By Gregory Clark, Illustrated by James Frise, October 29, 1932
“Hallowe’en,” said Jim Frise, sadly staring at his drawing board, “is another example of the way the world is going to the dogs.”
“It’s not what it used to be,” said I.
“When I was a boy,” went on Jim, “we thought nothing of hauling the schoolmaster’s buggy to the top of the schoolhouse or planting the minister’s hen house on the church steps. Nowadays, you would need a derrick and a gang of Italians to haul the schoolmaster’s eight-cylinder car on top of the four-storey school; and as for ministers, they haven’t hen houses any more, and the best churches haven’t any steps.”
“The world,” I said, “has outgrown childish things like Hallowe’en.”
“I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s an Inferiority complex the world is suffering from,” said Jim. “Dr. Locke, the librarian, one time said that the reason he allowed blood and thunder novels and crime stories and hot love stories in the public library was to allow underprivileged people like old maids, clerks, schoolboys and so forth to live second-hand. They couldn’t go places and do things, so they quelled their cravings by reading.”
“Not a bad notion.”
“In the old days of Hallowe’en,” said Jim, “we didn’t know about the world outside, and we thought we were rascals the way we cut up. But now with the movies putting on mighty dramas of excitement and adventure, and comedies that cut up in a way we never could hope to equal, why we just let it go second-hand.”
“It’s what you call sublimating,” said I. “They call it getting a vicarious thrill.”
“Call it what you like,” said Jim, “the fact is, the movies and radio and newspapers and magazines have given the whole world an inferiority complex. Why, when we were young fellows, we thought we were regular John Barrymores as lovers, because love in those days was a thing never talked about or demonstrated. We imagined we were the only really great lovers in the world. But nowadays, the young people creep home to bed feeling utterly outclassed and hopeless after one look at Greta Garbo. Twenty-five years ago there was a pretty girl to every township. Now, the girls look in their mirrors and are denied girlhood’s loveliest misapprehension. The young fellows dream of great deeds, of action; but they think of “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” or “Hell’s Angels,” and go to bed. The witty fellow shuts up because the radio brings Ed Wynne or Jack Benny into the house. Where is the life of the party now? In the box. That’s what is the matter with the world to-day; it is subdued by knowledge. Gimme,” said Jimmy, “the good old ignorant days when everybody thought they were better than everybody else!”
“Still,” said I, “I hate to see Hallowe’en die.”
“So do I, but what can we do about it?”
“Last Hallowe’en,” I mused, “all the neighbors told me to go to bed, I was keeping their children awake.”
“What were you doing?”
“Oh, just running around ringing doorbells and upsetting ash cans.”
“When somebody has upset the whole world,” said Jim, “there isn’t much kick in just upsetting an ash can.”
Picking a House For Pranks
“Still, we ought not to take things for granted,” said I. “If we are public advisers as cartoonists and writers, we ought to experiment. It will be Hallowe’en in a few nights. What do you say if we go out to-night and try few experiments just to see it the world really is tired of Hallowe’en pranks?
“How do you mean?”
“Well, maybe the world would welcome a little frolic. Maybe we are wrong in thinking everything has gone stodgy. I don’t like those theories of yours about lovers and one thing and another. Gosh! I’d hate to think there ever was a boy who didn’t imagine he was the greatest lover the world has ever seen.”
“How would we go about it?”
“Well, let me see: we could go out for a walk after dark and pick on the saddest looking house we can find. Then we will ring the door bell. Upset the ashcans at the back. I can make a tick-tack and we can buzz it on the windows. The saddest house we can find. Two full-grown fellows like us could plague a house like that for half an hour before we were caught. Then we could see how Hallowe’en pranks go over in these modern days.”
“Me for a pea-shooter,” said Jim.
“And there is a kind of fire-cracker thing,” I said, “that goes off when you pull a string. We could tie it from the door knob to the veranda railing, and it would make a terrific bang when they open the door.”
“If there is any furniture around the outside of the house,” said Jim. “I’d like to lift it on to the roof or something.”
“Right,” said I.
After it was dark and we had commanded our children to go to bed early, according to the most modern health regulations, Jim and I sneaked away from our wives who wanted us to go to the movies and went for our walk. I had made a tick-tack out of a big linen spool, and Jim had a pea-shooter and a pocket full of peas. From a novelty shop I had got the fire-cracker thing.
“What kind of a house should we select?” asked Jim. “A big house or a small one? A rich house or a poor one?”
“The saddest, primmest, dumbest looking house,” said I. “A house that looks as if it didn’t have any vestige of humor left. Just an ordinary house.”
We examined a dozen before we found the right one.
Its lawn was trim, but it had no flowers. I was well painted, but it had no color. It was well built, but it had no character.
“This house,” said Jim, “looks as if a chartered accountant lived in it or maybe a draughtsman who designs the insides of vacuum cleaners.”
“I bet,” said I, “it’s a man who manufactures those dry paper moulds you buy a dozen eggs in. Or maybe two ladies who work in the parliament buildings.”
“Let’s get to work,” said Jim, looking up and down the dark, silent, deserted street in which dwelt in security and happiness several hundred of our fellow beneficiaries of modern civilization. It was eight o’clock.
While Jim carried a veranda chair out and hung it in the maple tree on the lawn, I crept up and tied the fire-cracker business to the front door knob and ran the string to the veranda, so that when anybody opened the door, the thing would explode just as the door began to gape. All was quiet.
We walked cautiously around to the back, for fear of a dog, but there was none. Two ash cans stood at the back door, one empty and one nearly full. We propped the full one on top of the empty one against the back door in such a way that whoever opened the back door would get a pinnie full of ashes.
Something Not on the Program
On the side door, which had a screen door outside, we arranged a tin pan that we found on a window sill. Working very quietly and smoothly, we filled the can with water from the hose tap and then, opening the screen door slightly, we propped the pan on top so that whoever opened that door would get a sprinkling.
“Tee-hee,” giggled Jim. “How do we start?”
Tip-toeing up to the side window, I let go the tick-tack. It was a good one. In the silence of the peaceful night, it made a roar like a truck changing gears. We scurried out and lay down beside the hedge of the house next door. Jim stuck the pen shooter through the bushes and waited. A figure appeared at the front door glass, and Jim let fly a burst of peas that rattled viciously against the pane. The figure ducked and vanished. As we lay there, we saw window blinds pulled up and lights went out as figures moved about inside the house.
“We can’t ring the bell yet,” whispered Jim. “They are watching.”
Cautiously creeping along the hedge, we made the side drive, and in the back yard, we approached the lighted kitchen window. Nobody was there. I let go the tick-tack again with a terrific wham. As we ran to hide in the next yard, we saw people rushing into the kitchen. We just got down when the back door opened, there was a crash, a wild yell and a cloud of ashes rose and obscured the back door. The door slammed.
“That guy sounded like a big fellow,” I whispered to Jim. “I hope he has some sense of humor.”
“He got a gizzard full of ashes,” admitted Jim.
By now all the lights in the house were out. So we went over a wire fence and through another yard and came back to watch the front door.
Jim let go a tentative flight of peas against the downstairs window from amidst the hedge. He let go another. The chair up in the maple tree chose this instant to change its position slightly with the wind ablowing. And there was a curious shaking and quivering in the tree as if someone was hiding in it.
“That’s swell,” said Jim. He let go another blast of peas.
Then we heard the side door creaking softly, as someone came creeping to make a flank attack. The creaking ended in a tin pan clatter, a loud splash, and another angry bellow. That door slammed.
As we lay, snorting and choking along the hedge, we heard footsteps approaching down the street, so we lay very still until they passed. But they did not pass. They turned and walked up the front walk of the house we were dealing with. Through the hedge, we beheld another large man walking unsuspectingly up to the door that was all rigged with a string and a fire-cracker to welcome him.
We lay tense. He stepped on to the veranda of the dark house. He rang the bell. We heard it ring.
Instantly the front door opened. Someone had been crouched behind it. A blinding flash, a terrific report, down from the veranda leaped the visitor and right behind him, his arms clawing, came another figure who seemed to glow with rage in the dark, like a fire-fly.
World Hasn’t Changed Much
“Help!” roared the visitor.
“Aarrh!” roared the pursuer, leaping on the visitor’s back, and the two of them rolled to the lawn.
Jim and I were transfixed with horror. It sounded like a dog fight, with snarlings and gruntings and thumpings.
“We’ll have to stop them,” said Jim.
“Let them get a little tired first,” I whispered.
But Jim got up and I had to follow. We ran around the hedge and stood over them while the one on top, who was damp and had ashes in his hair, glared speechlessly down at the dim face of the visitor.
“Mr. Parkins!” he gasped.
“Let me up,” growled the man underneath.
The man on top staggered to his feet and helped the other up.
“Mr. Parkins …” stammered the householder. “Was it you?”
“It was me,” declared Mr. Parkins, brushing himself off, “and if your idea of talking business is to shoot at a man when he calls at your door and then pursue him on to the public street and beat him up, then, my dear sir, the deal is off. I never heard … never … I …”
And we thought he was going to burst into tears.
“But Mr. Parkins,” said the first man, “you put ashes at my back door, hung water over my side door, rattled my windows… I thought I was being threatened by a gang.”
“I simply walked up to your door,” said Mr. Parkins grimly, “rang the bell, and instantly, you jerked the door open and shot at me. Do you deny that?”
“Gentlemen,” said Jimmie, and there were three or four other neighbors gathered around by this time, “this is most regrettable. Mr. Parkins here had nothing to do with the ashes or the water. I saw him come to the front door after the ashes and water had been spilled.”
“Heh?” said the householder.
“Some boys were playing Hallowe’en tricks a little in advance of the season,” said Jim, “by way of rehearsal, you might say, and in the midst of these little pranks, Mr. Parkins walked up and rang the bell.”
“How do you know?” growled the householder, who was, as I said, a big man.
“I was watching them,” said Jim.
“So was I,” said I.
“And so was I,” said a voice behind me. “I live next door and I saw these two crooks for the past half hour prowling around your house, Mr. Figsbee, and …”
But Jim had started and I was not long following.
We stuck together, and for the first two blocks they were not far behind. But guilt lends wings to your feet.
“I tell you what,” said Jim, as we sat in a drug store having a soft drink to settle our wind, “you might say the world has changed much.”
“It has its moments,” said I.
“As of old, the fellow who plays the tricks has the fun and the victims see little in it.”
“And fewer people play tricks,” said I. “That’s the only difference.”
“Finish up your drink,” said Jim, “and if you make it snappy, we can get home in time to go with our wives to the second show.”
“Maybe,” said I, “there’ll be a real good comedy.”
Editor’s Notes: Pre-World War Two, Halloween was not as popular a holiday in North America. Treat-or-treating was not established, and the holiday was more known for kids playing pranks as indicated in the story. Costumes could be worn, and some adults might have had parties.
A tick-tack is defined as a “a contrivance used by children to tap on a window from a distance”. I’m not sure what it may have looked like.
The images from this entry are a little different, as they are not from microfilm. I actually own an original paper copy of this. Many people may not be aware of how large old newspapers were. This is a broadsheet format, that was 17 inches wide and 23 1/2 inches tall. (43 x 60 cm). An iPad is shown for comparison.