Halloween Was Once So Dangerous BY; CHRISTOPHER KLEIN

Halloween Was Once So Dangerous That Some Cities Considered Banning It

Violence and vandalism were once as traditional as candy and costumes.

As the Louisville Short Line chugged its way through Newport, Kentucky, the passenger train’s engineer peered out into the dark night of October 31, 1879, and saw something truly frightening—a body lying across the railroad tracks. Pulling on the brake with all his might, the engineer halted his iron horse in the nick of time and jumped out of the locomotive. As he rushed to the lifeless figure, the train operator quickly discovered why it wasn’t moving. It wasn’t a person at all, but a stuffed figure placed there by 200 boys hiding along the tracks, who started to howl with laughter at their Halloween trick.

Although the juveniles had threatened his safety and that of his passengers, the engineer did not utter a single admonishment. After all, he engaged in similar antics when he was a boy. Such things were to be expected on Halloween during the Gilded Age when the ghoulish holiday was free of candy and full of pranks, vandalism and even violence.

When immigrants from Scotland and Ireland brought their Halloween traditions to the United States in the middle of the 1800s, they celebrated as they did back in their homelands—not with costumed children going door-to-door for sweets but by pulling pranks.

WATCH: Haunted History on HISTORY Vault 

Vintage card showing two boys stealing a gate on Halloween night, 1911. (Courtesy of Lisa Morton)

Vintage card showing two boys stealing a gate on Halloween night, 1911. (Courtesy of Lisa Morton)

“In Ireland, boys would carve spooky faces in turnips to scare unwary travelers, and they would tie strings to cabbages and pull them through fields to scare people,” says Lisa Morton, author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. “The Scots had one really obnoxious prank where they would pull up a cabbage stalk, get it smoking and shove it up to a keyhole at someone’s door so that when that person came home, they would find a house filled with this noxious-smelling vapor.”

Across the American countryside in the latter 1800s, common Halloween tricks included placing farmers’ wagons and livestock on barn roofs, uprooting vegetables in backyard gardens and tipping over outhouses—be they occupied or not. In some regions, so many gates were taken off their hinges or opened to allow livestock to escape that October 31 was known as “Gate Night.” A teetotaling Protestant minister in Steubenville, Ohio, awoke after one Halloween to discover his front porch decorated with beer signs and towering pyramids of beer kegs. The advent of the automobile delivered further opportunities for mischief such as removing manhole covers from streets, deflating tires and erecting fake detour signs to confuse motorists.

“At first, the pranking was pretty innocent and limited to rural places,” Morton says. “But as metropolitan areas expanded, kids took the pranking into cities and it became more destructive with setting fires, breaking glass, and tripping pedestrians.” Boys ran through city streets splattering people with bags of flour or black stockings filled with ashes. One year, youths in Kansas City waxed streetcar tracks on a steep hill causing a vehicle to slip and crash into another streetcar, seriously injuring a conductor.

After a spate of Halloween destruction in 1902, the Cook County Herald expressed the frustration felt by many residents of Arlington Heights, Illinois. “Most everybody enjoys a joke or fun to a proper degree on suitable occasions; but when property is damaged or destroyed it is time to call a halt,” the paper intoned. “We would advise the public to load their muskets or cannon with rock, salt or bird shot and when trespassers invade your premises at unseemly hours upon mischief bent, pepper them good and proper so they will be effectually cured and have no further taste for such tricks.”

A family is silhouetted by a bonfire on Halloween night.

A family is silhouetted by a bonfire on Halloween night. (Credit: Shay Murphy/Getty Images)

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Some Americans did take up arms against the Halloween tricksters—with fatal consequences. When pranksters in Tucson, Arizona, stretched a wire across a sidewalk to trip passers-by in 1907, one pedestrian thrown to the ground drew a revolver and shot dead one of the jokesters. That same year, newspapers reported that a woman in Logansport, Indiana, was literally scared to death when her heart stopped after her daughter answered a knock on the door and screamed when a group of boys “thrust a grinning pumpkin lantern” in her face.

The malicious violence and looting connected with Halloween only grew worse during the economic free fall of the Great Depression. Morton says that by 1933, the holiday had become so destructive that cities were considering banning it. “Many of the cities were smart enough, though, that they thought that while banning might not work, they might be able to buy these kids off,” she says.

READ MORE: The Great Depression Origins of Halloween Haunted Houses

During the 1930s, civic and religious authorities, community organizations and neighborhood families began to program parties, carnivals and costume parades on Halloween to keep kids out of trouble. “There’s not a lot of money during the Great Depression so people pooled their resources and staged house-to-house parties.” Morton says. “The first house might give out costumes such as a white sheet to be ghosts, or soot to smudge on kids’ faces. The next house might give out treats, the next might have a basement set up as a tiny haunt. This starts to morph into kids getting dressed up and going house to house trick-or-treating.”

In the midst of World War II, youngsters took pledges to support the soldiers and sailors abroad by not engaging in Halloween vandalism. Children in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, vowed to “back our fighting men by observing Halloween as they would want me to. I will share in good, clean fun and merriment, fight against waste and damage!”

Throwing toilet paper into trees is one of the many "Mischief Night" traditions. (Credit: Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)

Throwing toilet paper into trees is one of the many “Mischief Night” traditions. (Credit: Darrin Klimek/Getty Images)

While Halloween itself grew tamer as trick-or-treating became part of the American culture in the 1950s, the mischief didn’t disappear completely. It just moved to the night before Halloween. “Kids wanted both the trick-or-treating and their pranking, so they moved it to October 30, although it seemed to be a Midwest and East Coast thing. It didn’t really make it to the West Coast.”

In parts of the Northeast, October 30 became known as Mischief Night. It was called Goosey Night in parts of New Jersey. Harkening back to the old Scottish pranking tradition, it was even known as Cabbage Night in some locales. While the vandalism was usually along the lines of soaping windows, spraying shaving cream, throwing eggs at houses or tossing toilet paper over trees and bushes, it took a truly dark turn in Detroit and other Michigan cities such as Saginaw and Flint, which were set ablaze in what became known as Devil’s Night.

During the 1970s and 1980s, arsonists turned the Detroit night sky a Halloween orange by setting fire to trash cans, dumpsters and abandoned buildings. The destruction peaked in 1984 when more than 800 fires were set across the city in a three-night arson spree. Detroit responded by instituting dusk-to-dawn curfews for unaccompanied youths under 18 and mobilizing a city watch. With garden hoses at the ready and vigilant eyes, more than 30,000 volunteers participated in neighborhood patrols in 1990.

Thanks to these continued efforts, the number of fires around Halloween in Detroit have steadily decreased to near-normal levels on what city leaders now call Angels’ Night.

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By Dr.Saad Al-Hashimi, PhD

Greeting from Calgary, Alberta - Canada. My name is Saad Ramzi Al-Hashimi . I am the founder and the director of the Paranormal zone- Haunting Dimensions. That deals with an investigation, debunking, and healing/cleansing. Having had many unexplainable experiences from a young age at a possible "haunted" house where plenty of things seemed to happen that I couldn’t explain, Since that time and I am looking and searching for an answer. After continuing to have many experiences that I just cannot explain, I have since become a firm believer that GHOSTS do exist. I continued for a short while as a member of a few other paranormal groups until I was very fortunate to become involved with a local fast growing organization where I felt very comfortable to start my own paranormal investigation. My best experience has been Indio California, Okotoks Alberta, Baghdad city , and many other places in Greece and North Canada. (yes I do believe spirits can hurt you so you have to be careful not to provoke or challenge a spirit ). I won’t tell you the whole story now but you are more than welcome to ask me on a ghost hunt. I am now looking forward to meeting many more people, all looking for that ‘experience’ that could possibly convince them that there is something more to life than we first thought. So please feel free to email me drsteveramsey@gmail.com I have been involved in several paranormal groups over the years. Paranormal Adventures is different and exciting in ways I couldn’t possibly get before. When people ask if I believe in ghosts, I say I am a skeptical believer. I have had many encounters with spirit forms and believe what I have seen to be real and unexplainable. I always look for a normal mundane reason why at the same time. My area of expertise in the field of science. I have Ph.D. in Public Health from the USA, Master degree in Medical Ultrasound and BSc Degree in Diagnostic Imaging from Charles Sturt University Australia, BSc in Physics, and Radiology diploma from Iraq, Pharmacy diploma. Radiography diploma from London Ontario, Diploma in Natural Health from Quebec, Canada. Radiation physics from Australia, I studied the infra and ultrasound in the animal kingdom.P resented more than 20 lectures in Iraq, Greece, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Canada and I am the peer reviewer for the radiographer journal in UK, Netherlands, and South Africa. Earned the 3rd award for excellence in ultrasound - Canada 2005. I am also armature archaeologist, painter, calligrapher, and used to run acting theater play in Iraq- Baghdad, wrote, directed and acted in more than 27 plays. So debunking come naturally in my science and technology back round, and not like other debunking people around you who use Google for their search and call them self-debunkers, It doesn't work that way. In the near future, I will run live internet ghost hunts with night vision cameras giving users at home the chance to watch the spooky footage on, in my nights out. I look forward to seeing you all soon on one of our many events! I loved reading ghost stories and sitting on my own in the dark watching horror films. However. I Can decode dreams, and I see spirits in my dreams. I like to look at things from a scientific point of view and try to rule out all rational possibilities before concluding that events are paranormal. However, I do try to keep an open mind on all investigations. I started taking part in investigations since 1986; my first investigation usually any house, apartment that I move in or my friend's places. For many of my true paranormal stories you can read them at www.linkedin.com I will try to copy and move all my articles here in this site in near future. Thank you for reading and God Bless you all. Saad Ramzi Al- Hashimi, PhD. Alberta

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