Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Hallow's Eve

Sometimes the spookiest scenes aren't from some Hollywood horror film, but just a vintage photograph from the reality of the past, such as this one of someone's halloween in the 1950s.

That was my Trick or Treat period, those early '"50s in Downingtown, inventing a costume from whatever bits and pieces could be scrounged up about the house and then prowling the dark and chill dark knocking on stranger's doors and demanding treats.

They held an annual parade seven miles south in the county seat, which was West Chester. I marched
in that procession in 1951 and won Third Place as Mr. Peanut. My grandmother created my get-up out of cardboard and a potato sack. The cane was one won at a local carnival one summer and the leggings were a pair of my Grandfather's Long John dyed black. The photo is me receiving my prize. I believe it was $5.00. Five dollars was a lot of money in 1951, especially to a ten-year old kid.

I saw a lot of those classic Universal Horror films at the Roosevelt Theater, located on Brandywine Avenue, which followed along the creek of the same name. Those films had a great deal of power upon one way back then and even if I went to the Saturday matinee, as I usually did, it was still always dark out when the show ended during the winter months. I lived almost all the way to the other end of Washington Avenue from the theater and that street tended to be full of shadows if it had any light at all. I would run home or at least as far and fast as I could until my side hurt.

We never stop learning new things in life, or shouldn't. One thing I learned this week was how recent this whole trick or treat business is as I knew it as a child and to this day. It is lest than 80 years a tradition, the first mention of it in a newspaper appearing in 1939. It was created to stem the growing violence of the Holiday. People, especially teenagers, were causing increasing expense damage during the 1930s, burning building, letting livestock loose and worse. Some lady decided to throw her home open and have treats laid out for the kids and she received no nasty tricks that year and thus a new tradition was born. Of course, in more modern times it seems a good bit of the violence and nastiness is returning.

Costumes aren't as much homemade these days either. It is big business now. Today's disguises aren't as politically incorrect as the one I am wearing in the picture on the left in 1957. The witch to my right (your left) was my grandmother and the tough guy to my other side was my mother. Except for the masks everything is homemade.

A couple hours ago I watched the 1931 version of Dracula with Bela Lugosi. That film was pretty scary when it came out, but it a far cry from what you see in horror movies now. For one thing, in a movie about a bloodsucker, you only see one drop of blood in the whole film when Renfield (Dwight Frye) cuts his fingertip while eating at Dracula's castle.

Here is another new fact I learned just today.

In the movie Renfield is a real estate agent bringing a lease to Count Dracula. The Count eventually bends down over the sleeping agent and turns him into a fly eating slave. The scene where Lugosi leans over Enfield totally upset the suits in the production office, who issued a dictate that Dracula was not to assault any males, only females. They feared the homoerotic implications.

Like the lack of blood, there are no overt sexual scenes in the film; however, there is a good deal of eroticism present. The scenes of Lugosi stretching over Lucy or Nina to bite their neck are very suggestive, even though we never see his lips actually touch their skin.  These are rather frightening images as well.

Today we would see his fangs pierce the skin and trickles of blood and in the final scenes where Van Helsing hammers a stake through Dracula's heart there would be a gusher of red shooting up. Instead here the camera wanders away from the action and we only hear the sound of the pounding and Dracula's screams.

I don't dress up for the holiday anymore; really, don't celebrate it at all. The last time I donned any masks was during my tenure at Wilmington Trust. We often dressed up for Halloween and had a little party. Below are my appearances in those days.

I went from Mr. Peanut to an M&M.

I came this year as the World's Ugliest Playboy Bunny.

Aren't you glad it wasn't the centerfold?

I was the Phantom of the Opera during the period I was on steroids for my Graves Disease. The disease mad my eyes pop out of my head and the steroids made my face swell up, so I wa
s pretty much hideous like Erik. This customer caused one of my fellow managers totally freak out.

Oh, I still had a mask on in the photo on the right. My face was bad, but not that bad.

Anyway, hope you are having a perfectly haunting Halloween and watch out for all those calories!


Ron said...

Your best costume ever was Mr. Peanut. I still remember in amazement when you first appeared as Mr. Peanut. Right then and there I knew I had serious competition for originality.

Jon said...

A fascinating post - and it's great that you still have a photo of your Mr. Peanut costume. Halloween was so much more creative and imaginative long ago than it is now.

The tradition of rampant pranks and vandalism seems to have faded, and - as you said - it was replaced by trick or treats. I love Halloween, but prefer to spend it quietly at home - watching old horror movies.