Halloween in North Freedom during the 1950s was different than it is today. Parents did not order fancy Superhero or Princess costumes from Amazon. If kids wanted special effects like the Star War sabers or Cinderella wands of today, we made them ourselves.
People did not buy giant blowup ghosts, dragons, and spiders from Walmart or Menards to light up their front yards. NOPE!
Were such things available—anywhere? I don’t think so!
We carved pumpkins. At dusk on Halloween, we put candles inside of them to light their faces.
Mom and Dad bought candy to hand to children from the village, Tootsie Roll Pops, packaged candies, and a bag of Hershey’s Kisses in case they ran out of the bigger pieces.
My brothers and I made masks from brown paper grocery bags. We cut holes for eyes to peek through. Crayons added rosy cheeks and lips and dark brows. Floppy ears cut from scraps of paper were pasted on at weird levels. My brothers drew bloody, red scars outlined in black. We glued on dried corn silk from our harvest to create a mustache, fluffy eyebrows, and ear hair—YUK! Making our masks was part of the event.
Our dress-up clothes box was a goldmine for costumes. Most items in the box were store-bought and handed down from relatives. They were dated when we got them. The people they came from wore their clothes until they had seen better days, or they outgrew them—some seams were busted. Grandma Hilda cut and stitched them to fit my brothers and me. We wore them until they were passed along or tossed in the box.
We found dress shirts with perspiration stains to the waist. A double-breasted, light gray suitcoat that had passed through three families. Blouses and tops with food stains that even the most vigorous scrubbing could not remove. Hats flattened or lopsided. Neckties made snazzy belts. Scarves added drama. No one noticed small torn spots or stains on Halloween.
I was five years old, David four, and Allen three when Mom first took us Trick-or-Treating. We stopped at a dozen homes on our end of East Walnut Street and at Grandma and Grandpa’s place on Franklin. It did not take us long to realize if we said, “Trick-or-Treat,” we got candy.
It was a miracle!
Mom continued to accompany us until our youngest brother, Randy, was born. I was nine that year. Mom said we three older kids could Trick-or-Treat by ourselves if we stayed together. She specified streets with homes we could visit.
We continued making the brown paper masks but did not wear them when we went out at night. They were dangerous because they limited our visibility, and Mom was not there to guide us. We used lipstick and a chunk of coal from the bin in the basement to draw exaggerated features on our faces and hands to compensate.
My brother, David, liked to stray from our threesome. He was in it for the adventure and—the most candy. Allen and I were the do-gooders—the rule-followers. That was fine with us because we were satisfied with our haul even though David usually got more candy than we did.
My brothers and I knew we were lucky. Classmates living outside the village, especially farm kids, only got to Trick-or-Treat if their parents brought them into town or took them from farm to farm. Trick-or-treat hours overlapped with milking cows and farm chores, a busy time for parents and farm kids.
Mom gave my brothers and me each an old metal pan for our candy. There was no limit on how many sweets we could eat when we returned home from Trick-or-Treating—unless Mom, not wanting a sick child, raised her eyebrows and shook her head. November 1 and beyond, we were allowed only three pieces of candy a day.
When I was five, Reedsburg had early Trick-or-treat hours—during daylight. Mom took me to Martha and Emma’s, my Great Aunts’, house to enjoy this extraordinary event. I got to create my costume from their box of dress-up clothes, which offered many new choices. I chose a shirt that was long enough to be a dress. A fringed shawl, with only a tiny hole on the edge, kept me warm. A colorful cane added the final touch.
Martha presented me with a store-bought mask—my very first. It looked like a happy baker with a mustache and a few missing teeth. I thought it was the most perfect gift ever. We did not stay to visit after Martha took me to her friends. Mom and I returned to North Freedom so I could Trick-or-Treat—again—with my brothers.
I got to keep the unique costume I created—and my mask. But I never again got to Trick-or-Treat twice.
Find a story about Halloween and our bull in my book North Freedom—the combination made for an exciting adventure. The story on p. 193 is titled The Bull.
Buy the book here.