12 Nov 2021
The only story I recall about my mom’s Halloween adventures was her telling us that, when she was growing up in NYC, they would sneak into the local park and move the benches. This amazed me, not because her Halloween pranks were so lame, but because the park benches in NYC, when she was a girl, didn’t need to be bolted down with steel spikes driven into concrete to keep them from being stolen.
When I was growing up, Halloween was good fun for everyone. As a young kid, we would dress up in homemade costumes and Dad would take us around to the more (relatively) populated areas to trick-or-treat, otherwise, we’d only be able to visit about three houses.
Popular homemade costumes included:
- A hobo, where you dressed up in old clothes and smudged your face with soot, which we’d get from the pumpkin lid where the candle had scorched it.
- A ghost. Yeah, we were not above throwing an old sheet over our heads and cutting eyeholes in it.
Store-bought costumes became popular later on. I don’t recall ever using them; that was what my younger siblings wore.
We always came home with a bagful of candy. Some people really got into it and made stuff like popcorn balls or candied apples (minus the razor blades*) and we tried to avoid those houses—we were after real candy. Tootsie Rolls, Sweet Tarts, Turkish Taffy, Bit o Honey, Necco Wafers, bags of Candy Corn, Tootsie Pops, Butterfingers, M&Ms, Milk Duds, Hershey Bars or boxes of candy cigarettes—that was what we were hunting for. The haul was generally large enough that you could, with proper planning, make it last until it got topped up at Thanksgiving. Then that stash might last until Christmas, that brought with it a treasure trove of hard candy that could easily see you to Easter, when the chocolate-and-marshmallow-dispensing bunny arrived. Therefore, Halloween was an important event, heralding the beginning of Candy Season.
When I was a bit older, we would go out just after dark, wearing the usual makeshift costumes, to fleece the neighbors. Then we’d get back into our civvies and go into Stuyvesant Falls to wreak havoc. This involved smashing pumpkins in the road, egging cars, TPing houses and setting fire to the bridge.
Nobody seemed to mind this low-level vandalism, and I recall riding the bus to school the next day and seeing similar scenes of carnage in every town square.
In days gone by, one of the customs had been tipping over outhouses. In my time, however, there were few outhouses remaining, but one of the guys in the group still had an old outhouse in his back yard and his mom said we could tip it over (they were going to have it removed) so we were able to experience—while his mom watched—this time-honored tradition.
Setting the bridge on fire was, as far as I recall, a more colloquial tradition.
The bridge had a grated, steel deck, so setting it on fire didn’t do any damage and the ashes just fell into the creek below. The tradition called for the men of the town to gather at the volunteer fire department, drink beer, and wait. Then the kids from town would set a fire on the bridge and the firemen (our drunken dads) would come and put it out.
This quaint tradition grew in size and intensity over the years, and after a while, the firemen began trying to stop us setting the fire. One year, they were so vigilant that it was impossible to get near the bridge, so we went to the Sand Bar and built a bonfire on the beach, which the vigilant firemen immediately swooped down on.
The next morning, I learned that some of the older boys—in the early hours of the morning, after I had gone home—managed to drive a pickup across the bridge. In the back were some tires soaked with gasoline. They stopped the truck, pushed the tires onto the bridge, set them alight and drove away.
The bridge-burning tradition died out after that. I can’t imagine they do it anymore, or even gather in the T-junction to smash pumpkins and egg cars, and I doubt anyone is going to waste toilet paper by flinging it over their neighbor’s houses.
My boys mostly dressed up in store-bought costumes, but one memorable year I made a Heineken bottle costume out of wire and paper. It looked really good, and it stayed around for years.
In the 1980s, we used to go to work dressed up for Halloween. It helped that I worked the 4-12 shift, but people who worked days dressed up as well. That custom died out by the 1990s, along with raucous Christmas Office Parties, and being allowed to drink on the job when we worked a major holiday.
At any rate, we dressed up for Halloween, made fools of ourselves, then went out to bars afterward—where everyone else was dressed up—and continued acting like fools. It was great fun.
I know my Grandkids do Halloween because I see photos of them dressed up every year, and they live in a more populated area, so they probably get more candy than I did.
But I doubt any of them ever dressed up as a Heineken bottle.
* The idea that strangers put razor blades in apples was a notion I simply accepted, because my parents told me about it. I never thought to question it, nor did it seem strange that sick people would put shrapnel in candy meant for children. I didn’t worry about it; you just had to be vigilant, which is a good lesson for kids. It was only a few years ago that I found out it was an urban legend.