Oregon Trails: Trick or Treat

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MEDFORD, Ore. – Fall is here in all it’s colorful glory, and with it kids of all ages thinking of Halloween. Halloween is next Wednesday, and with it the tradition of costumes, parties and trick or treating. For as long as most of us can remember, Halloween has been a favorite holiday for kids and many adults.

People dress in all sorts of costumes, from cute animals to strange monsters and everything in between. Kids go from door-to-door in costume, declaring “trick or treat”, probably not even knowing what that means any more. Medford Historian Ben Truwe says the phrase “trick or treat” first shows up in the northwest in the mid-1930’s.

“Trick or Treat, in the earliest I’ve been able to find that is in 1934, in of all places, Portland!” exclaimed Truwe, “And it really seems to be a West Coast phenomenon! that phrase developed on the West Coast. But it didn’t make it’s way generally across the country, except in isolated pockets until, I think 1952, when Walt Disney produced a cartoon called, “Trick or Treat”, which patterns the behavior. You see Donald Duck, and Huey, Dewey, and Louie, y’know, doing the classic Halloween trick or treating, in costume, going door to door, knocking on doors, asking for treats, which is what they’d been doing for 15 years in Los Angeles and Portland, and all up and down the West Coast.”

Most of Truwe’s research is from newspaper files, which seems to show that in the late 1800’s, pranks were the biggest activity on Halloween. That, and parties. there are warnings from authorities for young people to observe the law and avoid trouble. About 1910, Gold Hill youths were blamed for trashing the Dardenelle School. other stories refer to gates taken down, wagons dismantled placed on rooftops, and signs moved around, and other pranks.

“One of the standard images in uh, in magazines of Halloween celebrations was a small child carrying a jack-o-lantern on a pole, which they would then put in front, near a window! And this would genuinely scare the people inside,” Truwe described.

Remember the trick or treating scene from ET? Only there the kids were out before dark. Around here, most trick or treating began after the sun went down, and it was often cold, wet or foggy. During the mid-60’s, Paul Stookey, of Peter, Paul, and Mary, often told this story of how trick or treating had evolved. Dick Moore of Medford laments the changes in Halloween traditions over the years.

“You don’t get home made candy, like popcorn balls,” Dick recalled. “It was so good! You don’t see that! People wouldn’t dare give our home made stuff! Home made fudge, and cookies and things like that. Just don’t see it any more, I don’t think.”

Remember soaping windows as a trick if someone didn’t give you treat? And now the decorations seem to be mostly plastic tombstones, fake cobwebs, colored lights, and inflatable ghosts and spiders. The face of Halloween has changed quite a bit in America.

The tampering incidents of the 70’s and 80’s, means you no longer get homemade goodies and fresh fruit and maybe even walnuts in your Halloween bag. It’s all store-bought candy. And a lot fewer kids seem to be out trick or treating in neighborhoods anymore! It’s become school parties, and neighborhood or church group “trunk or teat” activities. Folks just feel a lot safer that way.