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A glimpse at local Halloween celebrations of the past

By TIFFANY TOWNER

Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va.  — Tonight, children will take to the streets for treat-or-treating. They will be dressed in costumes: some homemade and some store-bought. The costumes could be inspired by pop culture, such as “Paw Patrol” or “Frozen” costumes, or maybe they were made based on ideas spotted on Pinterest.

Eighth-grade students at Pleasant Valley School, with teacher Miss Kathleen Riley, temporarily turned their schoolroom into a haunted house in 1977.
(Photo from the Times West Virginian archives.)

It’s fairly easy to know what Halloween celebrations in modern times are like, but how was the holiday celebrated in the past? We went to the archives to get an insight into Marion County’s historic Halloweens.

The Roaring ’20s

An account of a “Hallowe’en” carnival held Oct. 31, 1927 was given in the Nov. 1 edition. Throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, the spelling of Halloween had an apostrophe in it, denoting that it is a contraction of “All Hallows Evening.”

For the carnival in 1927, Adams Street was blocked off to traffic, and crowds filled the streets. There was music played, confetti thrown, and costumes.

The Fairmont Times details “hundreds of people, bizarre in brilliant, weird, comic, horrible and even beautiful costumes.” These costumes included ghosts, clowns, witches and ogres. A parade was held as a band played, and confetti was apparently everywhere, “The latter, in all the colors ever thought of, fairly carpeted the sidewalks and was lavishly sprinkled on the costumes and in the hair of the masqueraders, as well as upon the hundreds of observers and pedestrians who crowded the walks.”

As was the case in newspapers of yore, accounts of private parties were given in the paper. One such account, in the Oct. 30, 1927 edition, told of a party for the Women’s and Men’s Bible classes at the home of Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Fleming on Bellview Avenue.

“The Fleming home was cleverly decorated with Hallowe’en colors and the guests came in masquerade costumes,” the account states. “A sheeted figure was placed at the foot of the stairway and other weird symbols were used in the hall and living room. In a contest at guessing the most identities of the masked guests, Mrs. Burns Moore was the winner.”

Tricks and treats in the ‘30s

The Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating didn’t gain steam until the late 1920s and 1930s. An article on history.com states that Halloween mischief often resulted in violence and vandalism, or “tricks.”

“One theory holds that it was the excessive pranks on Halloween that led to the widespread adoption of an organized, community-based trick-or-treating tradition in the 1930s,” history.com states.

An account of the tricks was detailed in the Nov. 1, 1937 edition, when some issues in Clarksburg were related.

“Several youths were brought to the police station and given reprimands (Oct. 31) relative to the alleged destruction of property as a part of their Hallowe’en demonstrations,” the Fairmont Times states. “Chief of Police Howard Drummond announced tonight that all officers will work overtime Monday and afternoon and evening during the Hallowe’en festivities, which will consist of a huge mummers’ parade over the block in the downtown section.”

Many Halloween-themed parties were detailed in the Times editions of 80 years ago. They often were described to have people attending in “masquerade costumes,” however an account of a Hallowe’en dance at the Elks Lodge described guests as wearing “grotesque costumes.”

As can be expected, refreshments were served at most of these parties. Some accounts described the refreshments as being “appropriate to the season,” and they often similarly served gingerbread, cider and pumpkin pie.

Halloween decorations at some of these parties were described. At the annual Hallowe’en masquerade ball of the Field Club, the Oct. 31, 1937 edition recounts: “the lounge and dining room were beautiful in weird decorations of cornstalks, black cats and autumn leaves.” In the same edition, a Hallowe’en masquerade party for the young people of the First Presbyterian Church was held in the Sunday school rooms. “This large room was decorated with corn stalks, autumn leaves, witch faces and black cat cutouts, with all lights covered with pumpkin faces.”

Games “in-keeping with the season” are often mentioned, but not detailed. However one account of an old-fashioned Hallowe’en party at the Fairmont theater stage was given in the Oct. 29, 1937 edition. The party included pie-eating contests, apple-dunking contests, as well as something named as a “slice and flour” contest. If all that old-fashioned fun wasn’t enough, a movie was also shown, “the first-run feature picture, “This Way Please,” starring Buddy Rogers, Betty Grable, Ned Sparks and the radio sensation Mary Livingstone.”

60 and 50 years ago

There wasn’t just one night of trick-or-treating in 1957. Acting Fairmont Police Chief Carl R. Cain informed the community that the first night of trick-or-treating would be Oct. 29, as well as Oct. 30 and 31.

“Cain said the age limit for tricking and treating is 12 years,” an article in the Oct. 29, 1957 newspaper states. “He said older children may accompany the children but can not be masked. He added that vandalism will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and reminded parents that under a new law passed by the 1957 Legislature, parents can be held responsible for the acts of their children.”

Sophomores at East Fairmont High School celebrated Halloween with a sock hop in 1967, and a photo shows them with a person in a zombie costume — many years before the “Walking Dead” gained popularity.

An ad running Oct. 26, 1967 for Gray’s Cut Rate Store, which was located at 135 Adams Street, also gives an insight into popular costumes 50 years ago. Available for the cost of $1.78 were G.I. Joe, Man From UNCLE, Lone Ranger, Batman, a witch, and the Esso Tiger costumes. You could also get a Rayon “fright wig” for 69 cents. On the sweet side, candy bars were for sale at 5 cents each, and gum or mints were 10 for 37 cents. A package of 80 Dum Dum suckers was 69 cents.

Tiffany Towner is the editor of the Times West Virginian. She can be reached at [email protected].

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