What used to be a “four bag night” of trick or treaters on Halloween at our house every year has gradually dwindled down to nothing. I don’t know what to expect this year, but like last year I’m planning on purchasing MY favorite candy because I’m almost certain I won’t see one Target costume, one face painted Dracula, one ballerina or even one of those really tall kids without a costume that just stand there like statues half hoping you won’t card them.
It got me thinking about the past, present and future of Halloween in our country and Uptown. Are kids done trick or treating? Is there a perception of “stranger danger” by parents? What about that famous razor blade in the apple? Are city demographics changing? And where does this oddball tradition come from?
Halloween as modern Americans know it is a product of various other traditions carried out in the past and combined to form what we now know.
One of the earliest festivals connected to the history of Halloween is the Samhain (pronounced sow-am or sow-in) which literally translated means summer’s end. It was a Celtic agricultural festival. This was originally considered a pagan festival but when the Christian Church welcomed new members they created All Hallow Even or the eve of All Saints’ Day on November 1. This allowed new members to continue their pre-Christian traditions. The full title continued to be abbreviated until its current title Halloween.
The holiday traditions were primarily brought to this country by the Irish and to a smaller extent by the Scots. Throughout its history it has gone through many changes and characteristics: hooliganism, youthful rowdiness, bonfire night, romanticism, spirit worship and political expression, but always a culturally subversive holiday. This is mostly because there has never bean a real sponsor for Halloween. It is a protean force that has adapted and changed over time.
And yet one thing the Halloween has almost always accomplished is its direct and indirect community building power. Through community parties, but more so for trick or treating, Halloween is the National Night Out of October.
It’s had its share of growing pains too. Arson, tipping over outhouses, breaking fences, soaping windows, removing homeowner’s front stairs and even roving packs of youngsters essentially holding shopkeepers and homeowners ransom for a treat. The vandalism and tricks wore on the communities until they decided to sponsor civic festivals to keep the kids occupied. One of the earliest adopters of these community Halloween parties was Anoka, Minnesota in 1925.
So although some communities across the country still experience vandalism and pranks, Uptown for the most part is still about the trick or treating, commercial and private parties, as well as park sponsored events, among other things.
Uptown Beat Officer Robert Illetschko admits that most of the nighttime rowdiness of Halloween in Uptown is more about people exaggerating their party attitude and just doing more of the same stuff that happens on any other rowdy Saturday night in Uptown.
At Calhoun Square this year there will be a HallowEve Festival on October 29 from 1pm to 5 pm with trick or treating, a costume contest, craft Stations, pumpkin carving contest, photo station and the Teddy Bear Band.
For those interested in organized activity on Halloween, Bryant Square Park is holding its annual party with music, a bonfire with marshmallows, dancing and other activities for little kids.
The Wedge neighborhood is holding Halloween Hauntings: a haunted evening of scary stories told in one of the Wedge’s famous old houses. See www.thewedge.org for current information.
But if you’re still holding out for that door to door sugar rush you can still find hot spots in Uptown where the trick or treat tradition is still strong. From my informal poll of local parents I discovered that some kids still trick or treat locally in the neighborhood, some kids still show up in cars from other neighborhoods, but no one is influenced by the perception of “stranger danger.” Some parents just like to take advantage of organized events because it can be easier.
And what about the famous razor in the apple? Well from almost every source I read as well as a sociological study that was done, there have only been two documented incidents due to dangerous treats on Halloween. And the “razor blade” was essentially a rumor that still survives today.
But with the transient residents and all of the apartment buildings, it can be tricky to locate participating neighborhoods. Sometimes streets lose all of their young kids at once and the fun moves over a block.
For now some of those popular blocks for candy collection are still right here in Uptown. Peter Krembs and Rob Jeddloh have had a steady flow of regular neighborhood kids over the last decade that usually start with a party at a local home and then continue down their block at Irving and 28th Street in East Isles.
According to Wedge resident Quinton Skinner, the middle of the neighborhood near Bryant and Colfax, is where he has found it “to be most in the spirit of things.”
Over in the East Calhoun Neighborhood, Anja Curiskis says that she has seen a mix of kids from outside as well as inside the neighborhood and they go through “a couple bags of candy each year” near 35th and Humbolt.
In CARAG Diana Boegemann joins her entire block in decorating their boulevard with witches in the trees about a week before Halloween. She says that on Aldrich Avenue they get a healthy trove of kids on their way to the Annual Bryant Square Park Halloween Party.
So fire up the pumpkin, ignore the dentist and leave the porch light on because I might just dress up as that tall kid that looks just a little bit guilty because he’s probably way too old to trick or treat, and you’ll know it because he had a little trouble parallel parking.
Bruce Cochran is Art Director and in charge of Production for the Uptown Neighborhood News and lives in CARAG.
Sources for this article include The World Book Encyclopedia, The Encyclopedia Britannica but mostly Halloween: From Page Ritual to Party Night by Nicholas Rogers.