Halloween - Ten Fond Memories
Halloween and trick-or-treating changed in the 1970s when reports of evil people doing despicable things to food they passed out traveled by word-of-mouth from one parent to another, and as those fears heightened in the stranger-danger days of the 1980s, the holiday changed forever.
As someone who experienced both the innocent times of running around door-to-door unchaperoned and eating whatever we received, as well as, the early days of having candy inspected by parents and being told by some friends that they could no longer go trick or treating, I would like to take a look back at the holiday during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Though kids can still have a blast during Halloween season nowadays, times were simpler then and traditions were a bit different. Here are 10 fond memories I have of my childhood Halloweens.
Ben Cooper costumes: In the 1960s and 1970s, Ben Cooper, Inc. ruled the Halloween costume world. With licensed plastic mask-and-costume sets and original ones alike, these fondly remembered but inexpensively made outfits were the go-to garb for many an October 31. Sure, a sheet with two holes for eyesight was still in vogue for many trick-or-treaters, but most of my friends and I rushed to the local grocery or toy stores to try and find the best Ben Cooper costumes before they sold out. Whether you were into monsters like Dracula or Frankenstein’s creation, science-fiction characters from Planet of the Apes or Star Wars, Marvel or DC superheroes, television characters such as The Fonz from Happy Days or cartoon favorites like Yogi Bear, or if you just wanted (or got stuck with) one of the company’s odd original creations, Ben Cooper, Inc. offered something for just about every kid.
Masks from comic ads: As children became tweeners and young teenagers, they grew out of Ben Cooper, Inc. outfits. Many opted for slightly more expensive rubber masks advertised in magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland as well as comic books for their trick-or-treating needs. Other ads offered free masks, sometimes made of paper but not advertised as such, if you bought another item, like a “life-sized” poster of a monster (see the Moon Monster photos further down this page).
Voice of the Mummy, Creepy Crawlers, and other toys and games with spooky themes: Though any day was a fine time for playing board games like Voice of the Mummy and The Outer Limits, as well as for making goopy, gloppy insects or dinosaurs with Creepy Crawlers, Incredible Edibles, Thingmaker Fright Factory, or Strange Change Machine (AKA Time Machine) toy sets, Halloween season was surely the time when these toys were often pulled off the top shelf in kids’ closets to be put back into heavy rotation. Usually this meant a trip to the toy store to restock on the fluids and other materials needed to use these toys, but what child would argue with that?
One of my favorite toys from my golden age of Halloween was Voice of the Mummy. Players play as explorers in a pharaoh's tomb as they try to collect jewels and avoid “the cobra’s spell” on a three-dimensional board. The game features a sarcophagus with a record player inside. The mummy’s voice says things like, “Have you ever tasted blood?” and awards jewels or gives other instructions. This video features some of the mummy’s dialogue:
Scary comic books: Like those games, there was never a bad day for reading creepy comics as a child, but Halloween season usually meant putting away Archie, Disney, and Harvey titles --- well, maybe Hot Stuff, Casper, and Wendy, the Good Little Witch might be allowed for light reading --- for a while and focusing on comics guaranteed to bring on the heebie jeebies, such as Gold Key’s Ripley’s Believe It or Not! True Ghost Stories and Ripley’s Believe It or Not! True Demons and Monsters; Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery, and The Twilight Zone; Charlton’s Ghostly Haunts and Haunted; Classics Illustrated’s Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; and other well-thumbed-through horror favorites.
Wax monster candies and Wowee Whistles: There are many Halloween candies that have not been made for ages, but these two are especially close to my heart. The wax representations of Frankenstein’s monster, a skeleton, a vampire, and more were filled with syrup. Just bite off the head, drink the syrup, and chew the wax body. It may not sound appetizing to those who never tried them, but those wax monsters hold fond memories for those of us who did. In my neighborhood in northern California, these things sold out on the first day they appeared and were rarely restocked because of popular demand, making them something of an edible collector’s item.
Orange, harmonica-shaped Wowee Whistles didn’t contain syrup but had a noise-making factor that made parents and teachers happy when their charges finally stopped playing them and started chewing them. Speaking of Halloween goodies . . .
Popcorn balls, cupcakes, cookies, and other homemade treats: Sure, you can still eat your fill of these during October, but I’m talking about getting them when going door-to-door trick-or-treating. I remember happily taking goodies like this home and eating them without a second thought as an elementary school child. I also remember the tide changing while I was still in elementary school, with parents checking candy and forbidding the consumption of homemade treats because of rumors and urban legends about apples with razor blades hidden inside them, LSD-laced candy necklaces and Pixy Stix, and the like. It was at that time that trick-or-treating changed forever.
Spooky sound effects records: Most of my friends owned the Disney Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House album, which was cool, but one day at my parents’ favorite grocery store, I saw the record Sounds to Make You Shiver. The album art hooked me with its one-eyed octopus and other creatures, and I talked my mom into buying the album for me. When I saw the creepy skull back-cover art, I was even more amazed, and then I played the record for the first time. The opening with a woman screaming was absolutely chilling. Sounds to Make You Shiver is still pretty effective; play the link below with the lights out and let your imagination do the rest.
TV specials and movies on TV: The annual CBS airing of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was an October staple for elementary students in the late sixties and early seventies, and we talked about it at school the next day, no matter how many times we had seen it before. In the days before cable television and VCR's, watching that and other seasonal shows was a once-a-year shot, and many of us planned in advance for those nights.
Youngsters with a hankering for television fright fare around Halloween were also limited to whatever programmers decided to broadcast. Fortunately for me, northern California had a horror host with a wildly popular Saturday night television show in two different markets, San Francisco and Sacramento: Creature Features. Bespectacled, cigar-smoking Bob Wilkins would crack wise before, between, and after the movies he would show, sometimes interviewing celebrities, as well. With Wilkins on the air, my friends and I knew that we would not be disappointed when it came to watching monster movies during Halloween season --- or any other Saturday night of the year. Here is a link to watch the theme song opening for Bob Wilkins’ San Francisco version of Creature Features:
Items from comic book ads: Sometimes waiting for the advertised six to eight weeks for delivery to pass when waiting for items ordered from comic books felt like a lifetime. When they arrived, they were often far less than our vivid imaginations had hoped for and the ads promised. In August --- or for those pushing matters, September --- friends and I would order items such as the “monster s-i-z-e monsters” posters of Frankenstein’s creation and a skeleton, or the Moon Monster poster you got when joining a monster fan club. For the latter, compare what the ad promises with the photo of the folded-up poster and the paper masks that gullible kids received.
“That one house” in the neighborhood: These days, lots of folks decorate their homes for Halloween in styles from the light-hearted to the grotesque, and haunted houses, hayrides, and other attractions range from homegrown to big-budget and professional. When I was a youngster, there were no professional haunts, and usually only one house in a given neighborhood went all out.
I will always remember my first experience with a house like that. One of my friends told me that his teenaged brother and two of his high-school friends were setting up something in his garage for Halloween and wouldn’t let him see what it was. The brother said their garage would open after 7:30 for trick-or-treating.
The main garage door was down, so everyone had to enter through the side door. When we did, we saw that there was a chest filled with candy on the other side of the garage; however, blocking kids’ paths were the brother and friends dressed up in frightening costumes. A strobe light made their movements scarier as they grabbed at screaming trick-or-treaters who dared to move toward the candy. Being good guys at heart, they allowed opportunities for all of us to avoid them and grab candy quickly before scaring us again on our way out. I will always remember that DIY haunted garage as one of my favorite childhood Halloween memories.
Everyone has vivid, fond recollections of their childhood Halloweens, no matter in what era they grew up. I hope this article jogged your memory banks a bit and helped you further your festive mood for however you celebrate Halloween this year.
Besides contributing to When It Was Cool, Joseph Perry also writes for the retro pop culture website That’s Not Current (thatsnotcurrent.com), the Gruesome Magazine horror movie website (gruesomemagazine.com), and several other print and online film critique magazines.