Happy Halloween! As we celebrate the spooky season let’s look at Halloween past. Today we see costumed children going door-to-door; but, historically Halloween was very different. There are many articles on the holiday’s origin. Few articles discuss how early Americans celebrated. Before the mid-1800s, many American’s didn’t recognize the holiday at all. At that time Irish and British immigrants imported the holiday. By the early 1900s Halloween became a widespread celebration.
However, the holiday did not look like it does today. Instead, from the late 1800s to 1920s Halloween was a different kind of event. Parties decorated in a harvest or a spooky theme were common. Pumpkins, fruit, nuts, fudge and pie graced the table alongside seasonal ice cream. While some parties included costumes, more often they focused on dancing or games. Oftentimes they were little more than a themed occurrence of a regular event. The modern concept of trick-or-treating was not included in any celebrations.
Instead, for what we would now call teenagers, chaos was their calling. Roving bands of older children would ravage neighborhoods, leaving destruction in their path. Pranks and vandalism were the name of the game. From the minor act of soaping windows, to tearing up the sidewalks October was a month of damage. You can see from the November 1, 1906 Wyoming Tribune the older children got into trouble. This happened often enough that many cities commissioned special police for the season.
It was not until the 1930s that the holiday started to resemble how we celebrate today. Many communities started putting on large scale celebrations to keep kids occupied. For instance, in November 2, 1939 Douglas Budget reports on a local Halloween party. They stated that, “Douglas kids had more fun than kids elsewhere in the state and did it with practically no damage of property.”
Children’s and teens celebration of the holiday started to have less property damage. This is when the holiday began to transition into how communities celebrate today.
In celebration of holidays past, let’s look at two patents that may have helped aid or abet Halloween mischief. One common Halloween prank was the relocation of anything not nailed down. For instance, the October 30, 1909 Wyoming Tribune states that vehicles “may mysteriously develop power and start off on a long journey.” In 1920, E. Cooper invented something to prevent such hijinks. The Cheyenne patent is for locking the electric switches on automobiles. Without access to the electronics, hooligans couldn’t run away with someone’s vehicle.
This next patent combines the traditional Jack-O-Lantern with a spooky addition. During the early 1900’s Jack-O-Lanterns were often carried in the streets to spook and awe. The 1927 patent for a “movable feature figure toy” aims to create a handheld pumpkin face. Invented by John L. Centlivere of Laramie, the aim of the invention is to have a moving face on a lit Jack-O-Lantern. Using a single hand, this invention can move its eyes and mouth, spooking any passerby. This invention also had a steady base to allow for table decoration.
To learn more about the history of Halloween check out Britannica’s Halloween entry. The encyclopedia is available through GoWYLD.net with a local Wyoming library card. To read more about historic celebrations go to the Wyoming Digital Newspaper Collection. Searching Halloween brings up reports of parties and of communities decrying youthful damages. For more patents, Halloween related and otherwise, go to the Wyoming Inventors Collection. The collection contains full pdfs of every patent granted to a Wyomingite.