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Jeffrey Shaffer Headshot

The Ghosts of Halloween Past

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This idea may strike some people as utter folly but I think it's time for a
national "throwback" Halloween.


In the sports world, throwback games feature both teams wearing uniforms
that replicate styles and color schemes from the early decades of the 20th
century. Just once before the Grim Reaper comes calling, I'd like to see
Halloween stripped of all modern contrivances and returned to its roots as
an occasion for American children to have some harmless fun with spooky
characters and supernatural legends.


There will be a few simple rules and Number 1 is that costume options are
limited to the following: ghost, witch, skeleton, devil, and anything that
falls into the category of the un-dead. Throwback Halloween will keep its
focus on paranormal themes and I will enforce that standard with Draconian,
or perhaps I should say Dracula-onian, ruthlessness.


Therefore, under Rule 1, the Frankenstein monster is costume-worthy, along
with werewolves, vampires, zombies, and mummies. Cowboys, pirates, and
other popular historical icons are out. Ditto for space aliens and superheroes. They have no connection to creepy graveyards, haunted houses, or
other venues of the spirit world.


Rule Number 2 is that trick-or-treating is only for the younger crowd, a
demographic segment I would say includes everyone up to and including 7th
graders. Teenagers above the cutoff will have to sit this one out, but that
shouldn't cause lasting emotional damage. Really, kids, think about it:
students in 8th grade and high school don't want to have their pictures
taken sitting on Santa's lap, right?


Rule Number 3 prohibits beer companies from using Halloween in TV
commercials. They have plenty of opportunities to laud their libations this
time of year during every telecast of major league baseball and the NFL.
Taking an event that's been traditionally celebrated mainly by children and
morphing it into a vehicle for boosting alcohol consumption brings new
meaning to the term "evil spirits." The advertising honchos who dreamed up
this strategy should be exiled to a weekend retreat in the underworld.


Rule Number 4 may be the most controversial because it limits porch and yard
decorations to jack-o'-lanterns and simple props such as cotton spiderwebs
and mock gravestones. No brilliant strobe lights, smoke machines, or
blaring sound systems.


Astute critics reading this will say, "Wait! How can you propose to give
this event back to little folks when you haven't asked any of them how they
feel about it?" Point taken. I totally accept the possibility that the
youngest generation will find my throwback suggestions frighteningly boring
and lame.


I just thought it might be nice, one last time, to give all participants the
feeling of a nocturnal stroll through Sleepy Hollow, not Times Square. And
yes, I realize this makes me sound like one of those old duffers in a
Twilight Zone episode who want to flee back to an earlier period of life.
Some of those guys disappeared in the final scene, but that option isn't one
I'm going to pursue.


If, however, a throwback Halloween really did happen, I can picture myself
waving goodbye while the final group of goblins depart from my front door,
their voices slowly fading into the distance. As the street becomes silent,
I would carefully blow out the candles in each pumpkin. A black cat might
scurry across the lawn. And then I would sit down on the porch steps and
let the night close in around me, watching shadows that seem to change shape
in the moonlight, and listening for things that go bump in the dark.