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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

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.

Archive Page

Halloween, outhouses and a billy goat

By Barry Schrader.................................October 27, 2005

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 Sheriff’s 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 farmer’s 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 Kay’s trunk and took off. But they didn’t 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. Kay’s 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 state’s 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 here’s 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 guy’s 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, don’t let your kids or grandkids see this column, as they may try to top the older generation’s Halloween tricks and nowadays the law isn’t as lenient on vandals, “kid”nappers and outhouse thieves. Can you imagine one of today’s chemical porta-potties ending up on the city hall front steps on Hallowed’Evening?

***

The answer to last week’s 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 week’s 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 :

Historian2sbcglobal.net

or by snailmail at:

Barry Schrader
PO Box 446
Livermore, CA. 94551

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