Halloween In The Back Country!
by Norris Chambers
In the late Spring of 1935 I came to Fort Worth for schooling at Brantley Draughon College, and was in the middle of downtown when Halloween time arrived. I was not aware of any trick or treating, but the downtown area from the courthouse to the railroad was filled with pedestrians dressed in wild Halloween costumes. They just walked up and down the streets and blew their blaring whistles and exhibited their weird dress.
Without costume or decoration, I walked with them. I didn't really feel self conscious because I was not in costume. A serious observer might have determined that I was in costume. But it was just my natural country look.
I don't know of any damage that was done. Everyone just seemed to be having a good time. It reminded me a lot, with the exception of the costumes, of a Saturday night in the little country towns in my home area. Everyone flocked to town on Saturday night. Teens and young men cadillaced their Model A's up and down the main street and those without wheels walked the sidewalks. The cafes and drug store fountains were jammed and the picture show was full. Everyone thought it was a fun thing.
The first Halloween I was aware of came without any commercialism of publicity. I was staying with my brother while school was in progress and we drifted through the night without any disturbance. However, the next morning when Clifton and I walked into the school yard, we saw that some goblins had been present. There was a complete farm wagon standing on top of the building, straddling the top-most ridge of the roof. When we started in the front door, we noticed that the lock had been forced and the doors opened.
We were informed shortly after arriving that the school bell was missing. The school bell was a large iron mission-type casting, mounted on a heavy wooden post about eight or ten feet high. An arm on the bell connected with a rope to a steel eye on the facing of the Principal's office window. The Principal opened the window and tugged on the rope when it was time for school to start, recess to begin or end, for the beginning of lunch hour and for the dismissal of school at 4:00 in the afternoon.
When we gathered in our room for the business of the day, the teacher discovered that someone had dumped a bucket of disturbed ants in her right desk drawer. We learned later that the ants had been captured by a ten or twelve year old joker by the name of Jake. He told me that he would bury a quart jar near an ant hill, leaving the top of the jar even with the surface of the ground. Ants fell into the jar and couldn't climb out on the slick glass. He said that he dumped two full quart jars into the desk drawer. The teacher kept busy all day with a broom, sweeping ants off the floor. She took the desk drawer outside and emptied it, however many of the little fellows had escaped into the room. She tried sweeping them into a waste paper basket, but they climbed out as fast as they could be captured. She finally decided just to sweep them outside. We got rid of the ants by recess.
By noon the wagon on the roof had been disassembled and returned to the owner. The bell had not been located.
But crime in a small town is solved as most crimes are in the city. Someone identified a few of the culprits, and they implicated the rest when questioned. The bell had been thrown into the muddy tank below the hill. That tank was the sole water supply for that dry little town. The older boys that were involved were forced to wade into the chilly water and retrieve the heavy bell. I remember it being brought back to the school in a wheel barrow. With a little help from the town blacksmith, it was put back on the post and was again ready to do its job.
There was a public whipping for about a half dozen big boys that were involved. The Principal had all classes meet in the conference room, formed by opening the wall between two class rooms and the Principal and Superintendent's office. There was standing room only for most of the audience. Two obliging students had gone to the tank and brought back an arm load of long willow switches.
After a short lecture, the show began. The Superintendent and one of the men teachers held the captive, one on each side, stretching the arms out. The principal proceeded to wallop the back side from ankle to shoulders. There was a lot of screaming and yelling. Some of the girls in the audience had to cover their eyes. The action was too horrible to watch. This continued until the whole group had received what the Principal considered ample punishment.
The boy that brought the ants had not been apprehended at this time. By the time word spread that he was guilty, the whole affair had become ancient history, and he was never punished for his part in the episode.
I don't remember any other drastic tricks at this school. Years later, the new two story brick school house became host to a live milk cow. This cow was on the roof of the building, walking along the edge and mooing and wondering how she would get down. No one knew exactly how she had been hoisted to the thirty foot roof, but I remember two of the school trustees and an oil field pumper bringing a truck mounted pulling machine and lowering old bossy to the ground in a double thickness ducking sling. She appeared glad to be back on earth, and was immediately escorted home for the morning milking.
This Halloween prank was never solved, at least not publicly. I'm sure some of the adults knew who was involved. We heard rumors, but never any facts. Some said there were enough boys to lift the cow manually to the roof with ropes. Some said that a pulling machine had been used. There were several leases in the area that had pulling machines. These were usually truck mounted devices used to pull rods and tubing from oil wells. Most of them had an engine and a reel of cable. The cable went over the top of a thirty or forty foot iron mast that folded over the back of the truck, but could be hoisted erect for hoisting pipe or rods from the wells. These were often used for moving or loading heavy objects.
It was not until 1947 that we saw the trick or treat version of celebrating Halloween. Since then, there has been very little damage done by the celebrants. In the last few years it has been a practice in most cities and communities to host a Halloween celebration where carnival facilities have been made available. These are popular, and even the trick or treat practice has almost disappeared.
Why do we celebrate Halloween? Who cares, as long as we have fun.
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