The homecomings are over, the scenic drives are done. The soybeans are gone, and the field corn is disappearing. The sun slants sharply through hazy skies. It must be time for Halloween. We may call it All Hallows Eve, but its really Samhein the old Druid festival when the dead came back to roam among the living. It was mostly a northern European celebration; and the Catholic Church did its best to stamp out this pagan ritual, absorbing it into a church celebration of saints.
But the intersection of the living and the dead was a powerful primitive force. Coming at the time of the year when harvest was over and the nights growing long, it was engraved in the hearts of northern Europeans.
It was still strong among the older people who lived in Galesburg when I was a boy but it was being overwhelmed with commercialism in the post-war 40s. Also, even at ten, I did not believe in ghosts or witches or the spirits of my northern European ancestors moving among us. Halloween was for trick or treating. Since the costumes in the stores were cheap and flimsy and the masks were mediocre, we generally devised our own garb, using old clothing. We were hoboes, cowboys, farmers and soldiers. Occasionally, someone would use eye liner and mercurochrome to create a monster face but it was darned hard to scrub off afterward. A pair of paraffin fangs you could chew up later were a common choice. The Orpheum or West would run a scary old film (like "Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman") and have prizes for the best costumes, but that was mostly for high school and Knox students. We Blaine Avenue Bulldogs concentrated on loot. And on settling scores with adults wed had trouble with during the summer and early fall. Pranks were high on our agenda but only after wed gathered a bag of candy and other goodies first.
Local churches and the YMCA, concernedabout the pagan side of Halloween, tried to combat it by holding Harvest Parties with costumes and eats but we Bulldogs rarely participated. We preferred to prowl. Eventually, our shenanigans got us into real trouble; and after a session in court and a woodshedding by our angry fathers, we gave up on Halloween altogether.
Today, Halloween is greatly changed. The costumes and masks are much better and very expensive and there are cornfield mazes, theatrical haunted houses and tons and tons of candy. Halloween is no longer commemorated in elementary schools, and witches are politically incorrect. There is still plenty of the dark side just look at all the hours of gory horror movies scheduled for this weekend, all embedded with lots of commercials, of course. Thats what Halloween has become an excuse to make money.
At least one of the old traditions will continue in Galesburg. The Orpheum will host not one but TWO Halloween parties. The first is sponsored by Dr. Mike, the computer therapist, and will take place Friday night at 7. There will be a classic horror film George Siegels 1956 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" featuring Kevin McCarthy. This is the pod people story originally written by Knox College alum Jack Finney. There will be prizes for best costumes and a show by magician Mitch Williams. The price is $8 for that but theres more. For $15 ($25 per couple), you can see the movie, the magician, and attend an adult costume party at the Kensington Ballroom afterward. The YMCA will provide baby-sitting at $5 per child from 7 to 1.
On Halloween, Sunday night at 7, the Lazer will sponsor a double feature of Hollywood horror "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" and Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween." This one is free but you need a ticket from the radio station to get into the theater.
So enjoy, enjoy. Next week, the stores will start pushing Christmas.