Halloween traces its history far back into the past. By the early 20th century, the day had become a popular holiday in America. Usually spelled Hallowe’en at the time, a 20th Century Grays Harbor Halloween looked very different than it does today.

Halloween Tricks Not Treats on Grays Harbor

For children, especially young boys, a turn of the century Halloween meant a night of pranks and mischief. The holiday was dreaded by many adults. “The sportive ‘kid,’” complained the Aberdeen Herald in 1892, “raised Cain on Halloween eve; but it was in the same old way—changing signs, unhinging gates and knocking down woodpiles.” One group even stole a school bell.

Halloween pranks were usually tame but could be a pain to clean up. Children soaped up windows of homes and businesses, tied ropes between telephone poles to trip people and dumped loads of wood into the sloughs. “The prankish boy was in evidence last night,” complained the Aberdeen Herald again in 1900, “celebrating Halloween, in the manner peculiarly his own.” But these “peculiar ways” always had the potential of going too far.

Aberdeen and Hoquiam’s streetcar system was a particular target. In 1913 Conductor Dick Miles got in an argument with a woman by the track on Market and D Streets in Aberdeen who refused to answer if she would board the car. It was a dummy. A motorman in South Aberdeen got a worse scare when a dummy was placed over the tracks like a dead body.

This Aberdeen Daily World cartoon from October 30, 1920 shows a child’s Halloween dilemma: pie or jack-o-lantern. Pumpkin pie filling in a can had yet to become popular. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

1920 brought near disaster. The North Hoquiam streetcar was approaching Monroe and Ramer Avenues when the conductor spied through the fog a large dirt wagon blocking the track. To avoid a collision, he braked so hard that passengers were knocked from their seats. The rail had also been greased and rigged to derail the car. Things were not any better on the road between Aberdeen and Hoquiam as drivers had to dodge obstacles such as a barrel of sand and half a load of wood.

City officials tried to put a stop to the mayhem, with mixed success. After a particularly bad year, the Aberdeen Daily World declared in 1905 that while “Tonight is Hallowe’en, a time in the year which lies next to Christmas in the hearts of many a small boy. This evening there will be all kinds of innocent fun indulged in, but Marshal Carter is determined that fun shall not be merged into hoodlumism.” Unsurprisingly, despite bringing in extra police, the city met with limited success and holiday vandalism and petty theft continued.

Halloween Parties in Grays Harbor

Other people celebrated Halloween in more peaceful ways while their neighbors were tearing up the town. Halloween parties were popular for clubs, lodges, churches and friends, especially for children and young people.

The local Emeneker Piano Company promoted buying a Columbia Grafonola, a type of phonograph that played recorded music, for Halloween dances. Published in the Aberdeen Daily World, October 30, 1920. Photo courtesy: Washington State Library

Young women hosted a ghost party at Crummey’s Hall in Aberdeen in 1893. Guests wore sheets and pillowcases. “The invitations,” reported the Aberdeen Herald, “were written on a miniature sheet, which was tucked into a correspondingly small pillow case, the corner of which was deftly turned down and sealed with wax. The hall was tastefully decorated, and lighted with Chinese lanterns, whose softened light gave to all a weird appearance, and made the figures draped in white seem ghost like indeed as they tripped the light fantastic.”

Decorations were an important part of Halloween parties. George Nye held a party at his Hoquiam home for Sunday School students in 1905. “The house was appropriately decorated with jack[-o-]lanterns, skulls, etc.,” wrote the Hoquiam American, “which expressed the spirt of the occasion.” They played games and told ghost stories. Refreshments were individual mince pies and cider. Each guest received a small toy skeleton on a wire as a favor.

Halloween Party Ideas

For those planning a party, local newspapers were full of ideas. Games, especially old fortune telling customs were particularly popular for children’s parties. In 1912 the Aberdeen Herald suggested making place-cards with fortunes written in invisible ink on the back, revealed only by holding the paper up to the candleflame.

A boy gifts his sweetheart a pumpkin in this Halloween postcard. Postcards were often sent to friends and family to mark the holiday at the turn of the century.

For those unwilling to make their own decorations, stores had a few options. Aberdeen’s F.W. Woolworth Co. (208 East Heron Street) sold Halloween postcards, toys and pumpkins in 1915. For decorations people could also turn to Grays Harbor Drug Co. (Eighth and J Streets) in Hoquiam for Dennison’s company popular crepe paper products like tablecloths, costumes, masks, etc.

For recipes, readers of the Aberdeen Herald could turn to Anna Thompson’s “The Kitchen Cupboard” column, which published many charming holiday recipes over time. She included taffy recipes in October 1912 “for the children’s Halloween feast” and had even more suggestions for Halloween-themed nut cakes in December 1912 (for Halloween 1913, presumably). “Appropriate ornaments for the cakes,” she wrote “are the tiny cats, pumpkins, and miniature vegetables, etc., that can be purchased at the confectioner’s. A toy witch with her broomstick or a goddess holding up a horn of plenty will make a striking centerpiece for a cake.”

Cider was a favorite beverage but in November 1912 Thompson suggested making a “witch’s punch.” This consisted of orange, lemon, and pineapple juices mixed with ginger, sugar and tea, and served from a cauldron.

But by the 1920s things were already starting to change in Grays Harbor County. Trick-or-treating for candy began to overtake pranking and became steadily more popular over time. Halloween is still a popular holiday today, enjoyed by many people.

From trick-or-treating to parties or however you may choose to celebrate, here’s wishing you a Happy Halloween!

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