Bob Mitchell: Halloween tricks, pranks of past years

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

With tomorrow being Halloween, I was thinking that it might be appropriate to recall some of the tricks of the observance that might bring back some memories.

The couple that I have in mind took a considerable effort, but didnít hurt anyone or cause absolute destruction.

Todayís observances are apparently displays of restraint by trick-or-treaters who choose their Halloween activities possibly in a group program, and donít roam the streets as once was the case.

Oldest of tricks

Coming to my mind as the oldest of the Halloween pranks that I remember goes back to the grade-school days atop the Seventh Street hill, where city water towers now stand on the foundation. This one had to be accomplished by older boys, possibly from the high school in the north part of town. It wasnít believable that seventh or eighth graders familiar with the school could have accomplished the feat.

Gaining access inside the building at night, more than likely via the slide fire escape in the rear of the two-story building, and unlocking downstairs door, the group put a practically new Springfield Wagon on the second floor, right in front of the principalís office.

To accomplish this prank, the wagon had to be almost completely disassembled and carried up the stairs, and then put back together. It was something to see the faces of pupils and staff alike as they viewed, with wonder, the feat.

Truman Thompson was the grade school principal at the time, and in his usual level demeanor, took the prank, along with everyone else, in complete wonderment. He relied on older boys to disassemble the wagon and return it to the rightful owner.

Chicken on roof

Another trick involving school property was in the days that Ernieís Chicken Shack was a featured eating establishment at Hilltop. On top of the building was huge chicken that Ernie had proudly displayed for his business. The chicken was a good eight or 10 feet high, and like stated, was fixed atop his building.

This particular Halloween, the chicken was removed from the building and transported, without any damage, to the R-4 campus where it was installed on a one-story portion of the gym used in those days. Itís now a junior high facility.

That prank was completed with the painting of chicken tracks going up the side of the building.

Superintendent at the time was Dan Bailey, who took the incident in stride, wondering, as did others, how the feat was accomplished.

Gathering some of the student body officials around him, Bailey made a deal with them that if the chicken was returned to Ernieís without damage and tracks were removed from the building, the incident (admittedly taking some effort), would be forgotten with no further investigation.

Rotaryís street party

The Halloween Street Party once held on the Cassville Public Square, sponsored by the Rotary Club, attracted folks from throughout the area, seeking both prizes and participation in various activities. It was annually held on the west side of the square with a feature being the costume judging causing much interest especially when judged winners were required to identify themselves.

Street pavement didnít deter any of the game activities even though some resulted in collisions and falls. Those in contests would simply get themselves back on their feet and finish the race.

It was always a surprise to learn the identity of some of the costume winners might be. There were businessmen and women who would be among those receiving cash prizes. Too, there would be nearby community folks who would walk away with a special prize.

Every prize was in cash, except the apple-dunking winners who received Vollenweider apples as their reward. Fred Vollenweider was always in charge of this activity, taking delight in rewarding winners.

Usual winners

Some of those who were usually in the winnerís circle might be recalled by readers.

Paramount among those taking top awards was Ernest German. Owner of Ozark Furniture, he took pains in choosing a different appearance each year while most usually got him in the first place category. In most years, due to his intentions to appear at other events, at his initial appearance in the circle going around the judges, he would dodge the identification requirements, which were granted.

Two of my aunts, Missie Pearl and Mary Ray, were well costumed, but usually known to most of the spectators due to their difference in size. Since they always appeared as a duo, however good their dress might have been, almost everyone would know who they were, but they frequently took prizes.

In those days, people who were really into the costume dress on Halloween would frequently visit Kenneth Cornís art studio before making their rounds for a disguising makeup that would have many a person guessing who they might be. Corn had been involved in disguises in addition to his sign making talents.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.