Harmon’s Histories: Montana’s Halloween pranksters were a ‘plague’ in the 1920s
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
“The Halloween nuisance annually recurrent in Helena, if known to the people of biblical times doubtless would have been included among the plagues of Egypt!”
The editor of the Helena Record Herald had had enough!
“Already the authorities have been stirred by reports of injury to property by juveniles in Helena, attributable to the lawless spirit of the October insanity, and parents have been notified by the prosecuting attorney that they will be held accountable for the depredations of their children!”
And he was just warming up!
“The natural and powerful impulse of children to shoot guns and arrows, throw darts and stones, wield swords and sticks, upset, break, smash and carry off every imaginable thing, with savage howls of delight, and other manifestations of lawless satisfaction, undoubtedly better than anything else reflects the violent and lawless career of humanity down through the ages.”
“In the hunting season 99 men out of 100 feel a desire to go out and kill something, and there probably is not one in the 99 that ever has analyzed or even given thought to the nature, origin and historical effect of the impulse that moves him.”
“Neither do the kids analyze their feelings; they merely act upon them. Hence we have Halloween pranks. The Halloween prank player is the lineal descendant ages removed from the cave man, the anthropoidal savage, the glacial barbarian and all the rest.”
“Cave men doubtless were gleefully frank and unrestrained in their ferocities and other sociological manifestations, but it is rather difficult to believe that they furnished satisfactory ideals for the emulation of juvenile moderns.”
“Children must play, of course, and all savagery cannot be excluded from play. Halloween, a hangover pagan festival - called Nutcrack Night in the north of England, presumably because of the cracks made then by nuts - now gone meaningless, is merely an annual time for the kids to throw off restraint.”
“Wise parents --even though they desire not to be killjoys – should make an effort, for the good of their children, as well as the community, to impose bounds and as much sanity as possible upon the annual outbreak.”
One hundred years later, Helena is still standing, so the editorial may have slightly overstated the severity of the problem in the 1920s.
The editor of the Belt Valley Times acknowledged similar mischief in 1925, but viewed it more humorously.
To the credit of local pranksters, “they spared the outbuildings of the aged or infirm and confined their efforts to the premises of the able-bodied.”
“Lewis Mitchell must have been a favorite with the boys who apparently did their best to hoist a two-wheel delivery cart to the roof of his shop but were compelled to desist before they had quite accomplished their purpose.
“Fred Burrows found his favorite car on the schoolyard and concluded that it jumped the fence to get there because there is no roadway to its location. Fred does not attach blame to anyone for this because he knows the car and its disposition.”
“Sometimes when he is passing a speeding Packard on the Falls Road to the disgust of the owner, the Burrow’s machine has been known to cast the chunk of mud with accurate aim smearing the Packard's windshield and compelling the driver to stop and remove the mud.
“The Lizzie likes to go and hates to stand around doing nothing in the mud and sleet, consequently Fred is not blaming the boys for putting it in the schoolyard. He knows that it can jump higher than that!”
Hopefully, 2023’s pranksters will not be reading this article (and getting ideas).
I’ll leave you with some Halloween poetry from third-graders printed in The Hardin Tribune, 100 years ago, November 02, 1923.
On Hallowe'en there's cats,
And other things like bats.
There's everything like ghosts,
And witches by hosts.
If you're out at night,
They might give you a fright,
And, if you don't hold tight,
Your Jack 0' Lantern will lose its light.
'When the lights are out,
When the witches fly about,
And children shout.
When they see the bats fly about.
-Billie Marie Flickinger.
‘Tis the night of Hallowe'en,
When spooks are seen;
Black witches fly across the room,
Each on a great, big broom;
I see ghosts,
Walking in hosts -
They give me a creep,
So I cannot sleep,
On Hallowe'en night,
When there is no light.
On the milky way,
Where the witches stay.
They jump on their brooms,
And fly about the rooms.
If you're out at night,
They'll give you a fright,
I go around light,
To the windows bright,
And scare the people
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.