SIDNEY UNDERWOOD: TRICK OR TREATING AND OTHER ADVENTURES ON MILL STREET

(10/29/2022)
By Sidney Underwood
As a little boy growing up on Hardman Alley in Grantsville, I always looked forward to Halloween. Dressing up in a costume and collecting huge amounts of candy was always very appealing to me.

During the early 1950's, our group of costumed characters would usually include Robert Lowe, the D'razio kids, Bill Umstead and myself. We would start at the end of Hardman Alley and work our way up to Mill Street.

After traversing both sides and the entire length of Mill Street, my shopping bag (the old fashioned type with rope handles) would be bulging at the seams. I would return home to empty out my plunder and hope that my Mother was otherwise occupied.

It was always my intent to go on down to River Street and continue collecting treats, but she would always stop me by saying that I had collected enough candy for the night. Those words were so disappointing to hear because there was so much candy to be had and so little time to get it.

My Mother would always tell me that other children would collect the candy from residents on River Street. She said that I should be happy for them as they would appreciate what they received. For some reason, her logic in this matter never impressed me all that much, and I could see a great opportunity slipping away.

It may have been the fact that I was an only child and she felt it her responsibility to keep me well grounded in the fact that sharing was indeed a good thing.

For several years I had studied the matter and considered carrying two shopping bags when I went Trick or Treating. But, I rejected that strategy as being too cumbersome and too embarrassing as it might be an indication of greed or selfishness.

I did have one idea that might have worked. If I had dressed up as the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I could have stored the extra candy in a sack on my back and probably no one would have noticed, except that I would have appeared larger and more menacing as the night wore on.

I remember discussing this idea with my buddy, Bill Umstead. He suggested that a pillow secured to my back and a dark cape over that would suffice. He further suggested that I really didn't need a mask because my face was scary enough as it was. Leave it to Bill to think of and say something like that.

My Mother had all these strange rules concerning the Halloween candy collected. I was not allowed to eat all of it at one time. I was told my candy would be rationed so that it would last until the Thanksgiving Holiday that was generally four weeks away and seemed like a lifetime to a 10 year old kid. Another thing that I did not appreciate was her placing my candy in the freezer and occasionally doling it out to me only after meals. Can you just imagine trying to eat a Milky Way bar that was frozen solid? It takes a long time and that slows down the whole process and most of the fun of eating candy. My Mother always seemed to be way ahead of me in these matters.

When we made our rounds on Trick or Treat Night, most of the people simply gave us the candy and feigned alarm at our appearance. Helen Cook, wife of John Cook who operated the Kanawha theatre, always gave us a hard time. Mrs. Cook was amused by our appearance and enjoyed guessing who we were under our costumes. She would only give us candy when we took off our masks and identified ourselves. Usually, she would look at me and say that she knew who I was before I removed my mask.

It was probably the fact that I was taller than everyone else in our group. When I did take my mask off, with a satisfied I knew it all along grin, she would hand over the candy. The only reason I put up with this silliness was the fact that her candy was homemade. Her peanut butter and chocolate fudge was so delicious that I would have probably howled at the moon if asked to do so just to get that candy.

I remember one Trick or Treat night when I was nine years old. This would have been the Halloween season of 1951. I had just returned to our house on the alley and was unloading my candy on the kitchen table. I always enjoyed dumping everything out and separating the Clark bars, Hershey bars, Reese cups, Zero bars and others into separate piles. All was going along splendidly until my Mother told me that she had no candy left and there were several Trick or Treaters waiting on our front porch. She started eyeing my candy and before she could speak, I told her that I had worked hard to get these treats.

She said that I had more candy than I needed and that I should let her hand out a small amount of it to this group and then she would turn off the porch light as it was getting late. I knew there was no use arguing with her and I reluctantly looked at my piles of candy and tried to decide what was least desirable on the table. Just as I decided to surrender the Toostie Rolls, she snapped up all of my precious Reese Cups and headed for the door. I know those kids on the porch were not disappointed, but I certainly was.

As the years passed and I grew older, I learned that Halloween season had a darker side to it. I had heard stories of people "corning" cars and outhouses and bus stops being pushed over, but I never did participate in anything like that. However, one evening in late October of 1954 about a week before Halloween, I was hanging out on the porch of the Rainbow Hotel with some older boys. I remember that group included Gerald Ball, Tommy Cain, Joe Huffman, Jim Stump and several other individuals whose names I have forgotten. They were talking quietly and planning some sort of strategy.

Someone asked me if I wanted to join their group on a special mission that night. Since I was curious, I decided to tag along with them as they started walking down Mill Street in the direction of the old mill. I remember someone asked me if I had a bar soap with me. I asked why I would need soap? They all laughed and said that I would find out shortly.

In those days the street lights were widely spaced and very dim and usually consisted of a single light bulb under a flat round metal cover. At best, the lighting left the street and sidewalk in semi darkness and it was difficult to see and identify people at night.

I was a reluctant but curious participant in this activity and started following the older boys down the street. I could not see clearly what they were doing up ahead of me. But, as I passed parked cars, I started seeing soap markings on their windows. Crude remarks and swirl patterns were much in evidence. I heard giggling and laughing ahead of me as we proceeded. I remember thinking that I might get in serious trouble and maybe I should just go home, but I had never done anything like this before and it seemed to be an exciting way to spend an evening and I wasn't actually doing anything.

The group stopped near Jefferys Alley and as I approached, I heard a conversation taking place. Tommy Cain was saying that electric boxes were mounted on the porches of the houses we had just passed. He also said that the electric could be shut off by pulling down on the levers attached to the boxes. He said that each one present should do one house and then run quickly toward a designated area where we could regroup and continue with the night's entertainment. He said that we would all be in this together.

For some reason it was decided that I should be the first one to play this "trick." I was pointed toward Mrs. Elliot's residence which was the house just beyond the Poe Gunn residence on Mill Street. I was told that the group would wait for me near the Willis and Gracie Haught residence which was across the street from the entrance to Hardman Alley.

Quietly, I approached the house and stood for a time on the sidewalk. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see the electric box on the wall behind the porch swing. Just as I stepped onto the porch, the overhead light came on. I was immediately confronted by Tuck Elliot whose Mother lived in the house. He asked me what I was doing. When it became apparent that I was unable to offer a reasonable response, Tuck looked at me and shook his head.

He told me that if I agreed to go home immediately, he would not call my parents. He said that I would get in trouble if I continued to run with " hoodlums." I asked him to please not make any phone calls and that I would go home right away.

As I started walking up Mill Street toward Hardman Alley, I realized that I had been "set up" by Tommy Cain and the other boys. I could hear them laughing in the distance. I saw them standing near Willis Haught's old black Ford coupe. They motioned for me to come to them. Everyone was grinning at me. As I approached, I could see Willis' car had been "soaped."

Someone said that they had seen Tuck watching the street from a bedroom window and thought it would be fun to see me get caught. I should have left then and there and I was more than a little ticked off about being duped, but Gearld Ball put his arm around me and said that I was now officially "one of them." When I told him that Tuck had called the group "Hoodlums," he laughed and said that being a "hoodlum" sounded exciting to him.

Gerald said that he would show us boys how it should be done. He motioned for us to walk a short distance with him and we stopped in front of the John Cook residence which was just down the street. He told us to be quiet and watch from that vantage point. He walked quietly back up the street and stepped up on Willis Haught's porch and just as he was reaching for the electric box, the porch light came on. We all ran down Mill Street not waiting for Gerald as it was "every man for himself."

When Mr. Haught appeared on his porch, we quickly squatted behind the parked cars and watched from a distance. We could see that he was looking at the soap markings on his car. He muttered something that we couldn't quite make out and turned around and went back into his house and turned off the porch light. We continued to squat by the cars until our legs started aching. Slowly we rose to standing positions and rubbed our legs and continued looking up the street.

There was no sign of Gerald and no one could figure out what had happened to him. Someone suggested that he might be lying in the shrubbery just beyond the porch and out of sight of Mr. Haught. Another individual said that didn't seem right, Gerald would have made his getaway after the porch light had been turned off. After a period of time, perhaps five minutes, we became increasingly concerned and It was decided that we should ease quietly up the street to look for Gerald.

As we slowly approached the Haught residence, we heard a commotion behind their house that sounded like someone had upset a metal garbage can. The back porch was suddenly flooded with light and we heard Mr. Haught's voice coming from that area, but we did not see Gerald. Suddenly, we heard rapid footsteps echoing from the far side of the house that was next to the Poe Gunn building. We then heard a crashing sound and someone yelping in pain.

Afraid to approach. We continued to watch from behind a car as the front porch light came on again. Gerald had evidently been hiding near the back porch and had accidentally upset something and that had resulted in the back porch light being turned on. He had no choice but to run back to the street from the other side of the house. Evidently, he didn't remember that Mrs. Haught had a small flower garden on that side protected by a sturdy fence. Gerald had run through the fence tripping and falling into the flowers. As he lay there clutching his knee, we watched as he was being berated by Mr. Haught who was again on his front porch.

Among other things, Mr. Haught said the he was going to report this incident to Brian Ward, the town policeman, and Trooper Haynes in the morning. I remember hearing him say that young people didn't respect their elders or their property like they did when he was a young man.

We watched as Gerald limped toward us and as he passed by, he said that he had had about all the fun that he could stand for one night and was going home to put a bandage on his knee. That was my sentiment exactly, and I went straight home.

When I got home, Mother asked me what I had been doing since it was late in the evening. I answered that I had been talking with the older boys on the porch at the Rainbow Hotel. She looked at me sharply and said that Halloween season was not a good time to be "hanging out" with older boys of the neighborhood as they might try to lead me astray. I remember that I did not respond to that statement.

I never did learn if Mr. Haught followed through and called the law. I remember for several days afterward, I held my breath each time our phone rang. True to his word, Tuck Elliot never called my parents. That was the first and last time I ever ran with the older boys during Halloween season.