recess radio program

10/28/04
A Halloween Party in 1905
    by Rita Smith

A young girl invites 16 boys and 15 girls to a Halloween party. All invitees happily accept and at six o'clock on October 31, the 31 guests arrive, greeted on the lawn by a life-sized witch. Her framework is a wooden cross padded with pillows and covered with a nightgown. She has a carved pumpkin face topped by a three-foot high pointed black hat . Inside the pumpkin face, candles flicker and dance; but it's safe because the witch's cap is lined with asbestos.

The festivities begin with a game of blindman's bluff, with the girls blind-folded and each instructed to catch a boy who will then be her partner for other games and for dinner, which follows immediately and consists of tongue and chicken sandwiches, stuffed potatoes, baked apples with whipped cream, gingerbread men, chocolate, nuts and grapes.

After dinner the games begin in earnest. A "jolly young aunt" is appointed referee. The children bob for apples, toss bean-bags into a container, have boat races with walnut halves in the tub and compete in a "peanut carry" which has the children putting as many peanuts on the back of their hand as possible, walking a certain distance dropping as few as possible and dumping them into a bowl. The child who puts the most peanuts into the bowl wins.

After the games, the children tumble into the basement where the "jolly aunt" appears with a large bowl of popcorn, and announces that the last half-hour is to be devoted to "something very weird." The children encircle the "jolly aunt" who sits before a low table and becomes decidedly less jolly. The lights go out. She chants softly as she tosses a tablespoon of salt into a saucer and then pours alcohol over it from a silver pitcher. She lights the salt with a match, and as it blazes up she begins in a slow deep voice, "Little Orphan Annie's come to our house to stay!" As she intones the last line of the poem, "the goblins will git you if you don't watch out!" the flame sputters eerily and goes out. Then in total darkness she recites Eugene Field's ghostly "Seein' Things" about a boy, who when he's been bad sees spooky things at night in the dark.

An' so when other naughty boys would coax me into sin,
I try to skwush the Tempter's voice 'at urges me within;
I want to -- but I do not pass my plate f'r them things twice!
No, ruther let Starvation wipe me slowly out o' sight
Than I should keep a-livin' on an' seein' things at night!1

Just as she speaks the last word, the electric lights blaze forth, the clock strikes nine, all scary things scramble away, and the children agree that it has been a wonderful Halloween party.

Notes:

1 Field, Eugene. Seein' Things" in Poems of Childhood. New York: Avenel Books, 1973. p. 118-9.

Sources:

Curtis, Isabel Gordon. "A Children's Celebration of Halloween," in St. Nicholas, An Illustrated Magazine for Young Folks, New York: The Century Co., Vol. XXXII. No. 12, October, 1905, p. 1124-7.

Field, Eugene. Poems of Childhood. New York: Avenel Books, 1973.

Copyright 2004 Rita Smith

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"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."