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October 30, 2001

Here it is again: Halloween is upon us, and that can only mean the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays will soon be here. But wait a minute. We know the origin of those other events, but why do we even have a Halloween celebration? Who started it, and why? Read on and I'll share some information gleaned from usually reliable sources, plus a few personal recollections.

I'm old enough to remember when some of my more daring youthful contemporaries scoured the rural area each year in search of those wooden outbuildings that used to be part of the landscape at every farm house. They made excellent kindling for bonfires when high school homecoming celebrations were in full swing, but the flimsy old structures also served as lawn decorations at several homes when the annual Halloween. rituals were being observed. Why were such nuisances perpetrated on that particular day?

I also remember one Halloween when Mr. George Spraberry was the newly employed superintendent of Perry schools. The student body had been advised by the administration beforehand that acts of vandalism would not be tolerated, so we had better behave. The morning after Halloween, we were all called to a special assembly in the old high school auditorium. There Mr. Spraberry dolefully announced that not only had the youngsters of this community violated his instructions, but that a most destructive act had been performed. A four-tier sandstone wall around the outside perimeter of one of the city's fine old homes had been willfully pulled apart and broken in the process. The wall was historic and unique, so the destruction was especially regrettable, he said. The ones responsible had not been identified, and he wanted us to know that some form of group punishment would be imposed until names of the guilty parties were made known.

Other related events of the day are not known to me, but I do remember that by the next morning the sandstone wall had been rebuilt, looked good as new, and the student body was no longer a collective pariah. Names of the actual perpetrators were never disclosed to the rest of us and we all felt greatly relieved. On Mr. Spraberry's next Halloween the following year, nothing untoward occurred. Evidently, we had learned our lesson concerning proper deportment.

Now - why is there a Halloween celebration? My encyclopedia tells an interesting story about the origin, but it's copyrighted and too lengthy to relate here. Briefly, the name "Halloween" applies to the evening of October 31, before the Christian feast of Hallowmass, Allhallows, or All Saints' Day. Observances connected with Halloween may have started with the Druids, who believed that on that evening, Saman, the lord of the dead, called forth many evil spirits. The Druids lit fires on that evening, apparently to shoo away those spirits. In Perry, the mayor and city council decide when youngsters can call on their friends and family for trick or treat favors, and the date varies slightly from year to year. There's more about all this in any good encyclopedia, and now would be a good time to read up on the subject. In Perry, some of us know that October 31 also is the birthday of one of our favorite friends, Elizabeth Willems, and that alone is cause enough for celebration. Just be careful not to damage or destroy someone else's property in the process. Happy holidays!