Halloween Hy-jinks

Halloween is enthusiastically celebrated by most children in the McHenry County and has been for a many years. Over time, parties, scary movies and trick-or-treating have become how the day is celebrated. However, as with most things, how it has been observed has changed greatly over time. In the late nineteenth century, Halloween pranks, which while still common today, was the driving force for some youngsters during this autumnal event. Most pranks were seen as “innocent amusement”, while others were disruptive, mean spirited or simply destructive. By the mid to late 1910s, the tolerance for this behavior had pretty much dissolved.

Halloween picked up in popularity in McHenry County during the late 1880s. With it came parties and other events, with children dressing up in costume, playing games and eating tasty sweets. However there was another way to “celebrate”, which sometimes led to the destruction of property and in some cases personal injury. Most often there were the standard forms of tomfoolery. This included the soaping of windows, which was the comparatively harmless rubbing of soap on the windows of someones house or business. Some took it a step further and coated the steps of a structure with pine tar, which was very sticky and could be difficult to remove. There was also the use of vegetables, most notably cabbage. These were thrown at residences, placed in a pile on door steps or strewn about the streets. Some parties were too enthusiastic and tossed cabbages through the windows of homes. Gates from fencing also fell victim and were often removed and placed in various locations, such as lamp posts and trees.

Photograph that appeared in Oct 24, 1962 Pictorial Newsletter

Then there were those who really got into the “spirit.” Nothing was safe, not even wagons, plows and other implements that people used for their livelihood. For instance, ne’er-do-wells would sometimes stack wagons and other items around, or in some cases, on top of buildings. In one instance in 1893, a group in Marengo took several plows and wagons, and proceeded to place them all in the town’s band shell, essentially filling the structure. Reportedly, one of the farmer’s cows was placed on one of the wagons, where she patiently waited to be rescued. Sometimes the wooden sidewalks were flipped upside down, as they were in McHenry in 1895. Another year in McHenry, the morning after one Halloween showed signs of a good time for pranksters, including a piece of “woman’s wearing apparel” that was left on the doorknob of the Plaindealer. The editor offered to give it back, no questions asked.

There were times however, when Halloween fun could take a serious turn. A J.B. Bennett smashed his foot with a large plank in 1896, while helping remove a wagon that had been placed a rail platform. In 1895, a proprietor of a barber shop in Crystal Lake, William Swartz, opened fire on a couple of potential miscreants. The problem was that they probably weren’t “celebrating” and just driving their wagon down the road. During the incident, Swartz managed to shot one person in the shoulder. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. Also, it doesn’t seem that Swartz faced any serious legal punishment.

Warning from village president that appeared in Oct 23, 1919 McHenry Plaindealer.

Many older, and probably influential citizens of the area didn’t appreciate all these shenanigans, and often wrote to the newspapers voicing their displeasure. It wasn’t uncommon to see pieces in the newspaper following Halloween with threats of legal action, if offending parties didn’t fix or pay for repairs to damaged property. What became even more common were notices from local law enforcement strongly discouraging any behavior that would damage property. This included putting patrols out on Halloween night. While this seemed to be rather commonplace, the patrols seemed to take a more serious tone going into the 1910s. What had been gentile nudging from local newspaper editors and citizens shaking their fingers about the possible consequences of destroying property, had evolved into sheriffs bluntly saying that there would be legal ramifications. By about 1915, is was usually noted that only a few pranks had been pulled and those were relatively tame. At this time, Halloween took on its more familiar party throwing, trick-or-treating event we know today.

  • “We earnestly hope the hoodlums…” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 6 Jan 1892, 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Mr. Editor” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 2 Nov 1892, 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Editor Plaindealer” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 9 Nov 1892, 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Thus Far The Participants..” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 8 Nov 1893, 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021..
  • “Last Night Was Made Hideous” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 1 Nov 1891, 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “J.B. Bennett Had the misfortune…” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 9 Nov 1899, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Halloween Coming” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 18 Oct 1917, 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “A Warning” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 23 Oct 1919, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “The youngsters as well as the…” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 4 Nov 1915, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Must Repair Damage” The McHenry Plaindealer. (McHenry, IL) 4 Nov 1915, 1. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Last Thursday Evening” The Herald. (Crystal Lake, IL) 7 Nov 1895, 4. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.
  • “Oh, What A Night” The Marengo Republican-News. (Marengo, IL) 3 Nov 1893, 5. Newspapers.com. Web. 7 Oct 2021.