Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hallowe'en in Old Fairhope

October 29

From When We Had the Sky (later retitled The Fair Hope of Heaven):

"Halloween used to be a major holiday in Fairhope. Costumes filled the streets in the days when youngsters were allowed to roam freely without adult companions. Behind a mask you could find a world of free expression, as the Greeks learned in ancient rituals that became the origin of theatre – as I learned in Fairhope at Halloween. The shy, repressed child that I once was was allowed for a night to be anybody she wanted, and she wanted to be the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

"The big party at the Organic School was held of the Friday night before Halloween. The school students produced it, lock, stock, and broomstick; It always featured a costume parade for adults and children, a cakewalk or two or three, a Wheel of Fortune rigged up with a bicycle wheel, a Fun House organized by the Junior High. Sometimes an adult took as visible role, as when Virginia Austin appeared as a gypsy fortuneteller; the high school kids screened off a portion of the building (Comings Hall, long since demolished) with sheets, so that they might produce a silly rhyming playlet, “Little Nell” bobbing up and down to emphasize the iambic pentameter, while on the other side of the hall apples similarly bobbed up and down in washtubs of water for the little ones to retrieve.

"Before the Halloween party could be held, the students spent several days decorating the barny old building, partitioning the outer rim with sheets and setting up a big central area to mill around in.

"People took their costumes seriously in those days. One year Helene Hunter, mother of my classmate Suzie and her two younger siblings, came as a floor lamp complete with cord and shade. My little brother at the age of eight or nine rigged up an upside-down costume to come as a man walking on his hands. Prizes were awarded, and the costumes were a part of the scene.

"In the early 1950’s a group of mischievous boys from (all but one from Fairhope High) plotted to steal the bell from the tower of the Bell Building on the Organic Campus on Halloween night. Billy Scott, one of the infamous Fairhope Five, tells the story with great gusto today. He says they didn’t anticipate the great weight of the big cast-iron bell, but by the time they discovereed that they were well into their cupidity, having managed to get the bell out of its tower, down a ladder, and halfway to the getaway car, Tubby Dunn’s 1941 Buick convertible.

"With their victory of getting the bell to the car came apprehension that they might get caught – and that they didn’t have a plan. They didn’t know where to hide the bell!

"Driving around Fairhope and trying to keep quiet so as to go undetected, they decided to take the bell down to the beach. They would hide it in the bushes between the Beach Theater and the bluff."

There's a lot more to the way Halloween was celebrated in those days, in Fairhope and elsewhere, and there's more to the saga of the purloined school bell and its ultimate return to the Bell Building, but for today, since we manage to stretch this particular holiday out for weeks before its actual day, I'll just say that Halloweens past were for older kids and adolescents, and today the event has been co-opted by the parents of toddlers who produce Martha Stewart-like parties, costumes, decorations and activities. I'll tell a few more ghost stories here since we've got a few more days before Halloween comes.


Benedict S. said...

I read an interesting factoid. We spend roughly one-billion dollars on mid-term elections, and that seems outrageous. But we spend 4.5 billion on Halloween costumes, etc. I was tempted to say something cynical about the difference, but it occurred to me that the 4.5 billion is spent on fun, and any amount spent on honest fun has to be money well spent.

John Sweden said...

I was once the Tin Man. I was once Dorothy. I was once was giant brown paper bag and have always been Peter Pan. One of my first theatrical performances was that of a witch in a second grade school play. I wonder if it because I was the only white kid in the class. One of the great advantages of growing up in the projects was that we could trick or treat over a hundred apartments and never leave the building. I also remember it being less fearful. I remember a hundred adults with big smiles and the question “Well, who or what are you supposed to be? “Just a Paper bag fill-me-up”. I remember it as being less manufactured, less decorative, and more “kid natural” both in the costumes and the treats, with scoops of candy corn, cookies, hersey’s kisses, hand made caramels, chocolates, fudge brownies and of course the odd piece of fruit. I remember quitting when the bags were too heavy to carry and when the leg on the bag costume broke and half my candy fell out. I remember escorting John and Joe as dual pirates, duel ghosts, and duel karate kids and mental picture of Joe as a singular “Son of Artman”.

Finding Fair Hope said...

Halloween costumes are pretty cheap to make. The scarecrow was a breeze; all my clothes pretty much worked for that one. Just a little hay coming out of the collar. I was once Alice in Wonderland, but that didn't scare anybody. Graham (brother) won the prize as a man with no head. (His upside down costume won too.)

I bemoan the spending of money on Halloween costumes only because the best ones are home made; however, if a Wal-Mart costume floats your boat, it's better than lining the pockets of a politician.

Robin said...

My little son wants a sponge bob but I am not paying Wal-Mart for a simple costume made in China..

He's going to be a Blue Man, all home made and very cheap and cute too..
Halloween is fearful for little kids, what's in the candy sends chills down my spine.

Bert Bananas said...

I'm going tricky-treating as a Jiggle-O.

Benedict S. said...

I never went as anything other than myself. Frightful. I lived my childhood in pre-trick-or-treat years. Soothing.