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Kent Bernhardt: Halloween through the years

The history of Halloween dates back about two thousand years to the part of the world that is now Ireland. The Celts believed that on the eve of the new year, then November 1st, the ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

They believed these spirits would ruin crops and cause general mischief, so they built bonfires to ward them off. Thus, from these humble beginnings Halloween was born.

How we evolved from a Celtic festival into the purchase of expensive costumes at Wal Mart and sending our children door-to-door begging for candy gets a little fuzzy. But Halloween is big business each year, so who am I to stand in the way.

When I was a child, Halloween had few frills. Our parents cut holes in an old sheet or slapped a cheap plastic mask on our faces, handed us a paper bag, and sent us out into the neighborhood instructing us not to return home for at least two hours.

Like a Hershey factory, every home doled out a seemingly endless supply of candy treats. There were no exceptions.

Even the grouchiest of reclusive neighbors could be seen stepping out on their porches to appear appropriately frightened by the array of ghosts and goblins invading their living space. I’ve noticed that’s far less true today.

We live in a more fearful world, so it is understandably rare to see children wandering around any neighborhood alone. But in my day, it was practically a rite of passage and we made the most of our independence.

My parents seemed to always find these wax-like masks for our Halloween costumes. They offered literally no ventilation, so even on the coolest of Halloween evenings we would return home with faces and hair covered in sweat.

We seldom cared though. We were too busy doing an inventory of enough candy to keep dentists gainfully employed for years.

Frankenstein’s monster was my favorite Halloween character, so I chose that mask each year. I wore it faithfully until a sweet young female crush of mine informed me she thought I looked like Herman Munster naturally, so I ditched the mask.

Most young men would be offended by that comparison, but she liked Herman Munster and loved to hear me laugh like him. I was a young man in love, so I obliged.

In my late teens, I volunteered to reprise my role as the Frankenstein monster at a local haunted house. For four hours, I sat at the end of a darkened hallway with special lighting wearing heavy makeup and and even heavier costume, complete with lifts.

As each group of children would make their way through the house, I would fire up a recording of creepy organ music and start my lumbering walk toward them in the hallway, moaning and groaning eerily with my hands outstretched.

Unfortunately, it was now the 70s, and children weren’t as easily frightened as I had been ten years earlier. They would laugh, kick me in the shins, and run off to the next exhibit giggling. I would limp back to my stool at the end of the hallway and beg for the evening to end.

Halloween is quite different today. Haunted houses are far more sophisticated, as are Halloween costumes in general. In fact, I think the observance has lost a lot of its charm.

In days of old, someone in a ghostly sheet would jump out from behind a creaky door, yell “Boo,” and send your adrenaline racing. Now, a headless guy with an altered chainsaw tries to cut your leg off.

Imagination has been replaced by realism, I suppose.

Happy Halloween, everyone. And by the way, “Boo.”

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.


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