The Ghoul Old Days

A reader reminisces:

I read with interest your post on Evangelicals and the morphing of Halloween into an adult celebration. I’m 65 and enjoyed Halloween in the post-WWII days that were unencumbered by the shibboleth of razor blades in apples.  It was a heady time of kids roaming the streets after dark unsupervised in mashed together costumes from parents’ closets and corked faces.  It was giddy and wonderful and the “evil” abroad was pretty much limited to the naughtiness of smashed pumpkins, trees festooned with toilet paper and car windows spattered with shaving cream.  My sister and I never engaged in the tricks but we, sheltered Catholic school girls that we were, never went home until people stopped opening their doors to us sometime after 9pm.

My generation got to fully indulge in the permission to be libertine for one night of the year.  We grew up to put on a costume as adults and use the excuse for a party, but for us it was never the event on steroids that it became for the generation that followed.

Parents became paranoid that their own neighbors were trying to poison their kids.  They raised their kids with the conscious message that anyone they didn’t know was a stranger who needed to be distrusted. Their Halloweens were anemic chaperoned affairs conducted in commercial costumes heavily influenced by TV characters or the witch/ghost/clown standards in acetate and screen printed masks.  At home, before they got to tuck into their loot, parents had to go through it to make sure there was nothing so onerous as a homemade cookie or popcorn ball and that each item was commercially prepared and individually wrapped.

No wonder their kids grew up to embrace the goth well beyond Halloween and usher in the slutty adult costume.  They didn’t have any idea how to “do” Halloween for their kids, so they huddled them together into suburban parties and marauded shopping malls. Eventually they hurled them into the sad church-sponsored Trunk or Treat things that are only marginally better than the gratuitous Halloween Horrors things they first used to hammer home their point and now do as annual fund raisers.  If they give out candy, they do it resentfully grousing that someone may have come into their neighborhood for a rotten 5¢ candy bar or that they’re “too old” and not entitled to have some fun.

Each year I still remember the fun I had.  Unfortunately, it’s also tinged now with sadness for what Halloween has been turned into.

Speaking of parents’ paranoia about poisoned candy, Dan Lewis dutifully debunks that enduring myth by detailing the “only known example of a person intentionally poisoning Halloween candy and providing it to neighborhood trick-or-treaters”:

On Halloween, 1974, an 8-year-old boy named Timothy O’Bryan died. His candy had, indeed, been poisoned. A few days prior, his father, Ronald Clark O’Bryan, took out a $40,000 life insurance policy on Timothy and Timothy’s sister, Elizabeth (then age 5), as an unimaginable way to get out of debt. The only way to collect required that at least one of his children die, so the elder O’Bryan laced some Pixy Stix with cyanide and cajoled his son into eating one before bed.

As murder would negate the insurance policy, the father had to cover his tracks. Already showing a wanton disregard for the lives of others—children, at that—he decided to potentially kill a few. He distributed some of the tainted candy to at least four other children (including his daughter), according to the Houston Chronicle, setting up the story that a neighborhood madman or demented factory worker had caused the tragic death of his son. Fortunately, he was unsuccessful. None of the other children ended up eating the poison, in part due to a quick reaction from authorities and in part due to dumb luck—an 11-year-old tried to eat the sugar in the Pixy Stix he received, but could not undo the staples that O’Bryan had used to reseal the package.

Like our reader, but from a very different perspective. Liz Galvao issuescri de coeur torise up and take back our holiday” – for goths:

These days, a plague of indifference has consumed the goth community when it comes to Halloween. Even when I was a wee kindergoth, we had respect for the true meaning of All Hallow’s Eve. It wasn’t all Nightmare Before Christmas screenings and weirding people out at the mall. Sure, it had pagan origins or something, but at least we knew it didn’t belong to the posers in the store­-bought witch costumes. Goths these days couldn’t care less about the holiday. They’re more concerned with their Tumblr reblogs and sideways cross jewelry than with protecting the history of their people. …

I write to you now a reluctant but natural leader, like Robin Tunney’s character in The Craft. We must fight to end the commercialization of Halloween, because it is the only way we can survive. If we do not seize Halloween from those that would sell it to us, what is to become of our rich gothic subculture? Why avoid the sun and dye our hair black (red, green, purple)? Why pretend to understand Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari? Why read Poppy Z. Brite over Charlaine Harris? We might as well give up and name our dogs Bella. I stand here today, a proud gothic American, and I pledge to stand with you and fight. For if we do not reclaim Halloween for goths, then like Bela Lugosi, we are dead.

Previous Dish on goths herehere and here.