Halloween in Kansas during the 19th and early 20th centuries was quite different from the holiday we celebrate today. Tricks were more the norm than treats. Kansas newspapers from the 1890s are filled with stories of tricks played by young people on Halloween night.
The Halloween night of 1897 was rough for the town of Chanute in southeast Kansas. The Chanute Daily Tribune reported "considerable damage" the following day, November 1: "The sewer pipe was rolled into the big ditch and some of it broken. Thomas' wagon was broken, gates were taken off and in some instances lost, outhouses thrown over and broken up and in some places the sidewalks were torn up." The previous day the Daily Tribune had advised local boys not to destroy property or "pull up culverts and bridges because you may endanger life by doing so."
Wichita attempted to control Halloween high jinks in 1899 by threatening those engaging in pranks with jail. "Chief Cubbon has issued an order that all boys, large or small, caught molesting property will be punished by fine and maybe by imprisonment," the Wichita Eagle stated on October 31, 1899. The following day the Eagle reported the business community was largely spared because of the close guard it kept on its property. "O. B. Stocker is reported to have sat on a lime barrel just inside his gate all night with a shotgun and a copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress'. . . Fred Van Duyn put placards on the Manhattan doors which read pleadingly: If you can, please leave the cook stove," the Eagle claimed. Still, a number of signs and boxes were relocated in downtown Wichita that night.
Hiawatha, in northeast Kansas, had a terrible time with Halloween trickery in the early years of the 20th century. The Hiawatha Daily World was pleased to call the 1913 holiday "the most sane Hallowe'en that Hiawatha has had in many a year. Outside of the one dangerous act of filling an old delivery wagon with inflammable[sic] material, setting it on fire and hauling it along the streets, there was no outrageous acts perpetrated, no pyramids of old vehicles and buildings in the streets, or on the corners." The same paper, however, reported that a boy from a nearby town was seriously hurt when the horse he was riding ran into some machinery placed in the road by pranksters.
Tragedies and excessive property loss moved communities to find creative ways of occupying children on Halloween night. Hiawatha's solution, an annual Halloween Frolic. It was so successful that it was widely copied by towns throughout the United States. Started by a townswoman who lost a fence and flowers one Halloween, the Frolic's main entertainment in its early years was a costume parade. Local business owners, eager to avoid property damage, provided cash prizes for the best costumes. The local newspaper proudly reported on the first Frolic in 1915, "There was no destroying of property and the marshals had the lonesomest Hallowe'en they have ever had."
Costume parties were common by the 1920s. Schools, social clubs, church groups, and fraternal lodges frequently held Halloween parties during the week before the holiday. Decorations, games, music, and refreshments were plentiful. Sweet cider and doughnuts were offered at many parties; at least one Kansas hostess served doughnuts from the end of a witch's broomstick.
Private dinner parties were another popular way of celebrating Halloween, and many were described by the local newspaper. The Hays Daily News informed its readers of a Halloween banquet and dance in 1930 at the Lamer Hotel: "A centerpiece in the room was fashioned of corn shocks and piled high with autumn fruits and vegetables. Each table held as a centerpiece a pumpkin filled with fruit on an orange and black paper decoration. Orange colored balloons were suspended from the chandeliers and gangling skeleton figures hung at each window. Jack O'Lanterns were used for lights."
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: April 2009
Date Modified: May 2011
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