The Last Laugh ~ A 1930s Northwoods Halloween Story


Like any other holiday on the calendar in the 1930s, Halloween was celebrated in our one room country school. Our teachers focused on the more positive aspects of the holiday with storytelling and an opportunity to become the characters in the picture books on our library shelf.

The community around Kinghurst was always looking for an excuse to gather, and Halloween was usually the first event in the school since the fall term had begun. Besides the families, the bachelors from miles around would attend as it gave them a chance to meet the ‘new teacher’ who could become someone’s ‘new Missus’. 

The days leading up to the celebration the younger kids would be decorating the school with carefully scissored and pasted jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, black cats, and witches. Us older kids were memorizing poems and songs.

Our mothers helped us turn old clothes and bed sheets into costumes to resemble Humpty-Dumpty, Old King Cole, Cinderella, Mother Hubbard, and Santa Claus. They baked oatmeal cookies and fried doughnuts to go with the gallons of coffee and lemonade that we’d consume.

I remember one year when my brother was much too ‘mature’ for interest in schoolhouse activities, and instead prowled around with a few of his pals. I had heard them talking near the barn a couple days before Halloween. I crept up but stayed hidden behind the chicken coop. Tom was drawing in the dirt with a stick. “I say we go to Lofgren’s first,” Tom said marking the dirt with an X.

His buddy Eddie chimed in, “Then we can run across the field, over the creek and get to Jones place. We know he’ll be at the program for sure – everyone knows he’s got his eye on Gloria Hanson.” 

“OK,” Tom said, using the stick to mark the route they would take. “We got time for one more, what other outhouse should we tip over?” 

I didn’t hear what else they said because our dog started barking and I thought it best to scurry back to the house. I slumped on the porch, catching my breath and wondering what to do with this information. Of course. I knew the boys in the neighborhood tipped over an outhouse or two every Halloween. Dad sure wasn’t happy when ours was the victim. He made Tom and my other brothers help him get it bolted down.

I liked Oliver Jones. He was polite and always had a joke or a story to tell. Even though he was going with Gloria who was the oldest girl in school, he’d talk to me like I was a person, not a little kid, which by the way, at eleven-years-old I certainly wasn’t!  I decided I would tell Gloria and she could get word to Oliver.

That year, 1935, Halloween was on a Thursday, and so was the school program. Miss Nelson helped us make the final preparations and we got to take turns in the front of the room, saying or doing our part of the Halloween entertainment. At recess Gloria told me that Oliver had a plan, but he wouldn’t tell her anything more. After school we quickly got our chores done and ate supper early so we could be at school by 6:30. Mom made a washbasin full of doughnuts and dad used the hay wagon to bring us and our neighbors to the school.

Mom helped me dress like an old lady because I was reciting all eight verses of There was an Old Woman who Swallowed a Fly. I sat on a bench next to the other 5th and 6th graders. I think we all started getting nervous. My best friend Sally had a much shorter poem, but said she had butterflies so bad she couldn’t even eat supper. I turned towards the door just as Oliver came in. He was tall and stood scanning the room. When he saw me, he nodded his head slightly and winked. I turned to the front as I felt the color creep up on my cheeks. If only I were a little older, I thought, then reminded myself he was Gloria’s beau.

Most of the evening was a blur, but I know I was very proud of myself. I made only one mistake that no one seemed to notice.  After our part was done, and the little kids were back near their parents, the lights were dimmed, and a couple of the old timers told stories on the scary side. A few candles made distorted shadows on the walls adding to the creepy way the flickering light shone on their faces.

We were almost to our house when the wind picked up and with the whirling leaves came the awful stench of a neglected outhouse. “Pee-yew,” we all said, covering our noses and gagging. Even our horses veered away from the smell.

“Pa,” Tom called out from the ditch. “It’s me, Eddie, and Fred. Can we have a ride?” 

“Are you boys what stinks?”

“Yeah, I guess. We fell in an outhouse hole.”

Dad laughed. “Heck, no. You boys get yourselves cleaned up in the pond before you even think of coming near the house.” 

“It’s gonna be freezing in the water,” Tom said.

“Yep,” Dad said. “My guess is your privy tipping has come to an end though.”

Of course, we were in bed when Tom finally came in, chilled to be sure as I heard him pull a chair up close to the cookstove. Dad asked him who had moved their privy prior to the anticipated shenanigans.

 “Ollie Jones,” he said just above a whisper.

I laughed into my pillow, understanding now exactly why Oliver had winked at me. And as far as I know that was the last year that any outhouses were tipped over in our neighborhood!

1 Comment

  1. Vickie says:

    What a fun story! I didn’t even like to go into outhouses. I sure wouldn’t want to tip one over.


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