Friday, October 26, 2018

1890s Halloween: All tricks and no treats

Trick-or-treating is a rich American tradition, but it wasn't until the 1930s that it began to catch on as replacement for the just plain tricks (no treats) that were part of Halloween in earlier generations. A few examples from Orange County follow:
1891 -- John Gould of Tustin, confined to his bedroom all night for having caused trouble the previous Halloween, slipped out the window, went downtown and climbed a tree to sneak into the bell tower of the Presbyterian Church. He rang the bells as long as he dared, waking most of Tustin, and then rushed back home and back in through the open window before the authorities arrived. His grandfather told the cops that John "was up in his room all night."

1892 -- Among the reports from Santa Ana in the Nov. 6 edition of the Los Angeles Times: "Several businessmen of this city are still being inconvenienced by the questionable pranks of a gang of boys on Halloween." Halloween pranks that take five or six days to clean up after sound pretty serious.

1895 -- Some of the boys in Garden Grove decided to "round up" all the wagons and buggies of farmers in the surrounding countryside and leave them all at the blacksmith shop in town. It was dangerous business, as some folks couldn't tell the difference between a prank and out-and-out theft. In fact, one of the Garden Grove boys -- Seventeen-year-old Oscar Ingram -- took a shotgun blast from farmer Ira Woodman, whose carriage he was stealing. At first it seemed Oscar might die. He pulled through, but doctors never could get all the lead shot out of his back.

1895 -- Anything in Santa Ana that wasn't nailed down was moved to an unexpected spot during the night, including a spring wagon placed atop an outhouse at the grammar school. At least one lad, Ray Jones, was injured during the shenanigans when he was hit in the head by a large piece of lumber he was "liberating."

1898 -- Santa Ana boys took the nuts off the axels on a wood and hay delivery wagon, rendering it dangerous and useless until it could be repaired. Some of the pranks were pretty costly.

1899 -- "Halloween was celebrated in Santa Ana in the usual way by mischievous lads, and as a result many gates and other loose paraphernalia about the door-yards were missing this morning," reported the L.A. Times. Gates were a common target on Halloween. Pranksters would neighbors' garden gates from their hinges and then hide them elsewhere. Some were never found.

Attempts to deter young people from such behavior by distracting them with alternatives began early. At first parties were held -- sometimes by families and sometimes by organizations. Events sometimes included bobbing for apples, games involving fortune telling,and dinner involving special foods like tamales and pumpkin pie. Later, larger events like the Anaheim Halloween parade (1923) were held as a fun and harmless way to enjoy the season. And finally, trick-or-treating offered beleaguered citizens a chance to bribe their way out of mayhem with candy and other treats.

Not that plenty of people don't still cause trouble on Halloween, but most of that involves adults with alcohol, not kids with costumes.

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