Legends & Legacies: Halloween for all, 1950s | AspenTimes.com

Legends & Legacies: Halloween for all, 1950s

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
Willoughby collection

Aspen has never been a great place for October trick or treating. When I was a tot in the 1950s, boys threw sheets over their heads to be ghosts and girls donned the appropriate witch hats. Back then, no daylight savings time shifted light toward the end of the day. And Halloween at 8,000 feet feels more like winter than fall. Creating visible, cold-weather costumes provided challenges and entertainment. But walking Aspen’s neighborhoods wrapped in costumes, plus down, could be more of a trick than a treat.

Aspen Elementary, now called the Red Brick School, provided a workaround: the annual Halloween parade. Costumed, we marched from school to Main Street, strolled as far as the Hotel Jerome, and then returned to class. Drivers would slow their vehicles and wave or honk, and pedestrians would stop to watch. Often the weather was bad, so we paraded inside the recently built gym. Each class would walk across the stage while the rest of the school, joined by a few parents, watched.

Our parents came up with an even better solution: an evening of fun and fear at the school. The PTA moved the date of the annual fall fair to coincide with Halloween weekend. The event wedded traditional school fundraisers with Halloween activities.

The fundraiser improved yearly with each class responsible for an activity. Many of these activities stayed with a particular class, so parents didn’t have to organize a different event each year. The most popular undertaking, the haunted house, required the most work. Olives for eyeballs, spaghetti for human intestines, food coloring for blood, and curtains of cold wet towels turned the brightest classroom into a dark house of horrors.

I remember hearing ghosts and cackling witches while I waited in line. Just when I summoned enough courage to wend my way through the towels, someone would scream.

I would wait a little longer.

The fish bowl was always fun. I reeled in white and green plastic do-dads on my line. As with real fishing, I did not value the rewards as much the activity itself. But I cherished them at least until I engaged in the next activity.

The cakewalk attracted the most participants. Adults joined kids in a rush around a circle. Each hoped the chair they landed on would win a cake. The cakes, white with white frosting or chocolate with chocolate frosting, were home baked and fresh out of the oven. I was never disappointed if I didn’t win — when my mother baked a cakewalk cake, she made an extra for home.

The PTA also provided dinner with turkey, potatoes and canned peas. In 1957 they served 400 dinners at $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children.

One class sold white elephant items. Others hosted a wheel of fortune, fortune telling and a shooting gallery. The senior class closed the evening by showing a 16-mm movie. One class sold the tickets; most activities cost 10 cents.

Our Halloween treated all ages to an offseason highlight.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching for Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.