Around a century ago, young pranksters were slammed in newspaper reports for being reckless “miscreants” who kept police, ambulances and even wrecking crews running ragged as they terrorised neighbourhoods.
In the decades before trick-or-treating became popular, mischief and pranks were the order of the day as children celebrated Halloween more than adults in the early 1900s.
For example in 1906, “almost from the time darkness appeared youngsters had a good time, parading the streets in every conceivable costume and make-up and making the night hideous with horns and other noise-makers,” reported the Daily Press in Virginia.
One small boy earned the ire of townsfolk for “pulling doorbells, dumping ash barrels, be-flouring pedestrians and making himself a terror and a nuisance to the community,” said The Times in 1900.
The kids' antics – published by Mental Floss – make interesting reading, as a Nebraska newspaper noted in 1901 that “Some Hallowe’en revellers tied a cow to each of the front door knobs of the high school, and put a buggy on the roof of the building.”
In 1916, the Ottumwa Semi-Weekly Courier in Iowa reported that a group of girls “dressed in sheets and pillowcases… went all over the town and soaped windows and automobiles.
“We went to a house where there was a Hallowe’en party… and made all kinds of noises. A woman came out and we hid around the house. When she came back in we soaped all her windows. We all had a good time.”
But the tide did turn for some kids, as The Bourbon News in Kentucky reported a Harrodsburg man “who anticipated the removal of his gates put molasses on them, and several nice young men had their clothes ruined.”
An investigation was launched in 1904 when an Evangelical church was “desecrated on Halloween” when “miscreants placed a beer keg on the altar”.
A more terrifying prank, though, involved a “shapely tailor’s dummy, taken by jokesters from a dressmaking establishment” and used to imitate a corpse in Oklahoma.
The Morning Tulsa Daily World reported in 1920 that the mannequin was so lifelike that “police, an ambulance and a wrecking crew were hurriedly summoned when a terrified car crew found the ‘body’ of a woman jammed beneath the trucks of their car on reaching the barns.
“Police and the wrecking crew raised the car and hauled out the ‘body’. It was a shapely tailor’s dummy.”
It wasn’t until the 1940s and 1950s that trick-or-treating became more commonplace.
American author Lesley Bannatyne, who has written five books on Halloween, said the“destructive element of Halloween was distasteful to Victorians”.
Halloween celebrations during the early 1900s saw a leap from the late 1800s when, “children’s magazines printed pretty pictures of fairies and witches and ladies’ periodicals became concerned with how a Halloween party was given”, Bannatyne explains.
While kids were allowed to run wild and be a menace on the streets, it was a different situation for hostesses, who by the turn of the century were leaving jack-o’-lanterns on doorsteps.
“As Victorian ladies were expected to be handy with crafts, most Halloween party invitations were handmade in the shape of Halloween symbols and featured a rhyming verse,” Bannatyne added.
Also, at this time Halloween parties were “often used for matchmaking” with plenty of opportunity for romance to blossom.
The author said: “Halloween celebrations in the Victorian age seem to be made of one part romantic inspiration, one part reconstructed history, and one part Victorian marketing.
“Halloween stories became almost operatic with regard to passion, and less concerned with actual ghosts.”
When it came to throwing parties, Bannatyne said: “A highly dramatic entrance was a must.
"The party-giver’s house was completely dark, lit only with jack-o’-lanterns, fireplaces or long snakes made of tin and fastened above a light, whose heat made the serpent writhe.
“Dark-robed figures led guests to the cellar, the kitchen or some other darkened room… some hostesses greeted their guests with an old elbow glove filled with sawdust.”
Others, though, used decorations such as tall hanging ghosts or monstrous cobwebs made of yarn.
Some hostesses served Scottish scones and party guests were also offered the likes of half-pumpkins filled with apples, grapes and pears, or chicken salad in hollowed-out turnips.
A dangerous party game in Victorian parlours involved people jumping over a candle flame, “with full dress trains and tight, hitched-up pants”.
They would hold storytelling contests around the fire, where guests would each take a “twig and set it burning, at the same time telling an impromptu ghost story.
“Popular theme parties appeared in the early 1900s, centred on black cats or a haunted house, for example turning cellars into caverns."
Halloween disguises were “still a novelty at adult parties as late as 1900; they gained popularity during the first decades of the 20th century,” she added.
In the early 1900s as new traditions emerged, such as town-wide Halloween parades, the American press labelled the occasion as the “Halloween problem”.
Papers reported kids setting off fire alarms, throwing bricks through shop windows and painting obscenities: "They begged for money or sweets and threatened vandalism if they didn’t receive them."
Unamused adults fought back, however, as early 20th century newspapers published stories on homeowners firing “buckshot at pranksters who were only 11 or 12 years old” in America.
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