from my chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays, Winged City Chapbook Press, 2014.
The Toledo Blade, October 18, 1967*
“Halloween Costumes. All rayon, full length. Generous bright colors. Each with molded vinyl face mask. Choose from Devil, Astronaut, Princess, Skeleton, Witch, etc. 69 cents each.”
When I was a kid in the 1960s, I sported drugstore-shelf Halloween costumes that my mother bought me each year – green-faced monster shirts, wicked witch dresses, super hero red capes, and in a rare femme moment, Lucy from Peanuts hopped up in a blue skirt. The costumes were made from rayon material that that would crack in my hands if it got too cold out, which it usually did on Halloween night in New England.
The costumes came complete with a molded vinyl painted mask and an attached elastic band to hold it on around the back of my head. The face masks resembled Yogi Bear, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Superman, Batman or Casper the Friendly Ghost. Forget all the high tech shit and specialized costume boutiques you can find these days. Forget artistically making up your face with grease paints. I grew up in The Age of Rayon and such cheapo costumes were my Halloween get-ups.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire 1960s outfit was highly flammable and made of noxious chemicals straight from the Monsanto plant. I’m surprised I didn’t burn to the ground since nearly all the parents smoked back then. One errant match and poof: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Elmer Fudd dynamited to cartoon heaven, nothing left of the Wicked Witch but a puddle of green gunk.
Daily News, October 9th, 1968*
“Flame Retardant Halloween Costumes, sizes tiny 3 to 5, plus small, medium, large. Both cute and spooky, animals and characters. All have well ventilated masks. 99 cents.
I donned these costumes over my regular clothes. You were a total goof if you put on a winter jacket to keep warm. Yet I recall as a young child doing that very thing – pulling a big winter coat over my Felix the Cat costume, or rather, my mom pulling the coat over me to keep me warm. My neighborhood friends, too, had been bundled in winter coats by their moms, the whole lot of us looking like a tiny squadron of geeks. We all wondered: What was the point of the costume if it was hidden behind winter jackets?
When we were a little older and allowed to trick or treat through the neighborhood without parental supervision, we flung our jackets behind the bushes determined to exhort the full trick-or-treat terror upon our neighbors, scare them shitless with our rayon pants and jerseys and plastic molded masks filling with carbon dioxide.
The spit started to roll down our chins from breathing into the masks. We tried to limit how often we lifted the masks up (so we could breathe) and let them hang on top of our heads, because we would be ruining the spooky effect of the 69 cent costume, or if our mothers had really splurged, the 99 cent costume with the supposedly better ventilated mask.
“I still can’t breathe, Ken.”
“Just keep the mask on, Cindy.”
“I don’t want to do this anymore.”
“Come on, it’s just a few more houses!”
Ultimately, we were left inhaling back all of the air we’d just breathed out. The masks had little ovals for your eyes and a little round hole for your mouth, maybe two nostrils dug out. But the things never fit our faces, so there we were breathing our oxygen and carbon dioxide mix back and forth behind the mask. We started to feel a little lightheaded, a little trippy. This was the 1960s.
I have yet to mention the cars to look out for on those Halloween nights as we walked along darkened streets, a bunch of little kids with Halloween bags and dressed in oxygen-deprived masks and flammable costumes. Teenagers drove by throwing eggs, spraying shaving cream all over the driveways, and screaming out of their hippie vans, “Happppyyyyyy Halloooooweeeen!” High on pot, LSD? Who knows? How could they see us in the dark in our little store-bought get-ups?
Newspaper Ad, October 8th, 1969*
Masks 59 cents each. Character and animal faces glow when lit by the light in the dark for safety!
As we made our way through the treacherous Halloween night, we held tight to our plastic pumpkin pails, half filled with candy, most of which I didn’t like such as nauseating Bit-O-Honey chew candies, hard and horrible to the taste. We shivered our little asses off so some idiotic adult could dump a few stale fun-size (tiny) Tootsie Rolls in our bags and pails. Would a Hershey Bar have killed those people? Sometimes we got lucky and someone had Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Those tiny-sized ones, where you needed to eat like ten of them to feel as if you’ve had a candy bar.
We trudged on, little goofy Halloween troupers. We pulled the plastic masks back onto our faces once we reached the next doorbell, to be scary. Plop, plop, someone gave us fun-size Three Musketeers. They’re okay. Pull that mask back over your face before you reach the next house and pretend you’re scary. “Trick or treat. Trick or treat.” And the neighbors respond, “Hi Cindy. Hi Ken, Hi Andy, Hi Robin.” They knew exactly who we were. Plop, plop. “We have homemade Rice Krispie bars for you!” I hated Rice Krispie Bars. That’s not officially candy. Basically, they’d thrown us cereal and marshmallows.
And then finally, after a long night, at about 8:30 p.m. we had to go home. It was there that our mothers would have us spill the contents of our bounty and go through it with us to check for un-wrapped candy–someone might have laced it with LSD, just for an especially scary trick on Halloween. We checked with our moms for slits in the wrappers or in the occasional apple, as bad as getting a frigging Rice Krispie Bar, to examine for razor blades–another wonderful “trick” from our more psychotic candy-givers. By the time the inspection was through, all that was left was a roll or two of Sweet Tarts (good), a few fun size Hershey Bars (good), a Rice Krispie Treat (shoot me) and a half pound of Bit-O-Honey chews (gag me.) I felt I had to pray to God before I ate each piece of candy, hoping it wasn’t poisoned or sabotaged in some way that might kill me. Or nauseate me (think Bit-O-Honey).
What an awesome holiday, huh???
Yet somehow we kids lived through all this toxic, flammable, oxygen-deprived costuming without a problem, and ate the Halloween candy we’d collected without any hallucinogenic incidents or razor-blade sliced apples. We survived Halloween the way we survived drinking tap water without dying and eating rare-cooked hamburgers without getting sick from e. coli bacteria. We went out to play a few blocks down the street without cell phones to text our moms saying that we were okay. There were no cell phones in the olden days. And when I say our moms bought Halloween costumes at the “local pharmacy” I mean it; we shopped in places called “Thayer Drug” or “Dykeman’s Pharmacy.” Chains like CVS and RiteAid had not yet been invented. We came home for dinner when we were supposed to everyday, or if we heard our mothers call out the backdoor to us. We told time by the position of the sun. This was long ago and far away, for my younger readers, one or two decades after the dinosaurs became extinct.
*Most of these ads can be found in a Google Search, by entering, “History of Halloween Costumes Timeline.” The origin of the October 8, 1969 ad is unknown.
This short essay is included in my Chapbook, What’s in a Butch’s Purse and Other Humorous Essays. For ordering information, see Winged City Chapbook Press. or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find the e-book on Amazon.com, bn.com, or in iTunes.