The Evolution of Halloween

“On the 31st of this month occurs what is known as All Hallow Eve, or Halloween. Of all the quaint superstitions that have been handed down to us, there are none that have taken a deeper hold upon the popular imagination than the observance of this event. The leading belief in regard to the Halloween is that of all others, it is the time when spirits, both of the visible and invisible world walk abroad and can be invoked by human powers for the purpose of revealing the mysterious future, and spirits may be ailed from the vasty deep at will.”1Richwood Gazette, Oct. 29, 1874.

Halloween didn’t start out as kids dressing up and going door to door for candy. That is a fairly recent phenomenon. Halloween originally began as a way for kids to play practical jokes and cause mischief. In Richwood in the late 1800s, kids would throw cabbages at people’s property and move objects in the road, obstructing traffic. One particular story shows the dangers of doing so, “That evening above all others in the year when the spirit of deviltry seems to predominate in all young people and prompt them to do things of which they are frequently much ashamed the next day, and which usually gets them into any amount of trouble is the holiday, or rather time of Halloween. The meaning of the day or why it is celebrated in the maner [sic] in which young America celebrates it, none can tell exactly although there are numbers of reasons given, and some of them may be correct, but we are of the opinion it was invented especially for everyone to give vent to all the deviltry which has lain half dormant within them all year, and to say that it is usually given good lengths of rope would be putting it mildly.

Halloween Party which took place in the attic of what is now Stofcheck-Ballinger Funeral Home circa 1910.

“The Richwood youths played the same old trick of stealing gates, throwing cabbage, corn, beans, etc., against the windows of business places and residences, pulling wagons and buggies onto the sidewalks and putting them in front of business places, etc., etc. To the early riser the streets presented an appearance of having been passed over by a cyclone on Sunday morning. But the spirit of misplacing things went too far with James Kinnear and Ellis Parish who placed an old buckboard on the Erie track near Beem’s mill. It was evidently placed there to be struck by the express train from the east, but it being late the obstruction was hit by a through freight train coming from the west. The headlight was badly broken and the light extinguished, while the buckboard was reduced to fragments and the train compelled to go to Marion without the light which reveals to the engineer all dangerous places in the road, and without which he is, while running his train, like a man “taking a leap in the dark.” The fact was communicated to Marshal Cunningham who after a little detective work landed the above named youths behind the bars on Sunday. Both confessed the crime and were placed under $500 bonds on Monday morning and in default of bail were on the same morning taken to jail at Marysville and at the next term of court will no doubt receive the limit of the law. If they do hot they richly deserve such. The offense is a penitentiary one. The boys are both toughs having been in other devilment. Not long since a corn cultivator belonging to George Handley was badly broken up and a boy fined, but Ellis Parish owned up to having a hand in its destruction, while on the way to jail. Some of his father’s sheep have at times disappeared and the carcasses were found buried. He is a son of Daniel Parish, a good farmer and a splendid gentleman, whose Military career is an honorable one and who is a member of the Livingston Post, and is much grieved at the actions of his son, who with such a father should be a gentleman. His parents, as well as those of Kinnear, have our sympathy.”2Richwood Gazette. Nov. 5, 1891. Daniel Parish later published a notice in the Gazette, stating that he had never found the carcass of a sheep buried at his farm and hadn’t owned sheep for at least four years.

Fifth and sixth graders at Jackson Local School showing off their Halloween costumes in 1955-56.

In 1892, the Richwood Gazette’s large bulletin board, which weighed 300 pounds and was located just outside the Gazette office, was later found adorning a hay stack on the outskirts of town. The paper claimed they knew the names of half the kids who did it and prompted them to return it back the way it was before the sheriff gets involved. Other aftermath included country roads being blocked by fences, corn stalks being rooted from fields and planted in people’s yards, and various remains of cabbage scattered across people’s properties.

Halloween parties were also held and were well attended by young people. Activities like bobbing for apples and pumpkin carving was still very prevalent. It wasn’t until the 1930s when children were given everything from homemade cookies and pieces of cake to fruit, nuts, coins and toys. In the 1950s, candy manufacturers began to get in on the act and promote their products for Halloween, and as trick-or-treating became more popular, candy was increasingly regarded as an affordable, convenient offering. It wasn’t until the 1970s, though, that wrapped, factory-made candy was viewed as the only acceptable thing to hand out to all the little ghosts and goblins that showed up on people’s doorsteps. A key reason for this was safety, as parents feared that real-life boogeymen might tamper with goodies that weren’t store-bought and sealed.


  • 1
    Richwood Gazette, Oct. 29, 1874.
  • 2
    Richwood Gazette. Nov. 5, 1891.

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