Vintage Trick-or-Treating, circa 1961: A Ghost Story

Tess Trueheart

Tess Trueheart

I’d been waiting at the door for the bell to ring, but I heard the scuffle of their shoes on the porch first and opened the door. Cindy and Judy, the big girls who lived next door, were taking me trick-or-treating. I recognized them because their costumes only slightly altered their everyday appearance.

“Oh don’t you look cute! I’m going to a hootenanny,” Cindy said, adjusting the bandana around her neck.

“What a cute gypsy outfit,” Judy tugged on my gold hoop earring. “I’m Tess Trueheart.” She loved comic book characters and could draw comic strip girls with curvy silhouettes just like a professional. “Are you ready? Let’s go.”

Mom kissed me goodbye. “Be careful, girls.”

“We’ll take good care of her, don’t worry!” Cindy smiled reassuringly at my mother. I wondered if Mom had paid the girls to babysit me. That took a little shine off the night. My hand moved to the scarf tied gypsy style on top of my head as if to make sure it was still there.

On our small front porch–a 4×4 foot cement block–we scanned the neighborhood, debating which route to take. The sky gleamed black as a witch’s cape and glittered its spangle of stars. I figured there would be a full moon grinning above us, but the stars and the porch lamps were the only light which broke up the vast blackness.

“Let’s go to Mark’s first and up and around Gull Road and then back into the neighborhood.” Cindy decided because she was the oldest.

As we began to walk, the black chow which patrolled the boundaries of the yard across the street ran along his property line, yapping and growling, until the man called him into the house.

In the dark, the houses looked like jack-o-lanterns with their dark opaque walls and windows lit up like cut-out eyes and noses. The ripe smell of decaying leaves hung in the crisp air.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Mark’s front door had a cardboard black cat silhouette taped up, and his mother gave us each a Tootsie roll. Their house looked like mine, with a front living room window and one bedroom window facing street side, and a one car garage set back at the end of the driveway.

The Smiths’ house was next. Mr. Smith let us choose hard candy from a bowl because Pam’s mom was busy with the baby. We each grabbed two pieces, not daring to take three. Mrs. Smith would have handed us one piece each.

At the top of the street, the only two-story house in our neighborhood sat waiting for us. Last year a fire had destroyed the furniture and some of the interior walls. One of the kids had set the fire by playing with matches, or so Mom had explained to me. “That’s why you NEVER play with matches!”

The rumor I heard was that a child had died in the fire, but I wasn’t sure if it was true. Nobody seemed to know the family. Now the house sat vacant and was said to be haunted.

When we got near the house, the girls stopped and Cindy said, “Who’s going to ring the doorbell?”

“Not me,” said Judy.

At six, I was too young to question why we were trick-or-treating at an abandoned house.

Cindy looked at me. “I’m not going to either because I have to be in charge. But we have to see if the spirits answer the bell. Maybe Luanne should do it.” At a tall eleven, Cindy’s form threatened from the shadows.

I glanced at the high, skinny house. Unlike our houses, this one was from before the war. The once-white paint glowed in the dark a smoky ghostlike color. The porch slanted down on one side. It gave the appearance of a building about to fall down to the ground.

Mainly I scanned the dark windows. Then I glanced behind me. Across the street, the only house I could see was the one bedroom bungalow rented by the divorced beautician who wore a big Madge ‘do and had a toy poodle that smelled of perm chemicals. Her porch light was not on. No backup support from over there.

As I looked back up at the second story of the haunted house, I saw a flash of movement. I didn’t wait to see what it was; I took off running.

Within moments, I heard a loud crash and the tinkling sound of glass breaking, then two sets of feet running behind and then alongside me. I held my long skirt tautly to the side so it didn’t wrap around my legs and trip me.

We didn’t stop until we reached Gull Road. Judy and Cindy panted on both sides of me as we leaned over and caught our breaths. I thought Judy was starting to throw up as she revved up her breathing, but then she coughed and spit up some phlegm.

“What in the heck was that?” Judy said.

“I don’t know, but we are going to be killed,” Cindy answered. “Did you see it, Luanne? Is that why you ran?”

“I did! I saw something.” My insides started twittering in fear that Cindy thought we would be killed.

“What was it?” Cindy said. I started to tell her that it looked like a kid that flickered like a candle, but she turned to Judy and grabbed her arm, shaking her. “You’re in so much trouble, you idiot! I can’t believe you did that.”

We walked into the lighted National parking lot. “I want a monster charm!” Judy said.

She put a nickel into the fancy gumball machine and pulled out a monster ring with glowing eyes which she promptly stuck on her finger. She shoved her hand in my face so I could see its smug face.

I had no money and didn’t understand wasting a nickel when it was Halloween. However, Cindy and Judy were my elders, so I held my tongue and watched in jealousy while they compared shiny charms. Sighing, I ripped open my tootsie roll and popped it into my mouth.

Eventually I realized that Cindy said we were going to be killed because Judy had broken the window and we would be punished, but that epiphany came many years later. Until then I lived in terror of the house up the street.

Have you ever lived by a haunted house? I’d love to read your story about it!

18 Comments

Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing prompt

18 responses to “Vintage Trick-or-Treating, circa 1961: A Ghost Story

  1. Isn’t that typical, the older kids making the younger one go first. 🙂 How scared you must have been. I’ve never lived near a haunted house, but I remember a house in the neighborhood where no one ever saw the owner. Their teenage boy was rumored to be recently released from a psych ward. Of course, we never knew if any of this was true, but we always skipped that house on Halloween.

    • Luanne

      It was pretty scary! That house was something that was always on my mind when I was outside, even if I wasn’t near it. It was as if my neighborhood was the most friendly, wonderful place (except the time I got scared about kidnappers) and that house was a complete blot on it haha. Such a simplistic way to view my little world! My, the house in your neighborhood sounds even scarier because of a very real possible danger!!! And if it was true, maybe it was just some poor kid who was depressed! The world is so different from adult eyes.

  2. That’s a great story. My favorite was when my sister, neighbor Bruce, and I all went trick-or-treating. Nurse, doctor, and patient. I was the patient wrapped like a mummy in bandages made from old sheets. I too was younger….

  3. Lots of great details make this brief tale feel lush and imminent. The first person narration pulls the reader right in. Nicely done!

  4. That was fun, Luanne! I’m still seeing the “Madge ‘do!” The stay-away from house in our neighborhood – a suburban square mile of 1960s colonials alternated with ranch-style homes – was the burned out white-brick testament to what happened when one smoked in bed.

    • Luanne

      Haha, and she wore that uniform, too, that looked like a nurse’s uniform. Wow, so you had a burned down house, too. Did no one rebuild on the property?

      • Because it was brick it didn’t burn down – just had gaping black holes where windows once were and soot covered bricks. It was eventually gutted and redone and, as far as I know, still stands. Between that house and my mother’s graphic descriptions of her time serving as a nurse in a burn center, I have a healthy fear of fire!

  5. This was such a fun story, Luanne! Thank you for sharing it.

    • Luanne

      Caitlin, thank you so much for reading. I’m glad you thought it was fun! It seems like a fun experience NOW, but it was sure scary at the time ;).

  6. Great story with suspense built in! I love the way you gave such great details! This was a page out of history, I liked the ending, too, when you realized what happened and why you were going to be “killed!”

    • Luanne

      Robin, thank you so much for telling me how you experienced the story. That’s so invaluable to know how a story affects a reader. Haha, nothing ever happened about the broken window either!

  7. Great story. I haven’t heard the expression “hootenanny” in years!

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