On the eve of Halloween in 1938 Orson Welles scared the hell out of thousands of people with his version of that other Wells’ classic, “War Of The Worlds.” In case there was any doubt the power of radio and public gullibility were demonstrated. I was five at the time and have no first-hand stories to relate but folks hid in their cellars, jammed the highways and wrapped wet towels around their head to offset the poison gas.
My early memories of Halloween have to do with colored chalk, marked clothing and early graffiti. Benign vandalism graduated into a more malicious mischief Huck Finn might have done; knocking over garbage cans and other assaults on private property.
By the mid-fifties the last night of October became an occasion to dress up kids to go Trick or Treating. I always regarded the concept as a form of extortion. You gimme this or I’ll do that. …except there was no that. We just wowed at the costumes and dished out the goodies….. which probably caused stomach aches, tooth decay, acne and early onset diabetes.
Barely noticed at the time a group of children collected money instead of sticky, gooey stuff. It was 1950 and UNICEF was the beneficiary. Kids giving to kids. That first $17 started the custom which has now grown to over 144 million dollars donated on Halloween.
Around 1970 the Mexican Day Of The Dead started to merge with the Celtic origins of our All Hallows Eve. Embracing Dia de los Muertos we honor the dead. Not a bad way to bring the reality of death into our consciousness as part of the continuum. It shouldn’t be surprising that the pagan rituals persist, almost universally observed. They persevered through the Spanish conquistadors, Christianity, chalk, vandalism and Trick Or Treating..
Tonight we dress up as ghouls or watch zombie movies or just turn out the lights as if we’re not home all in observance of the dead souls roaming the earth.