Laughing in the Golden Years: Home Made Halloween Costumes


Maryann Nunnally, Porter's Neck

Maryann Nunnally

In the 1940s when I was in elementary school, everyone made their Halloween costumes.  Unlike today when kids can drop in to Walmart or Target and purchase the latest monster or princess costume, we made our own costumes with our mothers’ help.

My mother did not like my brother and me trick or treating in our small town.  She said by way of explanation that many of our neighbors did not have money to buy treats, and it was just plain nervy to ask them for something.  However, one year when my older sister, Carolyn was home, she talked mom into letting us go out for one hour to trick or treat.  Getting costumes ready became top priority.

After mother studied a picture in a history book, she took a pair of my brown flannel pajamas which had a high collar and cutting off the buttons down the front of the top, she sewed black frog fasteners in place of the buttons.  A black cap covered my hair and a long, black braid made from rags hung down the back of my head.  Voila, I was an Asian Continental Railroad worker.

Meanwhile, my sister turned by brother into a scarecrow.  Cutting yellow and orange crepe-paper into strips she sewed them into an old soft hat that was in the rag barrel.  Then she did the same around the neckline and cuffs of a shirt that must have belonged to a stout man. It was large enough that Wally could wear a warm jacket underneath the shirt.  The final part of the costume was a broom stick run through the sleeves of the shirt across Wally’s shoulders.  His actual arms were at his side and beneath the buttoned shirt.  He could not move his arms or hands, but I was supposed to be the collector of the treats, which we thought we would receive.

Halloween in upstate New York was always cold and sometimes there was  snow on the ground.  Wally and I both needed warm clothing if we were going to trick or treat in our neighborhood.  In the end, I had to wear my coat over my costume because my pajama top was too tight to get the coat underneath it.  I didn’t care, however, because I had won a prize at school for my unusual costume, and trick or treating for candy was the ultimate prize as far as I was concerned.

Once it was dark, Wally and I walked up our long dirt lane and started down Furnace Street which was where most of the Malleable Iron Factory workers lived.  We did not try to trick or treat there following Mom’s directive.  Then in just a few minutes, we were joined by a group of older boys.  Thinking back on that evening, I guess that those boys were middle schoolers but they seemed much older at that time.  Without so much as a word of warning, one of the boys swung a long sock with a bar of soap in the toe and hit me in the forehead with it.  I cried out, and blood began running down my face.  The big boys were all laughing until Wally tore into them knocking them with his broom stick arms.

At first one of the boys said, “Hey, take it easy kid,” to Wally and then he shouted, “Hey guys, these are Walt Kunz’s kids.”

With that the big boys fled.  My father, Walt Kunz, was respected in our town and known to be a tough, strong fighter.  No one that we ever knew took him on, and those boys knew that their own fathers would have warned them against picking on my brother or me.  In the meantime, Wally was trying to get out of his costume and when I said I wanted to go home, he was quick to agree.  I was bleeding badly from the cut on my forehead and he could not help me with his arms pinned to his side.  We went home without any treats and once there, while my mother cleaned up my head, my father put on his coat and left to find the big boys.

My father never did find the boys.  A few days later, one of the men whose son had been in the group that night came to the house and apologized to my dad.  He said that when he heard what they had done, he made sure those boys would never again go out on Halloween.  That was okay with Wally and me, but I thought at the time that I was never going out trick or treating either, because the treats were not worth it in exchange for a trick that had given me a bloody head.