Halloween in Masaryktown of the 1950s and 1960s was definitely a simpler time. For one thing, no decorations appeared before October 1st; there were no pumpkins, scarecrows, bags of candy corn, or Halloween items of any kind in the stores during August or September. It would be unheard of! But come October, we all had our pumpkins out! Real pumpkins, not fake ones. Dad took on the messy job of carving our family’s.
In our farm community we looked forward to the annual Halloween party at the community hall. We were all familiar with the hall and went there frequently. We had our club meetings there or attended gymnastics practice after school. We rehearsed the Besada there. We attended various weddings, social dances, Slovak dinners, and other events throughout the year. Then at Halloween, out came the orange and black crepe paper streamers and the honeycombed hanging pumpkins. The hall was transformed into a semi-dark, semi-spooky other world. And it seemed like every kid in Masaryktown showed up to the fun.
I recall that most of the costumes were homemade. One year many boys picked hobos. Everywhere you looked there were flannel shirts and blue jeans with rope belts. There were hobo backpacks tied to sticks. There were faces darkened with charcoal to resemble a week’s beard. That year I certainly saw enough hobos to fill a boxcar! Other popular costumes of the day were witches, clowns, skeletons, and ghosts. I also remember one toddler, she was dressed in something round and puffy, and head to toe in orange silky material. She was so cute, not much bigger than the pumpkin she represented!
A highlight of the evening was the costume judging. We all walked around in a circle while several adults made their decisions and narrowed their choices. The circle got smaller and smaller until a winner was chosen. Prizes were given by various age groups for the funniest, scariest, and prettiest costumes. Top prize in each category was a shiny silver dollar. I still have one of those.
The dollar was mine the year I dressed up as the comic book character, Little Lulu. My store bought costumes that must have caught the judge’s attention. I won for funniest! Lulu’s smiling plastic face was huge! It covered me from the top of my head down to my knees. Her dress started at my knees and ended at my ankles. I had no arm holes. It was hard to walk around and even harder to see. My eyes peeked out from a spot hidden in Little Lulu’s plastic dark black hair!
Elaine Rehurek Hall remembers the Halloween parties and winning those silver dollars, too. She often got “prettiest” when she wore her older sister Rosalie’s ballet outfits. Elaine’s mother sewed beautiful ballet skirts and tutus year after year. Elaine also remembers one year that the adults dressed up. Mrs. Rehurek, Elaine’s Mom, dressed up as a washerwoman complete with mop aka Carol Burnett style and went around washing everyone’s shoes and feet!
I remember the old men of the community. They carried rolls of pennies to the Halloween party and broke them open for us. Pennies were falling on the floor everywhere! We children scattered to pick up as many as we could. It was a big deal back then. Today it would be a different story!
We made use of our Sokol gymnastic equipment on Halloween. I remember shiny red apples hanging by strings from the parallel bars. Older kids tried to get a bite—- not easy with hands behind backs. The kitchen ladies worked overtime. They provided punch and homemade popcorn balls. They also had bags of candy for us to take home. Back then I don’t remember any house to house or farm to farm Halloween visits. This party was our trick-or-treating!
There was also some Halloween mischief. Toilet papering a tree, fence, or house was pretty common. On the farm we found a cedar covered in toilet paper one year.. It was damp overnight and some of the paper never came down until rain washed it away or the wind carried it off! Throwing eggs was another popular prank. Good eggs or rotten ones. Don’t forget most of us lived on chicken farms and had a ready supply. They might be aimed at houses, cars, or even people. Maybe it was someone you really didn’t like! I wasn’t a prankster but I knew a few and they would never confess even today!
Can you imagine a Halloween wedding? Elaine Rehurek Hall mentioned that her cousin Sidney Sirucka Romine got married on October 31st in the early 1950s. Masaryktown weddings and receptions were large affairs and space was reserved at the Community Hall. So what happened to the Halloween party that year? It was agreed that the Romine wedding took priority. The Halloween party was held the very next day on November 1st. As far as I know this was the only time it ever changed. It was all done in the spirit of community cooperation!
I began to think of all the candies that were popular at Halloween when I grew up. You could fill a whole basket for just a dollar or two. Did you know that candy was not such an important part of Halloween until the late 1950s? Did you know that they gave out individual cereal boxes as treats, too?
What was a popular candy? The 1950s Hershey chocolate bar was probably one of the top choices and cost five cents. The Hershey Company held this price steady, amazingly, all during the 1950s. They held it despite the constant fluctuation of the price of cocoa beans. One way they held on was to adjust the size of the candy bar depending on the cocoa bean market. The bar got bigger or smaller. To save money the company also discontinued silver lettering on their wrappers at the end of the 1950s. Hershey discontinued its five cent candy bar on November 24, 1969.
Another favorite candy item of the time was called Nik L Nip. These were little wax bottles full of fruity liquid. Nik referred to the price; each wax bottle cost a nickel. Nip stood for the way you could nip off the top and drink them. Afterward you could chew the wax bottle like chewing gum. No swallowing please! Nik L Nip was developed by the Tootsie Roll Company, famous for those Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops.
Have you ever heard of wax candy lips? Not very tasty but I remember trying them on Halloween. How about something hot? There were Atomic FireBalls, a hard red candy that would burn your mouth and take a long time to melt. Want more heat? Try the spicy and chewy cinnamon candy called Hot Tamales. Not my style. A tamer candy was Pixy Stix. This sweet and sour powdered mix came wrapped inside a paper straw. You broke open the straw and poured it right in your mouth. Imagine today eating a handful of crushed Sweet Tarts and you would have the flavor of Pixy Stix.
Another standard for Halloween was bubble gum. I recall those wrapped pink squares with names like Bazooka or Dubble Bubble. The Bazooka brand really took off after WWII. Their packaging in the 1950’s included comic strip wrappers featuring a character named Bazooka Joe and his adventures. What about candy cigarettes? They’ve been around since the 1930’s and were something I remember having at Halloween or buying at the movie theater. These chalky white sugar sticks came about 20 to a box and resembled the real thing. Their candy boxes had labels on them such as Winston, Pall Mall, or Lucky Strike. The tobacco manufacturers agreed to help market them. This candy is still manufactured in the United States today. However, because of tobacco risks and health concerns, candy cigarettes are banned in many countries worldwide.
Finally, no Halloween would be complete without a few ghost stories. I know the older kids loved to scare us younger ones! We’d hang around the playground outside the Community Hall. We’d take a break from the indoor Halloween festivities and listen to some unbelievably frightening tales. Were they true or not? Did I just feel something touch the back of my neck in the dark? Or was it really nothing but my imagination playing tricks? I guess I’ll never know. Happy Halloween! Make some memories!