It’s a good thing--Halloween hijinks have been toned down so much over the years they hardly exist anymore. Back in the 40s and 50s failing to provide a proper treat could result in some serious tricks.
In many communities, “Gate Night” produced various levels of damage and civic disruption by older youths, who perpetrated some strange acts apparently just for the hell of it.
Soaping windows was fairly innocuous. Tossing trash onto Main Street from cars driven by juveniles set the bar a little higher. Actually tearing gates off fenced areas to fulfill the Gate Night tradition was not uncommon. There were other types of property damage. Local police gave chase when they spotted miscreants, but they were outnumbered by bands of roving youths and had little chance of apprehending anybody.
The police even could be the target. My father recalled Gate Night escapades back in the early 1900s when he was growing up in Wausau, Wisconsin, long before police had squad cars. They traveled by bicycle when in hot pursuit. His favorite story:
A group of boys spread horse manure liberally in an alley between two garages. They strung a sturdy cord between the buildings about four feet above the mess, and then lured an officer into chasing them into the alley on his bike at full speed. The result was not pretty for one of Wausau’s finest.
A somewhat similar Halloween story told in my hometown involved the lads who lived in "Jersey City," a community a short distance outside the city limits. The victim was "Shorty" Ruff, a small man whose outhouse was a favorite tip-over target during Gate Night forays by neighborhood youths.
After several years of outhouse restoration projects, Shorty decided enough was enough. Early on Gate Night, he took a seat in his outhouse with shotgun in hand, ready to scare away the most dedicated vandals who might show up.
Legend has it that Shorty fell asleep. The tippers appeared and had their way with the outhouse as usual. Shorty fell into the pit. He was said to be uninjured but considerably more aromatic when he emerged.
Cops, outhouse users, and all the rest of us can be happy these sorts of things won’t happen this year. Or will they? Only the witches’ brew can tell us for sure.