Tuesday, October 28, 2008


These vintage Halloween images are souvenirs of a time when the holiday was truly scary, when kids wore costumes and trick-or-treated for miles in the dark, unchaperoned! This was before the Big Lock-up. I bet there were just as many weirdos back then--axe murderers and child molesters and creepy lunatics crouching behind trees--but nothing stopped these brave kids from hitting the streets with a paper sack or a pillowcase and big candy dreams.

Remember? It was finally Halloween, and you were giddy. Everything was a little crazy. Maybe you got cupcakes at school, that was okay, but you couldn't wait for nightfall. At home you gulped down dinner and considered your costume, which was generally a highly flammable affair with a mask that all but obscured your vision. Halloween night was generally rainy and dark and cold, so you had to align the eye-holes perfectly to see a porchlight, say, or an oncoming car in the wet streets. You couldn't really breathe, either, but breathing wasn't that important compared to the accumulation of candy, ranking somewhat lower on the Hierarchy of Need.

It was rough going. Many were lost in the first few hours. If you were smart you payed attention, learned the ropes, and humped your sack up the hills. Word traveled fast about particularly scary spots. Some adults were generous and friendly, and some were assholes, just like now. Some dressed up and got drunk. Some pretended they weren't home. Some had the best candy. (Best candy: Fun-size Snickers, or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Worst candy: Smartees.)

Like nervous crows signaling a predator, trick-or-treaters spread the word about roving high school kids--still feeling a little burnt about leaving this all behind--some armed with squirt guns and fire crackers. They'd scream and yell and give chase, trying to steal your hard-earned candy. They were huge, maybe ten feet tall, and they had claws that you could feel at your back, but you were small and fast and could dive under bushes and over fences and into backyards, and you had the advantage everywhere but in the huge open spaces where there wasn't any cover, fields and parks and intersections, because they could outrun you there, so you avoided these places at all costs.

Here are two kids preparing for Halloween. Their suits are suitably flammable, and their masks successfully impair their vision. They are so ready! Before they leave the house, some adult (a big brother? a parent?) will warn them about razor blades in apples. They will never see one. In fact, they won't see much of anything, including oncoming traffic. Still, they will brave the elements and all the monsters their imaginations can conjure up, and they will get the candy, plenty of candy, and they will stagger home like combat vets. Jack-o-lanterns will light their way.


Anonymous said...

great story...I remember!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reminiscing about the good old days of Halloween. I agree it was a magical night. I mostly disguised myself as a pirate or a hobo because we could make these costumes at home. Every year I looked forward to going to the five and dime and looking at the masks and bats and things. Good one!

--David Rule

Bob Rini said...

Thanks for the comments--I'm glad you enjoyed the tale. Maybe I'm just drippy with nostalgia, but I really think the holiday has changed and I still enjoy it. There is something wonderfully pagan about it, dressing up scary. Levi-Strauss (the famous anthropologist,not the blue jeans manufacturer) talked about totemization--where certain primitive societies dressed as what they feared most...a lion hunter, say, dressed as a lion in rituals. I'm undoubtedly oversimplifying a very complex concept, but I think dressing up on Halloween has a similarly empowering effect on people. On top of that, it's just plain fun to act strange and eat loads of candy!