Friday, October 26, 2018

Halloween in the Late Sixties and the Seventies

a mid-Sixties Woolworth's ad
By the Sixties and Seventies Halloween was one of the major holidays in the American calendar. Indeed, for most young Gen Xers only Christmas may have been bigger in its importance in the year. After all, it was a chance for children to dress up in costume and go house to house getting candy. Except for Christmas morning, there was no time as special for the young members of Generation X.

Indeed, among the fondest memories from my childhood are the many Halloweens I celebrated. In those days there weren't a whole lot of Halloween decorations on store shelves, so decorating for the holiday wasn't terribly common. When people did decorate for Halloween, they often made their own decorations--old clothes and straw to make scarecrows, pumpkins carved into jack o' lanterns, and so on. The few Halloween decorations on the market were often made of paper by companies such as Beistle, and were usable only inside. At least in my school, classrooms would be decorated with these decorations shortly before Halloween.

Despite the Sixties and Seventies being the Golden Age of television specials, there weren't a lot of Halloween specials on the air at the time. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the only one I can remember from my childhood. That is not to say that television did not acknowledge the holiday at all. Most TV series in the Sixties and Seventies had special Halloween episodes, from Bewitched to Happy Days. Local television stations, especially independent stations, were guaranteed to show old horror movies shortly before and on Halloween, particularly the old Universal monsters from the Thirties and Forties.The first time I ever saw Dracula (1931) was one Halloween.

To this day, Halloween is not a Federal holiday, so schools are open on Halloween. That having been said, it was hardly a typical school day. At most elementary schools, late in the day everyone would change into their costumes and a Halloween party would be held, complete with candy. For many students it was probably one of the few times that school was actually enjoyable.

Of course, costumes were as big a part of Halloween in the Sixties and Seventies as they are now. That having been said, they were different from what we see on stores shelves now. From the 1930s to the 1990s such companies as Ben Cooper, Collegeville, and Halco manufactured cheap Halloween costumes, many of them based on characters from popular culture. They consisted of a mask and a plastic smock (also called "jumpsuits" by many). The costumes very rarely looked like the characters they were supposed to portray. More often than not, the costumes (particularly those made by Ben Cooper) portrayed a scene with the character on the smock rather than what the character would actually wear. Even when a costume resembled something the character would wear, the name would be printed boldly on the costume (in the case of Batman, it was in the centre of the bat insignia). The masks were made of moulded plastic and held on by a thin, elastic band. They were often hard to see out of and hard to breath out of. The masks were also hot, so that even on a cold day sweat would eventually build up on one's face.

My parents never bought either my brother or I any of these costumes, and we always made our own. In retrospect, even though having a costume by Ben Cooper was something of a status symbol among kids back then, this was probably for the best. Looking back, our home-made costumes often looked better and certainly looked more realistic than those made by Ben Cooper, Collegeville, and Halco.

Of course, the big event on Halloween was trick or treating. Because we lived on a farm, our father always took us from house to house, but that was not the case for children living in town.  They went trick or treating on their own, without parental supervision. In those days parents did not worry about their kids being snatched by some stranger or harmed in some other way, and kids generally roamed where they wished all year round. While there were urban legends of poisoned candy and razor blades, needles, et. al. in trick or treat candy, there isn't any real evidence that this ever happened. Certainly it never happened around here.

As kids got older they generally stopped trick or treating. I think the last year I went trick or treating was when I was twelve. That having been said, I was hardly finished with Halloween. In my teens I would attend Halloween parties held by my slightly older friend Al. None of the cheap costumes made by Ben Cooper, Collegeviille, and Halco were in evidence at these parties. Since Al and most of his friends were science fiction, fantasy, and comic books fans, the costumes could be very inventive. I remember going as a Vulcan Starfleet officer from Star Trek one year, a Romulan officer from the same show another year, and a vampire yet another.

Celebrating Halloween remains some of my fondest memories from my childhood. Now one can buy an wide array of Halloween decorations in stores and the costumes one finds in stores are certainly more realistic (just compare Ben Cooper's Darth Vader costume to those made now), but I don't see how today's children could possibly have had as much fun as young Gen Xers did.

1 comment:

Evil Woman Blues said...

Halloween is and always has been a reflection of the times. Kids roaming the streets at night unsupervised by parents was unusual only because it was past 7 pm and dark. Otherwise, having young people outside and free of overprotective parents was the norm. I remember that my friends and I always made our own costumes which were vagabond and homeless simulations for which we would be excoriated nowadays by the politically correct elite. And candy was to be hoarded and collected in brown paper shopping bags or pillow cases. The territory covered was more than a stroll up and down the street or around your block. No, it was an adventure to be mapped out beforehand during school hours. It extended to neighborhoods which we would never have canvassed otherwise. All in all, a fun evening was had by all.