Long years ago, next to Christmas and the Easter bunny, the happiest holiday for kids was Halloween. Little kids — I suppose that meant 10 and under — would raise the dickens. It was neighborhood noisy, with shelled corn and laundry soap and horns and spools wrapped in twine. No one had masks or costumes. It was innocence, long before Charlie Brown and the pumpkin patch.
Little kids would head out after dark carrying 5-pound paper sacks of corn kernels, sneak up on someone’s parlor window, and throw a fistful of corn against the glass. It made quite a clattering noise and was supposed to frighten the occupants who had just finished supper.
The braver kids pulled off the clattering spool trick. Days before Halloween, we would get empty spools from mom’s Singer sewing machine and notch the edges. The spool would be wound with twine and a heavy nail loosely was stuck in the middle to hold the notched spool. Hold it against a window and quickly pull the string. It made a terrible noise. You had to run away fast.
BARS OF SOAP, usually Fels Naptha, made homeowners angry at Halloween. Kids used soap for drawing swirls, Felix the Cat and tic-tac-toe games on windows. We had to be very quiet and not get caught. My dad, a grocer, knew that kids would plaster his store windows with soap sayings, so he encouraged it. Before dark he painted greetings on the windows with white chalk: “Have fun,” “Say nice things” and “Free food.” He left the Fels Naptha art in place until the next afternoon. After school, it was my tough job — with a long brushe — to scrub off the soap.
Older kids thought tossing corn was kid-sissy stuff. In west Davenport, rowdy teens from Park Lawn, the Fejervary Park area of Davenport, would latch onto one of Johnny Nagel’s rickety buggies. They’d pull it through the streets, yelling bawdy epitaphs. No one could understand why Johnny, a crusty old fellow, kept a couple of old buggies in his shed near 7th or 8th streets.
MY ONLY MISHAP came when I tossed an overdose of corn against a window on Cedar Street. The bloke who lived there took out after us and tackled me. I went down hard, and the guy laughed. Later that night, when all the lights in the house were dark, a few of us went back and soaped all his downstairs windows.
The older the kids, the more sophisticated the stunts. Augustana College students had a whee of a time at Halloween. In 1950, they gathered a bunch of junk cars and piled them in front of Old Main. Over this mess, students erected an arch, “Crazy Connie’s Used Cars.” The prez of Augie at the time was Conrad Bergendoff. The Times newspaper ran a picture.
I remember writing an adult Halloween quip, pulled off in Iowa City in 1981. The wife told her husband to watch the front door on trick or treat night. Unknown to him, she hurried upstairs and hustled into nothing more than a mask and robe. Out the back of the house she sneaked, ran around to her own front door and slipped out of her robe. She nearly gave her husband apoplexy when she practically threw her nude body at him, screaming, “Trick or treat.”