St. Nick leads in the stretch but Jackie’O isn’t far behind

Echoes of our past
William & Joy Wangemann • for The Review

It may surprise you to know that Halloween is one of the oldest Holidays celebrated in the United States. Halloween is also ranked second in popularity of all American holidays.

With the sale of costumes, Halloween decorations and candy Halloween is also second only to Christmas in retail sales. Candy alone is estimated to generate over $2 billion in sales.

Halloween is on Oct. 31, the last day of the Celtic calendar. It was originally a pagan holiday honoring the dead. Halloween was referred to as All Hallows Eve and dates back over 2000 years. All Hallows Eve is the evening before All Saints Day which was created by the early Christian Church in an attempt to convert pagans to Christianity.

Halloween today, however, has a much different meaning to most Americans. The once evil night when the dead were thought to walk the earth is now a night for children to dress in costumes such as Superman, witches and even angels and go from door to door, trick or treating.

In years past on Halloween night groups of youngsters would roam the streets of Sheboygan looking for victims of mischievous Halloween pranks. Soaping or rubbing candle wax on windows (wax was harder to remove than soap) was common practice. If you would forget to put your trash can in the garage you were almost certain to find its contents spread across your lawn the next morning. Or you may come out in the morning and find that your car tires were flat after Halloween spooks had let out the air.

In the early part of the 20th Century Halloween pranks were much more elaborate and at times more destructive. About 1915, on the morning after Halloween, a farmer came out of his home in the morning and was amazed to find ambitious Halloween pranksters has disassembled his hay wagon and put it together again - on top of his barn.

In those pre-indoor plumbing days every house had an essential structure located just behind the home, better known as an outhouse. These outhouses were a frequent target of Halloween pranksters. Gangs of young boys would frequently roam through back yards and took great delight in tipping over a family’s outhouse. Often when the outhouse was tipped over it would sustain considerable damage. Homeowners, upon finding such an essential facility as their outhouse destroyed, were forced to make immediate repairs.

One area police official had had enough of outhouse vandalism on Halloween night and decided to crack down on the pranksters. Chief of Police Edward George of Sheboygan Falls decided that he was going to put a stop to such foolishness.

As reported in the Sheboygan Press, on Halloween night 1915, more than 25 outhouses were tipped over in Sheboygan Falls (hopefully none of them occupied). Many of the vandalized outhouses were severely damaged, and the vandalism was reported to Sheboygan Falls Police.

After viewing the damage the stalwart police officer launched a full scale investigation. Three days later the chief announced that all the guilty parties, 13 in number, had been apprehended. For the Halloween vandals 13 certainly was not their lucky number as they were all arrested and turned over to the judge.

Once in court all of the errant young lads admitted their guilt and, after a severe tongue lashing by the judge, they were each fined $1 and costs and released. Whether or not this put a stop to the practice of upsetting outhouses on Halloween night was not recorded; but it does seem doubtful.

As late as the 1960s all Sheboygan police officers had to work overtime on Halloween night to prevent vandalism. Today, the night when it was once thought ghosts and the dead walked about, is now a night taken over by small children going from door to door trick or treating. Hardly a single outhouse ever gets tipped over anymore!

If the ghosts and Goblins of Halloween don’t scare you, here are a few facts on Halloween that might scare the pants off you. In the year 2013, at a time when our economy is struggling and millions are out of work, it is projected the Americans will spend approximately $90 billion on costumes and candy for Halloween. Of that astronomical amount it is projected that $370 million will be spent on pet costumes alone, and unbelievably, another $2 billion will be spent on candy! Halloween is second only to Christmas in the amount spent on a holiday celebration.

Just a few tidbits about Halloween that you might find interesting:

There is a thousand dollar fine for using or selling Silly String in Hollywood on Halloween. In years past the city of Hollywood spent tens of thousands of dollars cleaning up the sticky mess left by the aerosol dispensed sticky string.

Candy Corn was originally known as “chicken feed” and was sold throughout the year by its maker, the Wunderle Candy Co. of Philadelphia, who had promoted the candy as “chicken feed” (they even had a rooster on the box). They continued producing the candy up to 1940, when they began to market it as a special Halloween treat, due to its colors and its ties to the fall harvest.

The full moon often associated with horror movies about Halloween and the often depicted witch flying across the face of the moon rarely occurs on Halloween. The most recent full moon on Halloween occurred in 2001 and will not reoccur until 2020.

In the 1920s and 30s Halloween pranks and vandalism became so violent that many cities contemplated banning the celebration.

We owe the custom of carving faces into pumpkins to the Irish, but they didn’t use pumpkins, the used turnips. Pumpkins were not used until the Irish immigrated to America at which time they began to use pumpkins.

The origin of the term Jacko Lantern came from Celtic folklore. A stingy farmer named Jack was condemned to wander endlessly in purgatory by the Devil who gave Jack a lump of burning coal from Hell to light his way. Jack took the burning coal and made a lantern from a turnip to help him wander through the endless darkness.

Here is hoping the Ghosts and Spooks stay away from your door. If they do appear just give them a treat and they will disappear.

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