Halloween Headlines from Yesteryear

“Hey Kids, Why Not a Halloween Party?” queried the Democrat & Chronicle on October 31, 1945. Good question! And one of the many approaches Rochester’s leaders took over the years to try and curb rascally Halloween antics by the city’s youth. Don’t want ‘em breaking streetlamps with rocks or setting fire to piles of leaves? Host a community party, and be sure to offer lots of sugary delights because as every wise parent knows, lollipops are “tricks insurance” (“Suckers Ban Kids’ Tricks,” D&C, Oct 29, 1949), and “Doughnuts and Cider Keep Them from Mischief” (Times-Union, Nov 1, 1940). (Personally, I know that my nieces and nephews are much calmer after we’ve plied them with candy!)

An even cleverer tactic, and one that was particular to the spirit of conservation and patriotic milieu of the Second World War, was to malign pranksters as Hitler’s helpers. “If you see anyone breaking a light, stop him…If you can’t stop him, report him to the police because he is working for Hitler and Hirohito, and against Uncle Sam” (“Pranksters: Don’t Help Hitler!” Times-Union, Oct 28, 1943). The concern was wasting unnecessary amounts of tungsten on broken streetlights when it was needed to make Radar equipment and lamps for ships. Soap and wax were also needed for the war effort, so the Rochester War Council asked kids to lay off area windows, too. As the catchy 1942 Halloween slogan went: “Monkey business is sabotage” (“Quiet Halloween Plea Based on Patriotism,” Times-Union, Oct 31, 1942). Indeed!

And here’s another Halloween fun fact from the WWII era that you might not know (I didn’t): the now ubiquitous request (demand? threat?) “Trick or Treat!” wasn’t commonly heard in Rochester until the 1940s. The phrase was apparently still new enough in 1946 to require explanation (as straightforward as it might seem to the modern-day resident): “Treat ‘Em or Be Tricked When Bell Rings Tonight” (D&C Oct 28, 1946). The article helps clueless grownups by situating “Trick or Treat Night” in a longstanding series of ostensibly more familiar Halloween traditions including the infamous “Doorbell Night” when kids perfected their skill at the classic “Ding Dong Ditch” prank, and the lesser known but perhaps more troubling “Gate Night” when “Pop” (and maybe even “Grandpop”) “used to swipe Old Man Smith’s front gate and with the help of other pre-Halloween pranksters hang it on the crossbar of the nearest lamp post.” (It seems George Wilson has got nothing on Old Man Smith in the way of menacing neighborhood punks!)

In an effort to supplant such naughty games with more wholesome fare, Norman Ulp offered some alternatives in the Democrat & Chronicle in 1938 (“Games for Youngsters From 7 to 70”). And since I’m a sucker for a good Halloween pun (see what I did there?), I’ll leave you with these riddles about the “Graveyard Dweller” (Spoiler alert: answers provided):

“If you lived in a graveyard:

1.  How would you open the gate?

          [With a skeleton key.]

2.  How would you gamble?

          [Roll the bones.]

3.  What kind of jewels would you wear?


4.  Where would you keep them?

          [In a casket.]

5.  How would you get money?

          [Urn it.]

6.  What would you eat?

          [Pyre cake. Special thanks to Emily Morry for helping me with this one. I totally didn’t get it. Hint: it helps to say it out loud.]

7.  What would you drink?


8.  What would you feed the cats?

          [The remains. Gross!]

9.  By what method would you move things about?

          [By carrion them.]

10.  What would protect you from the sun?

          [The Shades.]

11.  How would you know if a lady called?

          [You would Spectre.]

12.  What would be your disposition?


Admittedly, not all puns are created equal. Regardless, we here in the Local History and Genealogy Division hope you enjoyed today’s installment and wish you


And remember:
“We all play pranks, that’s very true, but don’t make anyone black and blue.”
(“Hey Kids, Why Not a Halloween Party?” D&C, Oct 31, 1945)


~Michelle Finn, Deputy City Historian

Published in: on October 31, 2014 at 1:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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