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Discoveries: Halloween 'Tricks'—One Subtle, the Other a Blast

The origins of Halloween are uncertain; some historians trace it to Medieval times, others back to the Roman Empire. There are holiday traditions from the Middle Ages of people in costume knocking on doors and asking for treats. In America, the Halloween tradition of "trick or treat" has been going on since at least the early years of the 20th Century.

Usually, people are happy to bestow treats of candy on the children who come to their door. Some people refuse to be charitable, however, and risk receiving a "trick" (prank) from the children for their failure to bestow a "treat." Trees and bushes wrapped in toilet paper, smashed pumpkins, and tipped-over garbage cans are common tricks. Sometimes, as the following two newspaper articles show, the tricks are more carefully planned, or can have greater consequences.

One Halloween night back in 1916, some boys in San Jose, California, played a clever trick on local furniture dealer Henry Lion, as reported in this article printed by the Evening News (San Jose, California), 1 November 1916, page 5:



Leaving a rocking chair on the front porch of a furniture dealer shows a delightful—and subtle—sense of humor. There was nothing subtle about another Halloween trick pulled in 1916, however—this prank turned out to be a real blast, literally.

It happened in the small town of Winlock, in Lewis County, Washington, as reported by the Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 11 November 1916, page 4:



Filling Roundtree and Co.'s gasoline tank with 40 gallons of water probably seemed like a hilarious Halloween prank to the boys at the time—but it's likely no one was laughing when this prank got out of hand and the town's sewer system exploded, damaging several buildings!

Little discoveries like these articles are some of the fun in browsing through a historical newspapers archive while doing your family history research. Keep an eye out for them—you never know what you'll find.