halloween is hardly Purge Night, isn’t it?
Less than a hundred years ago, you would have been wrong. And scared. During the Great Depression, Halloween was wild.
The Black Halloween
Over a century ago, Halloween pranks were decidedly more macabre. Instead of tangling trees with toilet paper, boys played with dead bodies. In 1879, around 200 boys dragged a dead body right on a railroad track, stopping a train dead. Twenty-one years after that, morbid pranksters spirited a headless corpse from the labs of the University of Michigan to stage a prank. A guide for boys at the time even encouraged them to steal their neighbor’s gates.
It all came to a head during the turbulent years of the Great Depression. In 1933, the disastrous economy and the general feeling of malcontent led to a Halloween that wouldn’t be out of place in a dystopian movie. On that Halloween, hundreds of boys engaged in a slew of violent vandalism across the country. They sabotaged phone lines by sawing the telephone poles, flipped over cars like hordes of zombies, and engaged in widespread looting like it was Purge Night.
In the aftermath of what was dubbed “Black Halloween,” parents and committees across multiple cities considered banning the holiday altogether. However, cunning groups thought of a more interesting way to divert the destructive appetites of their children.
Trick or Treat and Haunted Homes
In what was probably an act of supreme irony, parents and authority figures turned to bribing and distracting the nation’s children during Halloween. Adults held different activities during Samhain (pronounced ‘sah-whin’) to give them alternative entertainment to violence and vandalism.
Just like how older civilizations appeased their spirits and gods with food, households gave roving bands of mons-children sweet treats and candies. Since money was short for most people at the time, communities came together to hold parties that could be supervised, like ancient harvest festivals.
They decorated homes and basements into “trails of terror,” the precursor of what would become the haunted house. People used whatever was lying around to creep out the children. Some nailed raw liver in strips to the walls, a move which would certainly terrify a 21st-century homeowner; others dangled dripping sponges or used hairnets for cobwebs.
Although modern Halloween traditions came from a desperate attempt to appease the nation’s bored and destructive youth, today these activities give the spookiest day of the year life and energy. Would it really be Samhain without a sugar crash? Would it really be All Hallows Eve without a trip into a trail of terror? Would it really be Halloween without the spooky houses?