Until I was 11 years old, we lived in a third-floor flat in downtown Cincinnati. Those were the war years when any kind of housing was hard to get and we were lucky to have a large apartment that looked out on the huge Court Street Market. On market day, tents took up the entire wide street and the sellers hawked their fresh produce in loud voices. We were within walking distance of every major movie theater in downtown Cincinnati, numerous 5 & 10 cent stores and large department stores. Those were advantages but the disadvantages were not being able to enjoy small town or suburban activities such as beggar’s night or penny night or the big Halloween celebration itself. I understand huge crowds gathered on Halloween night on Fountain Square but they were for older people and considered too rowdy by my parents for two little girls.
We dressed up in costume for our Halloween party at school and once I was invited to a friend’s nearby apartment for a party for the girls in our class, but otherwise Halloween passed by pretty much unnoticed. Occasionally, a scraggly little boy would make his way up three flights of stairs to beg for pennies but begging (or trick or treating as it was later known) was not an activity that we knew anything about.
When we moved to the East End of Cincinnati in 1943, it was like going to a small town where there were a lot of German, Irish, Hungarian and black families, neat small houses with tidy gardens and BEGGAR’S NIGHT. I wasn’t at all sure about this new event that all the kids in school were looking forward to. The thought of traipsing up and down the streets, in and out of strangers’ houses, asking for candy just seemed so strange. But my friends were all going out, my little sister wanted to go and surprisingly my parents agreed, so out we went. We had orders from our parents to not even look into the saloons along the way, let alone go in one, but otherwise we were free to tramp up and down steps, go into the houses if invited and to come home with a bag stuffed with candy, gum and apples. Nothing was prepackaged in those days and we were grateful for wrapped candy like peanut butter kisses which didn’t get all gummed up with everything else in the bag.
I remember one year when word was passed from one gang of kids to the other that someone was giving out hot doughnuts. By the time we made it to the house, they were out of doughnuts but I loved the idea. In 1953, my first year giving out treats as a married woman, I used my wedding gift deep fryer to make homemade doughnuts and gave them out to amazed visitors. And I had plenty so I wouldn’t run out before the last beggar.
I never was quite comfortable with the affair, but my sister loved it and I continued to go begging until she was old enough to go alone with her own friends. Now, I’ve been through the trick or treat years with 4 children and 4 grown grandchildren and this Halloween, I’m looking forward to throwing some candy into the bags of my two youngest grandchildren, aka the Mummy and Glynda, the Good Witch.