I currently have columns running in 3 newspapers;
- Tri-Valley Herald : Looking Back
- Valley Times : Do You Remember?
- The Independent : Do You Remember?
The Articles appear in the Herald and Independent on Thursdays,
and the Times on Sundays.
They will also be found on this page each week as well.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates to catch up.
Halloween, outhouses and a billy goat
By Barry Schrader.................................October
Most people today think of Halloween as a time for kids to get into
a costume and go trick or treating, maybe carve a pumpkin, or
decorate your front yard in orange and black.
But there was a time back in the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s when
Halloween had a much more foreboding history. It was the one night a year
that marauding gangs of teens took over small towns and terrorized the populace.
Actually, it was just me and my schoolmates who liked to think we could
really be baaad once a year and get away with it.
Weeks before Oct. 31 we would scout the countryside for old outhouses,
rusted farm machinery, abandoned cars, and bales of straw. You see, in small
villages there was nothing much more thrilling to do than cause trouble
on Halloween. Then on that last night in October we would drag all that
stuff into town and block off the Main Street. We only had a one man police
force and he was so overwhelmed the Illinois State Police and DeKalb County
Sheriffs Department had to come to his aid. My senior year I finally
got busted; the police just rounded us up for loitering and made us call
our parents to come and get us. No charges, no paperwork, no court, just
the embarrassment of our folks having to pick us up at the police station.
My father told about some of his pranks when he was a teen and I thought
they were really keen. For example, they used to steal this one farmers
privy annually, but the old man got wise to them and hid inside one year
with a shotgun full of rock salt that he used to blast at their behinds
as they fled. So the next year my dad and his buddies got smarter, sneaked
up and lassoed the outhouse and pulled it over with the farmer inside. His
shotgun went off and blew a hole through the roof.
Now let me tell a story about my sweet wife, who also got arrested once.
In her hometown of Sycamore she and three girlfriends were out cruising
to see what kind of mischief they could get into. They spotted a roadside
smudge pot used by crews to warn of street repairs underway. They loaded
it in Kays trunk and took off. But they didnt know there was
a city policeman who happened to be patrolling that area and he nabbed them
in less than half a block. The four senior classmates were taken to the
police station where each of their parents was called. Kays father
never let her forget that he had three sons and two daughters and never
had to bail out any of them until this youngest one got busted! As an aside,
one of her girlfriends in the car that night, Marilyn Frank, is now assistant
states attorney in that very same county. I wonder how much leniency
she would show if such a case were to come before the court where she prosecutes
petty thieves these days.
But heres some other pranks pulled by oldtimers who shared their
stories with me. Les Knott, longtime LARPD board member and VA Hospital
executive, tells about the time he and a few other young Democrats decided
to ridicule Alf Landon who was running for President in 1936 against FDR.
They created a drawing of an outhouse on its side with the half moon showing,
adding the slogan Landon is a pushover. They then took the fliers
up in a biplane on Halloween and scattered them all over town.
Another friend of mine, Dave George, tells about a prank pulled on a
Missouri police chief. The cop was tough on the kids in the town of Columbia,
MO. so they hatched a plot to get his goat. The chief had a
pet billy goat he kept in his backyard . On Halloween while he was busy
patrolling, the college kids kidnapped the pet, used chloroform from the
college chemistry lab to render it unconscious, then strapped it to one
guys back so he could climb the city water tower and leave it up on
the walkway. When the goat regained consciousness it began bleating and
eventually townspeople called the police to report a stray animal atop the
water tower. It took most of the next morning for police and firemen to
rescue the stranded animal using a block and tackle. The collegians never
got caught but the story made the local newspaper and the tale circulated
for years around that area.
By the way, just to be cautious, dont let your kids or grandkids
see this column, as they may try to top the older generations Halloween
tricks and nowadays the law isnt as lenient on vandals, kidnappers
and outhouse thieves. Can you imagine one of todays chemical porta-potties
ending up on the city hall front steps on HallowedEvening?
The answer to last weeks question on the first two automobiles
owned in Livermore in 1903 is: a Haynes-Apperson bought by Dr. W. S. Taylor
and an Oldsmobile purchased by H.R. Crane. Both were one-cylinder models.
Two readers took a guess at the answer: Marjorie Welham of Pleasanton knew
her grandfather owned a Chase Model F Surrey about that time, and Bob Wood
suggested they were a Star and Durant, the brands sold at the Duarte Garage
in Livermore a few years later.
This weeks history mystery question is provided by my neighbor
Steve Gawura: What do comedian Chic Sales and outhouses have in common?
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551