Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Oct. 28, 2004

Scary, scary night

Eating popcorn balls, caramel apples, candy corn and other goodies is a fun Halloween activity. But scaring ourselves or others silly - whether it's by dressing up in ghoulish costumes, telling ghost stories, watching horror movies or visiting haunted houses - is also a big attraction of the October holiday.

The History Channel gives us some insights as to how Halloween became so scary. It seems the Celts - the forefathers of the modern-day Scots, Irish and Welsh - celebrated the new year on Nov. 1. They believed on the night before the new year, the separation between those who were living and those who were dead became fuzzy, and spirits of the dead walked the earth doing mischief. Large bonfires were lit and people wore costumes of skins and animal heads to ward off these evil doers.

When the Romans subdued the Celts, they made Halloween a bit less scary by combining their holiday of celebrating the dead and another honoring the goddess of fruit. It's believed the latter is where the custom of bobbing for apples arose.

When Christianity displaced the Roman religion, the Nov. 1 holiday became All Saints' Day - and the night before was celebrated with fires and dressing up.

But while we no longer are concerned about the dead returning to cause trouble, it appears we still like the idea of being scared. The folks in Sleepy Hollow, New York - north of New York City on the Hudson River - have capitalized on this desire to be scared by re-enacting the ride of the Headless Horseman described in Washington Irving's Legend of Sleepy Hollow. People in Sleepy Hollow promote the village as "Halloween Central" and have all sorts of events lined up for Legend Weekend, the last three days of October.

Closer to home, the annual Halloween party at the grade school includes a spook house, which seems to be a highlight for many of the children. It changes from year to year, but it usually includes older kids jumping out with "weapons," a "train" roaring through with its headlight bearing down and strobe lights flashing.

One of my favorite memories of Halloween involved scaring others. One year my family and I hosted a haunted barn party with our church youth group. We welcomed visitors with a huge mural across the east side of the barn. We blindfolded the younger kids and then took them inside the barn. We led them through a tunnel of hay bales, across old bed springs covered with a tarpaulin, and in and out of the cow stanchions while "ghouls" nearby made scary noises. At one point, we had them feel various "body parts" - peeled grapes were the eyes, cooked spaghetti was the brains - of an unfortunate soul. A scarecrow hanging from the loft ladder bid the visitors "goodbye."

When Mariya was 11, she and her friends turned our garage into a spook house. They dressed a figure in one of my shirts and a pair of my old jeans, put a monster mask on it and propped a chain saw in its arms. They strung cobwebs and spiders from one corner to the other and set up a tape recorder to play spooky sounds. After spending a couple of hours preparing, they were ready to do some scaring. They took Katie, who was then 4, and her little friends through the spook house two at a time. They pulled them in our red wagon, taking them under a ladder they had propped between the trash barrels and around to see the "chain saw man." I thought the kids would be scared, but they wanted to go back in the garage time after time.

Art gets scared at Halloween, too. He says every year he's afraid we'll give away all the candy to the trick-or-treaters and there won't be any left for him.

Maggie Henton, Mariya, Crystal Crandon, unknown man and Cally Bitterlin,
aka garage monsters, prepare to scare Katie and her friends out of their wits.

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