When you have been alive for longer than a half-century, you tend to have plenty of memories. Halloween used to be one of my very favorite days. But then I grew up in a time when celebrating that holiday was less worrisome and more playful.
While growing up in the early 1950s, costumes were always home-made, as were the goody bags we carried. Each child had the responsibility to think up a character and then to find all the costume pieces, or make the props from every day items. We were sailors, and nurses, paupers and princesses. A few of us were even monsters, though that was not the majority. No one worried that their children might be kidnapped, or that someone would give out harmful candy. The worst treat might be an apple instead of a candy bar. Once you got home, we would spread the candy out like a blanket and swap with our siblings for the preferred sweets.
If we played pranks, it was to make someone laugh, not cry. We didn’t destroy property, but we might ring a door bell and then run away, especially if it was a friend’s house. My brothers locked a small radio in the mail box, and used an upstairs radio to transmit sounds into it–rapping sounds, and a tiny squeaking voice, asking to be let out. Laughter and amazement were words that came to mind on Halloween. Where are those now? When was the last time you heard a child at your door on Halloween laugh, and linger to ask you if you recognize them?
Today the goal seems to be to get the most candy in the shortest time. Is that our children’s fault, or it is ours. Are we teaching them to be greedy for instant gratification, instead of taking their time, of being joyful in the moment?
My mother enjoyed Halloween, but she limited us to a certain area of the neighborhood in which to solicit, and also gave us a time frame in which to return home. Older brothers were put in charge, and so by rushing to keep up with their longer legs, exhaustion would set in. Mom would take our candy bags and set them up high and away, doling out perhaps a piece a day to avoid a trip to the doctor for a belly ache.
Mom was not one to tease or frighten. She was benign and loving. There was, however, one slightly scary poem that she loved and knew by heart. She may have learned this poem from her mother, as it was written in 1885, thirty-four years before she was born. There is no better day to share it, than Halloween, as my mother was born in October and loved this month so much. She would be 96 years old if she were alive today. To honor her, I repeat one of her favorite poems.
Little Orphant Annie, by James Whitcomb Riley
Little Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,
An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,
An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,
An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;
An’ all us other childern, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,
An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you
Onc’t they was a little boy wouldn’t say his prayers,–
So when he went to bed at night, away up stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an’ his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An’ when they turn’t the kivvers down, he wasn’t there at all!
An’ they seeked him in the rafter-room, an’ cubby-hole, an’ press,
An’ seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an’ ever’wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found was thist his pants an’ roundabout–
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
An’ one time a little girl ‘ud allus laugh an’ grin,
An’ make fun of ever’one, an’ all her blood an’ kin;
An’ onc’t, when they was “company,” an’ ole folks was there,
She mocked ‘em an’ shocked ‘em, an’ said she didn’t care!
An’ thist as she kicked her heels, an’ turn’t to run an’ hide,
They was two great big Black Things a-standin’ by her side,
An’ they snatched her through the ceilin’ ‘fore she knowed what she’s about!
An’ the Gobble-uns’ll git you
An’ little Orphant Annie says when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parents, an’ yer teachers fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns’ll git you
*Additional Reading: my Favorite Halloween Stories from previous years*
ORIGIN OF HALLOWEEN
New Hampshire’s Witches Night of 1879
CUSTOMS AND GAMES
New Hampshire Customs and Games for Halloween in 1916
NEW HAMPSHIRE HAUNTINGS & HAUNTED PLACES
Old Haunted Houses Reported in New Hampshire Newspapers
New Hampshire’s Haunted Halloween History
A White Mountain Ghost Story
The Ghost of Mt. Washington Hotel
Bath New Hampshire: The Haunted Hibbard House
Francestown New Hampshire: Is Haunted Lake Haunted?
New Hampshire Glossary: Lithobolia–The Stone Throwing Devil
The Strange Haunting of Mt. Moosilaukee
Palace Theater Hosts Ghosts
Editor’s note: all Victorian Halloween cards shown are from my personal collection.