This time of year, orange is the new black, and vice versa. But is it just me or has Hallowe’en gone on for weeks and weeks…and weeks. For some folks, pumpkin spice season started in late August. But at my house, we are happy celebrating a more traditional Hallowe’en – an event measured in hours, versus weeks.
Now, if you talk to folks of a certain age, Hallowe’en had nothing to do with candy – and everything to do with causing mayhem, especially to people in the neighborhood who were considered “mean.”
One correspondent in their 70s admitted to “pressing door knobs and running – knocking over trash barrels – stealing pumpkins and smashing them,” when I asked about Oct. 31 activities (this person preferred to stay anonymous despite my assurances that the statute of limitations for vegetable thievery has probably passed).
But over time, the custom of children putting on costumes and roaming their neighborhoods collecting candy without any “tricks” became the norm. However, I well remember being a very young child in our family home at the end of Main Street in Lunenburg on Hallowe’en night. Just before bedtime, a herd of teen ruffians stampeded onto our farmers’ porch to swipe the jack o’lanterns.
Fortunately, our kindly neighbor Ida “Gram” Ellis was looking after us that night. She consoled my brother Hal and me by saying that the wild animals would be happy to eat the bits of pumpkin. Still, it was a terrifying memory.
When some of us were growing up in homes filled with mid-century modern furniture on its first go-round, the height of luxury was a “store-bought” costume. This consisted of a hard plastic mask with eye holes and a flimsy gown-style costume made of colored rayon. Special bags for candy hadn’t been invented, so you’d bring a laundry bag or satchel. Looney Tunes cartoon characters were big, ditto Batman and Spiderman. If these items made it through the evening without cracking, tearing or shredding, it was a miracle. (Aside: If any of you have a ‘60s- or ‘70s-era costume that survived, get in touch with Rick Paige, of Atomic Dimestore, online. He is looking for “TV-related or monster-related” items, also superheroes.)
However, we Cragins were a theatre family, and there was no way we weren’t going to make our costumes. I was mad about Australian animals and went as a kookaburra, a koala and a kangaroo in subsequent years (all costumes started with a pair of foot pajamas).
In Lunenburg, the houses were few and far between so in early years, off we went to our grandparents’ house in Fitchburg. In the Beacon/Atlantic neighborhood off Summer Street we were surrounded by gangs of children in costume, and houses one after another. The candy pickings were well worth it!
Fitchburg native Janice Nurmi has fond recollections of the annual Hallowe’en tradition. “We had a box of Hallowe’en things (decorations, various parts of costumes) up in our attic. At this time of the year, I couldn’t wait to open it up and look through. I may have had one store-bought costume, but otherwise my costumes came from that box in the attic.”
Nurmi’s family lived on Columbus Street. “We especially liked the tenement buildings because we could get treats from three different apartments in just one house. Believe it or not, my favorite treats were bags of homemade popcorn. Such fun memories.”
But Fitchburg also has its share of ghosts – and ghost stories. I asked people in the Fitchburg Historical Society Facebook page about supernatural encounters and Linda Gosselin shared a story about babysitting at a house on Blossom Street (where all the houses are old) when she was 15.
“I kept hearing footsteps walking up and down the hall upstairs. The little boy I was taking care of was sound asleep. Every time I went upstairs to check, the steps would stop and then resume as soon as I got back downstairs. Who was pacing?!”
Who indeed. One individual in Fitchburg was so committed to his belief in an earthly afterlife that he endowed a professorial chair at Clark University for the purpose of studying the paranormal. Joseph A. Battles is his name, and we will explore his story in the next “Tales from Tri-Town.”
In the meantime – save the Heath Bars for your faithful correspondent here, and remember to vote on November 7.
Sally Cragin is an award-winning journalist and reachable by talk or text at 978-320-1335.