October 31

Celebrating Halloween in the 40s and 50s

The author in her witch costume (back row) / Courtesy of Hall and Ron Kenmir

Great big owl in a great big tree/on a night so dark you could hardly see/ was watching the lights in the deep ravine/where the witches dance on Hallowe’en. —Author unknown

Halloween is supposed to be scary for kids, and in my day—the late 1940s and early ‘50s—it was!

Going trick or treating was the only time our parents allowed us pre-teens to be out on our own at night—which in itself was scary. And  it seemed Halloween night was always inky black and foreboding.

But for Beverly, Harriet and me, being free of parental supervision was exhilarating! And we intended to make the most of it.

Many of our neighbors would give us apples, oranges, peanuts, or store-bought candy, while a few came up with a dime or a quarter. But we knew Mrs. Munson always specially made popcorn balls for Halloween treats. So, for sure we’d get to her house early before they ran out.

Realizing the Smiths always requested a trick, we’d come prepared to sing: “Low Bridge, we’re comin’ to a town/low bridge, you’d better hunker down/ ‘cause you’ll always know your neighbor/you always know your pal/if you’ve ever navigated on the Erie Canal.”  

If they protested that we’d sung that song the year before, we’d break into the Gene Autry favorite: “Sioux City Sue/Sioux City Sue/ Your hair is red, your eyes are blue/I’d trade my dog and horse for you/There ain’t no gal as true as my sweet Sioux City Sue.” Or, athletic Harriet might just turn cartwheels across the front yard.

Groups of costumed trick or treaters roaming the dark streets of our small town must have looked sinister: even dangerous.

Yet, the worst that ever happened was some nasty pranksters pushing over a farmer’s outdoor toilet. (Yes, we still had a few of them then!)

Once our large grocery bags were filled with plunder, it was time to head back home. At this late hour, fleecy white clouds floating past a crescent moon gave off scant light, and created shadows that made an apple tree look like a monster with many arms; a fire hydrant, a disfigured dwarf.

We’d heard ghosts came out on Halloween night, and shivered, wondering if they were walking among us.

It was all such fun! Scary fun that we’d talk about later in the safe confines of our homes.

I’d never trade my authentic Halloween experience for the “Haunted Houses,” with creepy costumed actors jumping out of dark corners that are springing up in shopping malls today.

Nor would I want to wear the flimsy-looking manufactured costumes that are for sale.

Why, the very idea of spending money on a costume was absurd to us. Mothers pulled together scraps of fabric and got creative with a sewing machine. Those who had an attic in their house dug through dusty trunks and barrels searching for something to use.

I thought I looked pretty spectacular in one midnight black witch’s costume my mother fashioned for me even though the hat was cone-shaped like a Catholic bishop’s Mitre instead of having a sharp peak!

We could wear our costume to school on Halloween day and again if someone’s parents threw a Halloween party for us in their basement.

I still love Halloween parties and costumes.

At an adult party quite a while ago, I came in blonde pigtails and peasant dress as Katrina Von Tassel of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. My date, as Bram Bones—the “headless horseman”—wore a cape that concealed his entire body and carried a pumpkin for a head.

But the ultimate was an “Addams Family” Halloween party I actually threw with friend Barbara in a friend’s creepy gothic stone mansion on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue. (I was Morticia!)

I sometimes wonder if my love of Halloween figured into my career choice of airline stewardess . . . A witch flying across the sky on a broom on Halloween night . . . Hmmm. . . .

Carol Hall lives in Woodbury. She’s a longtime freelance writer, a University of Minnesota graduate and a former Northwest Airlines stewardess.