Pranks rule 'olden days' celebrations of Halloween
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterprise, October 31, 1998
NEDERLAND -- If you should run into Albert Rienstra, Boots Bodemuller or John May, please give each of them a stick of candy, because none of them ever got to go "trick or treatin'" in the "old days." In 1930 Halloween meant pranksterism, perhaps better defined as vandalism, and "trick or treating" was "invented" after World War II to modify that style of behavior.
During the 1920s, it was no accident that many outhouses here were built on 6-foot-by-6-foot concrete bases. Typically, Halloween meant wooden gates or bridges over ditches stolen, overturned outhouses, houses pelted with rocks and any other vandalism that teenagers could contrive.
And it is unbelievable the amount of time, trouble and cost such behavior sometimes entailed.
At 3 a.m. on Halloween in 1936, several Beaumont Enterprise carriers, including me, met at Rienstra Texaco Station, opposite Nederland Pharmacy, to roll our papers. We were shocked to see the two entrances of the pharmacy completely blocked by debris.
During the 1930s, Nederland Pharmacy had a 10-foot overhead wooden canopy protecting the sidewalk.
Several teen-agers, driving Model-A Fords and pulling trailers, worked all night at a garbage dump, filling feed sacks full of tin cans and old bottles, and they covered the canopy and sidewalk with hundreds of such sacks.
They even brought in two old car bodies to block the entrances.
The next morning, the pharmacy owner needed to hire several men and trucks to haul away the garbage, and it was afternoon before the pharmacy could open.
One unusual prank occurred about 1915.
In early days Nederland had a section foreman and a crew of railway maintenance men (called "gandy dancers") to repair the Kansas City Southern tracks. As a result, piles of wooden crossties, long trestle timbers and railroad iron were stacked on the north side of the depot. And an old rice wagon was also kept there, for the convenience of store owners, who needed to unload boxcars of cow feed, lumber or heavy hardware.
On Halloween night, unknown vandals built an incline to the depot roof, using trestle timbers and railroad iron, and they covered the incline with crossties. The pranksters then pulled the rice wagon up the incline until the wagon stood in the middle of the depot roof.
Then they carefully dismantled the inclined bridge and restacked the crossties, timbers and railroad iron in the same previous manner.
The rice wagon stayed on the depot roof for a couple of months, with no one seemingly knowing how to get it down.
Finally the railroad sent a railway crane to lift the wagon off the roof, and the wagon quickly disappeared from Nederland.
Nowadays I welcome the "trick or treaters" as a much superior mode of behavior when compared to the pranksterism of the "olden days."
W. T. Block of Nederland is a historian and author. His website is http://block.dynip.com/wtblockjr/. This database is very large (150 articles) and is intended as an area history source for students.