Celtic legend the worlds of the living and the dead mingled on the
last night of harvest season, so on that night the Celts in Ireland
and Scotland wore costumes and lit fires to ward off rampaging ghosts
and evil spirits.
That same evening hungry people went door to door asking for food.
If they were turned away, they left some sign of their unhappiness.
You see where I'm going with this?
It was not until the mass Irish and Scottish immigration in the
19th century that Halloween became a major event in North America.
References to Halloween first appeared in West Texas newspapers
in the 1870s. Blame it on the Irish.
Pranks, then, are as old as Halloween and are an outgrowth of the
trick or treat tradition of the Celtic harvest festival. Of course
some pranks go too far - any doofus can be destructive - but a really
good prank, while sometimes annoying to the prankee, is basically
harmless. The very best pranks are products of imagination, inspiration,
a lot of thought, and a sophisticated sense of humor.
The most popular Halloween prank in 19th Century West Texas was
stealing gates. Of course the gates weren't really stolen. They
could be found the next morning stacked on the lawn at the courthouse.
Another popular West Texas prank was to take apart a wagon and reassemble
it on top of a building. If the wagon belonged to a snooty person
without a sense of humor, so much the better.
Some pranksters would hoist a rocking chair on top of a barn or
run a pair of underwear up the flagpole. Occasionally someone found
a mule in the basement.
And then there was the outhouse. Sometimes boys would just move
it a few feet to one side, but at other times, through great effort,
the outhouse was relocated to the courthouse lawn or the mayor's
front yard. Think of it as a political statement.
In the 20th century, young people would soap car windows and string
toilet paper in trees. They would grease doorknobs. If you parked
your Volkswagen Beetle on the street you might find it had been
picked up and placed on the sidewalk.
Rearranging signs was another favorite Halloween prank. A "No Loitering"
sign might appear on the lawn of the funeral home or a "Closed Until
Further Notice," sign in front of the school. One West Texas town
woke up on November 1st to find a sign in front of its bank announcing
a "Going Out of Business Sale."
Outside a tight small circle of co-conspirators, a prankster tried
to remain anonymous until a judicious amount of time, and the statute
of limitations, had passed. A true artist, after all, wants to take
credit for his work.
One Halloween several years ago someone thought it would be funny
to put a large "For Sale" sign in the principal's front yard.
I'm still trying to find out who did it.
© Michael Barr
30, 2016 Column