Ahh, Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. Celebrated down through the centuries even to today. But how was it celebrated by our ancestors? I can’t speak for everyone’s family, but I did take a look through my great-aunt Elsie’s memoirs this evening to see what she says about how the Underwood family celebrated Halloween in the early part of the twentieth century.
Elsie didn’t focus much attention on the holiday in her manuscript, but she did mention it twice. You will notice that I include a paragraph or two before each anecdote; I do that for context. After all, this blog is primarily for historical and genealogical material, and the introductory paragraphs reveal a slice of life in a day gone by.
The first of Elsie’s allusions to Halloween remind us that “trick-or-treat” once was more focused on the “trick” than it now is.
We didn’t have a bathroom in our house. Just a out house or (privy) as they were called. This was a small shed like type building, located a short distance from the house. Inside was a long seat across the back with holes small medium, and large, with covers, when not in use you put the cover on. Lye was used to keep it clean and odorless.
At night we would carry a lantern to see our way. One of the older ones would walk out with us, and stand out side and wait for us.On Hallowe’en the big boys in the neighborhood, would like to tip one of these over, hoping someone was inside. They never got ours, maybe because we had a fence all the way round our place. The fence had barbed wire on top of the mesh fence, hard to climb.
(Now that is a Halloween trick I am glad to live without.)
The second reference Elsie makes to Halloween regards an actual incident. This episode reminds us of the dangers of a former day, when jack-o-lanterns were invariably lit with real flames.
These tent houses were made from the large gunny sacks, our feed for our cattle and pigs and chickens, came in these large sacks.
Dad let us play with these sacks. So Walter and Bill made us a tent house, one for each of us. These were cool in the summertime, Idaho summers are real hot.Walter cut out dishes, knives and forks and spoons. Out of tin sheeting Dad had.
On one Halloween we had our jack o lanterns on our (box probably a apple box) table. Right close to the opening of our tents. Our dad was on the school board, we were having a program that night. Our teacher was over to our house, she wanted Dad and Mom to drive her on an errand, they were gone a short time, when they came back my teacher asked me to turn around. I turned, all the back of my dress was burned. But how? The only fire I was around was our jack o lanterns. We had lit our lanterns to show the teacher, when she got back. The wind must have blown my dress against the lit pumkin, as I was closing the door of my tent house. I must have sat doun real fast to have put the fire out. I always believed I had a guarding angel. Of course I had to wear my school dress to the program that night.
I hope you have enjoyed this little trip through holidays past. Happy Halloween!
Crocker, Elsie. unpublished typescript.