“The Youth owned the town” – Celebrating Halloween in Pottsville in 1893

All Hallow’s Eve has been marked on Americans’ holiday calendars since the mid-19th century, when Irish and Scottish immigration to the United States brought the party to these shores.

Halloween was traditionally marked by barely organized chaos on the streets, with pranksters who showed no mercy. It was this annual anarchy that set the tongues of the Schuylkill County elite wagging in the autumn of 1893. You can almost hear their curmudgeonly, cranky laments about “kids these days,” decrying the “rabble,” in this editorial published in the Pottsville Republican on October 25, 1893.

Where are the Policemen?

The local press should be a unit in denouncing the barbarous practices known as Halloween in which the doors, door bells, and windows are battered and ruined all in the name of amusement. There is no reason why these vandals should not be as amenable to the law as the burglar or the mischievous marauder defacing and destroying property.

The finest doors of the finest residences in the city enjoy no immunity from these, in many cases, overgrown boys and girls. No matter how “respectable” they may be, their place is in the lockup with the other evil doers.

This particular season can be enjoyed in a ration, pleasant way, aside from wanton defacing and destruction of property. The police have a duty to perform and property owners call upon them for protection at this time.

The Miner’s Journal’s took a different tack on the Halloween holiday. Instead of waving their fingers at the youth, they cheered the holiday on, but warned off against acts of wanton vandalism and violence:

Halloween at Hand.
The Masquaraders will be out in force.

Tonight will be Halloween and the likelihood is that the ancient festival will be observed in this city as generally as usual, and with quite as much jollity and fun.

The youngest of Pottsvillians – say those whose span has not passed knickerbocker – will indulge in amusements comparatively innocent, although some of their older victims find “innocent” a mild term. They will put “tic-tacs” on window panes, as usual, and bring shop-keepers flying out the doors as wildly as ever. They will tie stout cords to door-bells, and allow sedate old gentlemen to run against the string, bringing out the irate householder to demand explanations.

They will wield inflated bladders about the streets with a carelessness that is criminal, and perform a dozen other antics which the fiendish ingenuity of gay and happy childhood alone can devise.

There are happy diversions which are entered into and enjoyed equally as well by those of more mature age whose span of life has not yet passed the fun-loving period.

There is another phase of this Halloween festivity which has consequences far more serious and which is to be deprecated, that is the destructive and dangerous modern elements introduced, and for which there is no real necessity, as tradition has handed down so many mild diversions in which there is quite as much real amusement.

These dangerous diversions should be eliminated from tonight’s celebration and the hundreds who will participate therein should bear this in mind and thus avoid any enforced restraint from our police authorities.

Apparently, the complaints of the wealthiest and most influential residents of Pottsville and their calls for mass arrests of Halloween participants could not stop the merriment of the holiday in the Schuylkill County seat. The following reports detail how the “youth owned the town” on October 31, 1893.

Halloween

Last night the youth owned the town. The streets were traversed by young folks who enjoyed themselves until a late hour singing, blowing tin horns, pounding doors, ringing door bells, and throwing corn at windows. They are all old tricks but every year they appear new. There were many masquerade and diving parties, and clubs of masqueraders paraded the streets until a late hour. They had a good time and the policeman’s lot was not a happy one.

– Pottsville Republican, November 1, 1893

Hollowe’en Duly Observed

Hollow’een was celebrated with an amount of juvenile enthusiasm in Pottsville, that made side gates change base and door bells musical with jerky symphonies.

Masquerade parties strolled the streets, tooted tin horns, and pelted windows with a good, hard quality of corn. The festive cabbage stalk played a tatoo on many a front door.

– Miner’s Journal of Pottsville, November 1, 1893. 

The stories all made Halloween in 19th century Pottsville to be a strange and fun affair.

Want to read more about the perils of Halloween in 19th century America? Check out this piece from Smithsonian Magazine from October 2017!


Featured Image: Halloween themed sketch from Harper’s Weekly November 1867 issue


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3 thoughts on ““The Youth owned the town” – Celebrating Halloween in Pottsville in 1893

  1. We threw corn at passing car windshields and called it tictacking” in the 1970’s. We also uprooted dried cornstalks and stuck them in the middle of the road where there was a bend in the road so an unsuspecting driver would have to slam on his brakes or drive over the cornstalks!

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