A Halloween tale

By Rick Hinton                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         “…and the goblins will get ya if you don’t watch out!”  James Whitcomb Riley

People tend to focus upon the paranormal yearly about this time as Halloween creeps upon us. Its appearance is on Wednesday, Oct. 31. Paranormal investigators would happily concede that ghostly shenanigans can happen any time of the year, and with no particular grand finale on the second largest commercial holiday this side of Christmas. There is, however, some history behind this focus upon the supernatural.

Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) is traced back to the pre-Christian Celtic festival of Samhain, when folks would light bonfires and wear costumes to fool ghosts seeking to cross over into the ‘other’ world. By disguising themselves as demons and other ghouls, they hoped to escape the notice of real spirits wandering the street during Samhain. So the story goes. It’s said that “Halloween provides a safe way to play with the concept of death”.

Every year my wife Laura designs the lawn for Halloween, with festive blow-ups, lights, tombstones and swirling ghosts on our exterior wall. We’ve seen far more elaborate setups, but it makes her happy, the grandkids love it and occasionally a car will honk its horn as they pass on busy Southport Road. We also have a bowl of candy by the front door… just in case. We’ve never had any trick-or-treaters (a busy road with no sidewalk), so we end up eating the bowl of candy ourselves. It’s become a tradition!

A memorial to missing trick-or-treaters. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

Some fun Halloween facts:

The tradition of costuming and trick-or-treating might just extend back to the practice of “mumming” and “guising” when people disguised themselves and went door to door, asking for food; tricking still happens (trash cans knocked over, egging of cars, toilet papering trees, etc.), but among the younger set of little ghouls and goblins, it’s rare. Try this. Tell them you have no treats and would rather have a trick. They will stare at you in silence.

The first Jack-o’-lanterns were turnips, not pumpkins. I imagine they were hard to carve; black and orange are colors associated with Halloween. Orange is a symbol of strength and endurance. Black symbolizes death and darkness. Quite the opposite! Fifty percent of kids prefer to have chocolate dropped into their bags. Twenty-four percent prefer non-chocolate, with others desiring gum. (We used to take the kids to the rich neighborhood where they gave out full-sized candy bars. Word spread. They became suspicious, asking where we lived. We haven’t been back.) Halloween, apparently, has no age restriction. While taking the grandkids through our neighborhood I’ve noticed platoons of obvious teenagers making the rounds. I’ve also witnessed teenagers, wearing no costumes, filling a pillowcase with goodies. Really? I guess the kid within us never completely goes away.

One man who has always intrigued me is the magician Harry Houdini. He died on Halloween in 1926. He had made a promise to his wife that he would give her a sign of his presence. Attempts throughout the years, on Halloween, were made. She never got that sign. It’s a sad story that stays with you. As for now, I will continue, while I can do so, to take my grandchildren through our neighborhood on this one time a year to collect their treats as the boundaries between life and death blur. And maybe… just maybe… one of these years, our doorbell will ring!