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19th Century Halloween: The Tricks

By K.B. Owen

It’s tempting to think of the 19th century as a time of staid decorum.  However, the young people of the 19th century were a surprisingly mischievous lot.  If toilet paper had been a common household item in the 19th century (check out this post for the reasons why it wasn’t), you can bet the local houses and trees would be littered with the stuff.  Of course, a lot of egging and soaping went on, which even today are tried-and-true pranks.

Canstock Eerie Haloween

The culprits seemed to be mostly boys:

New York Times, Nov 1, 1895

New York Times, Nov 1, 1895

Wonder what a “tick-tack” is?  So did I.  I learned it’s a homemade device that creates a tapping sound to make the victim of the prank believe that someone was at the door.  It can be triggered from a distance, with the culprit out of sight.  Here’s a description:

Boys would make “tick-tacks,” cutting notches in the ends of a wooden spool and winding string around it. The spool would be placed right up against a window, with a nail serving as an axle. When the string was pulled, it made a loud and rapid “tick-tack” noise.

Read more: Halloween Traditions | Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/spot/halloween2.html#ixzz2iSqyEgnV

Those boys were ingenious little beggars, weren’t they?

Sign-stealing and switching seemed to be a favorite prank, too:

New York Times, Nov 2, 1894

New York Times, Nov 2, 1894

That’s probably a tougher trick to pull off these days, when most signs are digital.  However, some older movie theater marquees and high school announcement boards are still prone to “re-lettering,” even today!

Here’s a creative (and back-breaking) prank that was pulled on one family:

Canstock Graveyard in the mist

New York Times, Nov 2, 1900

New York Times, Nov 2, 1900

There’s more to the article, but you get the gist of it.  The story ends with some skepticism about how the youths could have managed to move big marble blocks into the yard, especially when it took several burly men to put them back.  I love the mention of screaming school teachers.  What a mental image!

It seemed that boys didn’t quite grow out of Halloween mischief-making once they went off to college, either.  For the tale of the horse in the hall, molasses-smeared chapel pews, and more, check out last year’s post on the subject.

While we’re in “old-fashioned” mode, ever want to make your own candy corn?  I haven’t tried this recipe, but it looks interesting:

How to Make Homemade Candy Corn

Canstock Halloween Hand and Candy Corn

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K.B. Owen is a mystery writer who lives in Northern Virginia. Her debut release is a Victorian Era mystery,Dangerous and Unseemly. K.B. hangs out on Twitter @kbowenwriter, on K.B. Owen on Facebook, and at her website, K.B. Owen, Mystery Writer.

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