It has now become quite the adult holiday, but when we were growing up it was strictly for kids. Well…some kids.
I don’t remember Halloween on Twelfth Street; guess I was too young. I do recall seeing a picture of Don dressed up in a Davey Crockett costume which I assume had something to do with Halloween. At least I hope it did. Davey Crockett was all the rage in the late fifties due to a Walt Disney production about the frontiersman, and Don, being six years older than me, caught the fever. I don’t think he ever went trick or treating, but at least he got to wear a costume.
I didn’t. My memories of Halloween begin when we were living on Seventeenth Street in the City Housing Project, and they didn’t have anything to do with knocking of neighbors doors and asking for treats. My memories of Halloween there are of sitting in the dark,not saying a word, pretending there was no one home, as hoards of kid ran up and down the hallways, banging on doors, screaming and making the little old ladies that lived behind some of those doors cringe in fear.
We were not quite acclimated to our new neighborhood, so different from the peaceful calm of the West Village. At the time, the blocks that were defined by Ninth and Tenth Avenues were scary ones, nothing like it is today. And the Trick or Treaters that banged on the door, screaming to open up were part of that neighborhood. They were basically gangs of kids ranging in ages from eight to eighteen, that were perfecting the ancient art of extortion. Thus why we, like a lot of other families, and those old ladies, turned off the lights, and remained quiet until the storm passed. For one thing, no one was particularly in favor of opening the door to them, after hearing the ruckus in the hallway; for another there wasn’t enough candy to be bought that would satisfy how many came to call. And think about it, from the kids point of view the projects were a gold mine. Each floor had eight apartments and there were twenty three floors. Do the math. They could hit more homes in an hour than some poor kid schelping around the neighborhood going to individual houses, would hit all night. It was a mini city waiting to be pillaged. And pillage they did. The sight of the hallway, and the lawns outside the building the next morning was appalling.
So we would wait in the darkness as each wave of attacks came, heralded by the clang of the stairwell door or the ding of the elevator.
In a very bizarre way, the holiday was indeed like it was intended: frightening, but for real, not with monsters and witches, but with unsupervised gangs marauding through the building. The Housing Police were their usual efficient selves and did nothing to tame the situation, so in effect we were under siege. It was no wonder, Mom and Dad told us to be still and it would all be over soon. I remember our neighbor across the hall, a tough old Irish lady who took shit from no one, yelling through the door at the kids kicking her door “I’ve got a gun…you best get the hell out of here!”
Ah, Halloween in the Projects; such a fun time.
Now of course looking back, it is somewhat humorous, because it was like we were living a movie script from the kind of films to be made years later. It was a combination of films like “Don’t Open the Door” and “Night of the Living Dead”, but instead of Zombies or a crazy killer, there were hoards of unruly young people on a sugar high.
And Mom always made sure we got a big plastic orange Jack O Lantern, full of candy so the day wasn’t a total loss, but those first few years in our new home sure sent a message:This isn’t Twelfth Street. You are not in Kansas anymore.
File this memory in the folder labeled: The Good Old Days- they weren’t as good as you think.