Halloween Memories from the 1950’s

Halloween is a very special occasion when you are six years old.  I remember well the year 1954 and our little house in Rosemont, PA, just  west of Philadelphia.  As the frost comes on the pumpkin now, over sixty years later, I am sure there is still a bit of the child left in me to play make believe again this year.

Do you remember the excitement of being old enough to join in on something you were always left out of? I absolutely detested being told “You’re not big enough!”  Why is it that the grownups got to decide everything for you anyway! But, not this time, I was a big first grader now.  So I was old enough to go out trick or treating. Wow! I could hardly wait.

Halloween was a three day event at the time. Last night, my brother, Andy had gone out for Mischief Night.  That would be a whole story by itself!  The day after Halloween was All Saints Day. So, we had Mischief Night, Halloween and All Saints Day.  Lest I digress too much, you can get a decent history on the origins of Halloween with this link:  www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

A Catholic Halloween

But, this year Halloween was the first really fun event that I can remember in school. At Saint Thomas of Villanova, Sister Rita Marie, the school principal, encouraged us to come to school in costumes. We got to parade around and show off to the big second and third graders.

Of course, we still had to stay in line, one head behind the person in front of us, and one arm’s length between each student. With Catholic school nuns, discipline was a top priority.

The Sisters of Mercy carefully explained that Halloween is really the Day of All Souls.  It was the night before All Saints Day, a Holy Day of Obligation.  So, we would have Mass with prayer the day after Halloween as part of our school day – marching in procession from our classrooms to the church with hands folded in prayer.

Halloween Night Anticipation

It was getting dark that night, as we went out trick or treating, so I willingly held my sister, Mary’s hand. There was a slight chill in the air and a cool breeze. I was Little Bo’ Peep that first Halloween.  And, it was important that I remember the nursery rhyme that went with the costume. I jumped up and down with anticipation, dropping my shepherd cane as I held on to my pillow case treat bag.  Just going out at night in the dark was a new and adventurous experience.

Everyone on Franklin Street knew each other. So, when we stepped up to their doors, they invited us in to get a better look. Our neighbors tried to guess who we were.

My brother, Andy was dressed as a dirty-faced hobo. That was an easy costume to come up with, and he looked authentic to me. A burnt wine cork made great smudges on his cheeks, and the loose fitting jacket already had a torn pocket. I don’t recall if there was any such thing as a store-bought costumes at that time. But, there was some effort put in by the kids or their parents in coming up with how to dress up.

What Is Your Trick?

Then, being in character, we were expected to perform a trick, or entertain before we would be given a treat. If the grownups hadn’t figured out who each of us was right away, our voices gave us away. I had my nursery rhyme down pat and recited it with proper inflection:

Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep, and doesn't know where to find them; leave them alone, And they'll come home, wagging their tails behind them.
Little Bo-Peep has lost her sheep,
and doesn’t know where to find them;
leave them alone, And they’ll come home,
wagging their tails behind them.

If a kid came unprepared to perform, or was too shy, he got a smaller treat than the rest of us. Or, a host who was particularly impressed with your costume or your performance, might give you something extra.

Some of the neighbors went all out for Halloween! There might be a carved pumpkin with a candle at the door. Or, orange lights and a row of candles. Some people even made spooky noises as we approached.  Andy added mystique to my wild imagination, as he warned me of ghosts and goblins and creatures of the night I had never seen before.

Here is a Treat

Since the temperature had dropped, an apple cider or hot chocolate was a welcome treat. We enjoyed a real visit at each home on the block where we lived.  Treats were often a home-made popcorn ball, candy corn or an apple. But, now and then we would get a home made candied apple or a real candy bar, Turkish Taffy, or even Good N’ Plenty.

What Childhood Memories Are Made Of

Some of the kids we passed on the street were a little scary looking. “Why would someone wanted to dress up in something ugly, when you could be somebody gallant or beautiful instead?” I wondered.

So, I just held Mary’s hand and allowed myself to be lead to the next house.  Each place we stopped, I wondered what we would be walking into next. It seemed like we were out for a long time and eventually we ended back home.

I had goodies to show, a real haul by my standard. It looked like I had enough to give me a real stomach ache. But, best of all I had great memories of an exciting adventure out with the big kids. And, although my brother and sister went back out to trick or treat in surrounding streets, I was happy to have been included in the adventure that night. I was big enough to go out for Halloween, at last!

Today, the skeleton is by the door and the pumpkin carving tools are ready. I wonder if I have enough treats to give out. And what kind of a costume can I conjure up for the Halloween dance this year?  I’ve got it! I will go as Good n’ Plenty candy.

Lady Rose ready for the Halloween Dance Party!
Lady Rose ready for the Halloween Dance Party!

Happy Halloween. And, may your children and grandchildren make many fond memories.

Take a moment to share your comments or your memories in the reply box below.

2 thoughts on “Halloween Memories from the 1950’s”

  1. It sounds like the Halloween experience was so different at that time. A performance at each house? Homemade costumes and treats?! I think this kind of Halloween was much more engaging!

    1. It was more personal. The performance did not have to be much, but yes, we were expected to do something besides stand there with a bag out. The safety of all store bought candy and the convenience of making many stops and loading up comes at a price.

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