Faye Harris: We celebrated Halloween back in the 1940s


The good thing about having a very young step-mother is--she still thought like a child knowing how our minds worked.
As we arrived home from our one-room school’s Halloween party many years ago (I was 6 at the time and my sister, Helen, was 8), we couldn’t find Mom. We yelled. We walked from room to room looking for her. Finally, we decided to enter hers and dad’s bedroom, all the while discussing mom’s absence. It being Halloween, you don’t suppose…
As we got near the closet door, Mom jumped out, dressed as a ghost, and sending Helen out the front door screaming in terror.
Me? I happened to see my two younger sisters sitting in the dirty clothes basket just behind the ghost. So, putting two and the ghost together, I surmised: Something was up.
Eventually, Helen warily returned home looking for me, I guess to see if I’d been “done-in” by the spook.
But there was more yet to come. There was an old man (we guessed him to be a relative of God, he looked so old) who lived in an old house on the last street in our neighborhood. The only reason the neighborhood kids went trick-or-treating at his place was he gave out dimes instead of treats. (Dimes, you see, were big money to the children whose parents had weathered the Depression.)
Now Mom informed Helen and me that we’d have to go trick-or-treating with the neighborhood kids this year as she was going to help poor, old Mr. Nines give out his treats. But, she noted, he’d be giving out quarters this year to any child who would enter his house at the front door, walk through several of the rooms, then exit out the back door.
However, she was quick to explain, she and several other parents would be there helping out.
“Spread the word,” we were instructed. “A whole quarter…” Of course we did as we were told!
Little did we know what evil could lurk in the minds of old Mr. Nines and the young parents of our neighborhood. All we thought about was getting that quarter. Do you realize how much candy one could buy for that kind of money way back when some candy sold two for a penny?
So, for a quick trip through the Nines’ old, run-down house, we could be rich! Certainly we would be among those trick-or-treaters who would take advantage of this golden opportunity, then move on for yet more “loot.”
Come Halloween l944, Helen and I, dressed up as old bag ladies to make us look even more scary than usual (no purchased costumes in those days), got our pillow cases (yep! That’s what we took to collect our goodies in) and started out on our yearly begging, and mom headed over to Mr. Nines.
We were excited! We were going to “snag” more treats than we’d had the entire year so far--plus a whole quarter would soon be ours!
We got to Mr. Nines--there were a lot of parents lining his driveway--working to control all the spooks who had come for their quarter. In fact, there seemed to be quite a backlog of kids waiting their turn, and there certainly seemed to be a lot of screaming coming from the old run-down house. But money was what we were all there for!
Helen and I got into line (there seemed to be a lot of screaming and door slamming as the kids exited the old house), but we were brave. What was their problem? Yes, the house was dark with a few scant lights in a few rooms. But we were used to that way back then. I mean, some houses still didn’t have electricity, so maybe Mr. Nines was still using coal-oil lamps.
Finally, Helen and I were invited in to get our quarter, BUT first, we were blindfolded with a parent on either side of us assuring we’d have safe passage through the “whole operation” and told, “You have to earn your pay tonight. Just do what you’re told to do.” I was a bit frightened, but I couldn’t back out now with a big person on each side of me!
The first thing we were given was the feel of a knife, dripping with blood. (In reality, it was Caro syrup.) Then we had to put our hand into a bowl of “innards” (homemade noodles, plus more syrup) transferring these into another bowl.
The horror continued for what seemed forever, having to feel people’s cooked eyes (small boiled and peeled eggs), cutoff ears (rinds of lemons)--until we were finally taken into Mr. Nines’ kitchen, un- blindfolded, allowed to wash our hands, given our quarters and led to the back door--where we ran for our lives!
I don’t remember ever returning to Mr. Nines’ another year--regardless of the big payoff! Mom always tried to get us to go, but we were certain she never knew what horrors these other parents inflicted on us poor, innocent children.
And we were just as certain she’d never believe it if we told her. And to think there were parents in on this horrible deed!
It was only as we grew older and mom had children of her own that we were told of the parents getting together with Mr. Nines and of how much work had gone into the parents and the old man wanting to give the kids a special Halloween that year.
OR did they have another motive? “Only the Shadow Knows.” (For those of you who have never heard of THE SHADOW before, that was a famous radio show from way back when. Believe it or not, we used to lie around on the floor listening to the radio offering its tales of horror, much as today’s children lie around watching TV shows on the family television set.)
And for today’s children, watch out on Halloween night during your growing-up years. Your own kids will one day ask, “So, what was Halloween like when you were a kid--way back when?”

It will be then you’ll start to realize that with each generation history repeats itself. Feel free to steal some of spooky things mentioned in this recollection of mine. MY TREAT!

See complete story in the Journal Record.
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