19th century Halloweens: the Tricks

image from clker.com
image from clker.com

Happy Autumn, everyone! I’ve been remiss in posting lately, so here we are in another season already.  But with Halloween coming up – one of my favorite holidays – I couldn’t let the blogging fun pass me by.

You know how much I love historical pop culture, so this will be in two parts. Today, we’re looking at the Halloween “tricks” of the 19th century.  Next week, we’ll look at the “treats.”

 The Tricks

It’s tempting to think of the 19th century as a time of staid decorum.  However, the young people of the 19th century were a surprisingly mischievous lot.  If toilet paper had been a common household item in the 19th century (check out this post for the reasons why it wasn’t), you can bet the local houses and trees would be littered with the stuff.  Of course, a lot of egging and soaping went on, which even today are tried-and-true pranks.

The culprits seemed to be mostly boys:

New York Times, Nov 1, 1895
New York Times, Nov 1, 1895

Wonder what a “tick-tack” is?  So did I.  I learned it’s a homemade device that creates a tapping sound to make the victim of the prank believe that someone was at the door.  It can be triggered from a distance, with the culprit out of sight.  Here’s a description:

Boys would make “tick-tacks,” cutting notches in the ends of a wooden spool and winding string around it. The spool would be placed right up against a window, with a nail serving as an axle. When the string was pulled, it made a loud and rapid “tick-tack” noise.

Read more: Halloween Traditions | Infoplease.com http://www.infoplease.com/spot/halloween2.html#ixzz2iSqyEgnV

Those boys were ingenious little beggars, weren’t they?


Sign-stealing and switching seemed to be a favorite prank, too:

New York Times, Nov 2, 1894
New York Times, Nov 2, 1894

That’s probably a tougher trick to pull off these days, when most signs are digital.  However, some older movie theater marquees and high school announcement boards are still prone to “re-lettering,” even today!




Here’s a creative (and back-breaking) prank that was pulled on one family:

New York Times, Nov 2, 1900
New York Times, Nov 2, 1900

There’s more to the article, but you get the gist of it.  The story ends with some skepticism about how the youths could have managed to move big marble blocks into the yard, especially when it took several burly men to put them back.  I love the mention of screaming school teachers.  What a mental image!


It seemed that boys didn’t quite grow out of Halloween mischief-making once they went off to college, either.  For the tale of the horse in the hall, molasses-smeared chapel pews, and more, check out last year’s post on the subject.


While we’re in “old-fashioned” mode, ever want to make your own candy corn?  I haven’t tried this recipe, but it looks interesting:

candy cornHow to Make Homemade Candy Corn


More Halloween fun

Misterio Press author and former psychologist Kassandra Lamb has a cool post out today about the psychology behind fright-seeking:  Why is Being Scared Out of Our Wits Fun?  Interesting stuff!


Coming this Friday, October 25th, 4-7pm EDT:  for all of you Facebook members out there, please join us for Misterio Press’s Halloween Party!

fb halloween

We’re going to have a blast.  There will be mystery trivia games, pumpkin recipes, digital cocktails, ghost stories, and SWAG!  The Misterio Press authors (including me!) will be giving away free ebook copies of our mysteries, along with mugs, magnets, keychains, and more, as prizes for the puzzles and trivia contests.  Lots of spooky fun – hope you can join us!

Here’s some of the swag I’m planning to give away:

“Unseemly” swag…choice of keychain styles, a mug, and a candy tin.  Lavender logo says: “Concordia Wells: chasing the cozy thrill since 1896.”
“Unseemly” swag…choice of keychain styles, a mug, and a candy tin. Lavender logo says: “Concordia Wells: chasing the cozy thrill since 1896.”

Nothing is to scale, or course, but you get the idea. 😀


Until next time,


5 people like this post.

18 thoughts on “19th century Halloweens: the Tricks”

  1. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – I had no idea of all of this mischief! Some of the tricks do sound like fun though. That tick-tack idea is ingenious! But – erm – really? No toilet paper? No, thanks…. ;-).

    Thanks for the candy corn recipe – it does look interesting.

  2. Zack KullisZack Kullis

    Kathy, the mischievous side of me (the largest side if the truth be known) loved the whole tick-tack idea. I think I might have to rig something up using some modern technology. *wicked grin*

  3. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    I always love your history posts, Kathy! That tick-tack thing sounds like it would definitely get homeowners rattled on a dark and stormy Halloween night.

  4. Sharla RaeSharla Rae

    Loved this. Takes me down memory lane. I grew up in Iowa and while I wasn’t living on a farm, most of my relatives were. The air would be blue with curses over the overturned outhouses or perhaps worse, when they rascals sneaked into the outhouses and cellophaned the toilet seats! No need to explain that awfulness.

  5. Amy KennedyAmy Kennedy

    Those rascals! But the tombstone thing is creepy–because, really, how could they have moved them? That needs to be a story.

  6. Coleen PatrickColeen Patrick

    I just started a book yesterday that referred to the mischief on Halloween night as Cabbage Night. I’d never heard of that term, but looks like the cabbage throwing has been around for a long time. 🙂
    By the way, great book swag!

  7. Marcia RichardsMarcia Richards

    What a fun post, Kathy! I love a boy’s imagination! They come up with the best pranks.

    I’ll try to make it for the Misterio party. Your swag is very cool!

  8. PhilPhil

    Oh, I got into a lot of Halloween mischief when I ws a kid, then as a teen, then in college. I was a bad boy , er, ghost!

    Love the history snippets! Happy Halloween!

  1. 19th century Halloweens: the Treats

Comments are closed