While doing Saturday morning errands at the hardware, grocery, and drugstore last weekend, I was amazed to see how commercial Halloween has become. I was inundated with Halloween products everywhere I went. It made me curious as to how the holiday was celebrated in earlier times. Would you have any information on what Halloween was like in Indianapolis, a century ago? ~ Chuck F., Indianapolis
You are justified in thinking that Halloween has become highly commercial. According to numerous sources, it’s the second-highest grossing holiday of the year. Every Halloween, between 4 and 5 billion dollars are spent in the United States on candy, costumes, decorations, parties, parades, etc. Candy alone accounts for more than half of all the sales. The candy industry relies on Halloween for a quarter of its annual revenue.
Although commercially produced candy existed a century ago, there weren’t nearly as many choices then as there are today. Below are a few confections that might have been enjoyed on Halloween.
Many of the activities associated with Halloween have remained the same or similar over the years. Dressing up in costumes was clearly the custom in 1914, for both children and adults. Carving jack-o-lanterns and placing candles in them was as popular a century ago as it is today. Parties and parades were also common in 1914. Apple-bobbing and hayrides were more prevalent in earlier times than they are today, although they are still enjoyed by some. Same goes for building bonfires.
Playing pranks on Halloween night was more prevalent a century ago than it is in present times. Tipping over outhouses, unhinging farmers’ gates, soaping windows, and throwing raw eggs at buildings were some of the capers that occurred a century ago, but such antics have largely disappeared in modern times.
The Library of Congress reports that virtually all Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic harvest festival called Samhain, which dates to B.C. After Christianity spread to Celtic territory, the Pope introduced the Celts to All Saints Day, a holiday that occurred around the same time of the year as Samhain. Celebrated on November 1st, All Saints Day is also known as All Hallows Day. Thus, the night before All Hallows Day was called All Hallows Evening. When abbreviated, Hallows Evening became Hallowe’en, or more simply, Halloween. Samhain and Halloween influenced one another for some period of time but eventually melded into one holiday. “Halloween” was the appellation that survived.
Most Halloween customs in the U.S. were brought to North America by Irish immigrants in the early to mid-1800s. Children dressed up and went door-to-door, asking for food or money. The activity was not yet called “Trick or Treating” then, but it was clearly a precursor to it. The first use of the term “Trick or Treat” in print was in 1934.
Indianapolis retailers advertised Halloween products available for purchase in their establishments. Note that the wig shop referred to them as Halloween disguises, rather than Halloween costumes.
An annual Halloween parade, followed by a dance on Monument Circle, occurred in Indianapolis for many years. It was overseen by the Indianapolis Convention and Tourists Bureau. Local organizations and businesses participated.
It would appear from available resources that Halloween was celebrated in a similar fashion a century ago as it is celebrated today. Naturally, items associated with the holiday have improved and expanded and are in much greater supply now. While most Halloween costumes were homemade in earlier times, a wide variety of ready-made costumes can be bought or rented today. While some candies existed in 1914, there are many more candy manufacturers, as well as many more candy varieties, today. While a Halloween parade was a regular event sponsored by the City a century ago, parades tend to be organized by localized neighborhoods or individual organizations, today.
If readers have memories of Halloween traditions in their families or neighborhoods, please share them in the Comments section below.
My own best remembrance of Halloween in Indianapolis was dressing up in some kind of costume, going downtown, and marching around the circle with hundreds of other kids. My own costume was usually improvised because, coming from modest means, we made do with what we had. This often meant a simple mask and bib overalls. Once my mother sewed a sort-of Superman costume. This would have been about 1940 or so. I’m not sure when this tradition was stopped, but as I recall it was because of the mischief caused by a few older kids with masks who did some vandalizing.
Thank you for this article and thanks for the follow up, Jack Boyd! Super fun to read.
I trick or treated in the Geist area in the 90s and it was bustling with children… Now my parents, who still live in the area, say they dont even get 1 trick or treater… Times change.
Now we live in Fishers and you all can imagine how much candy we to through…
Wow Bill, Thanks and the costumes are crippy to.
In the late 1950’s, early 1960’s, Eagledale Shopping Center would have a painting contest. Each child entering the contest was given a square on the shopping center’s windows where they would paint their own Halloween creation. It was great fun for all of us who participated.