Halloween in the late 1900s: underwear and emus

Teachers, guess what?  Fall parties are almost here.  Are you excited?  Are you even having fall parties this year?  Maybe you’ll have fall parties with no outside guests.  That is the best kind of party ever.  That is a teacher-dream party.  I had a first grade classroom in the olden days.  Back in the late 1900s, as the young people refer to the time period now.  We did not refer to the parties as “fall parties.”  They were good old-fashioned Halloween parties.  Not only that, they were actually held on Halloween; not on a Friday close to Halloween.  It could have been on a Monday.  It was on whatever day on which Halloween happened to fall.  Only teachers with a strong constitution even lived through them.  

Back in the late 1900s, when things were simpler, we did not lock the schools in the town in which I taught.  All of the doors were unlocked all day.  Wow, you’re probably thinking.  Didn’t people just wander in?  Yes.  Yes, they did.  We would have parents who would show up at random times of the day.  There were signs that indicated all visitors should report to the office first.  That did prevent most people from just coming to the classrooms first.  More people read signs in the late 1900s.  But on party days, it was what one might refer to as a hot mess.  Nowadays, getting into a school to go to a child’s party requires a passport and a blood test.  The official parent line for Emily’s last school party when she was in elementary school looked like the crowd waiting to get into the Superbowl.  In the olden days, elementary school parties were an extended family event.  Mom and dad came with their parents, some cousins, maybe some neighbors, definitely young squealing toddlers, and sometimes pets.  They came through every open door.  There were no name tags; no way to identify which people went with which child.  Some people went to multiple class parties.  I often wondered if they even had children in the school.  

To add to that good time, the first couple of years I taught first grade we still had the children dress up in Halloween costumes for the party!  Oh yes!  For those of you who teach there now, NO, I am not lying.  We did this.  Picture it.  (I’m channeling my inner Sophia.)  Twenty-five six-year olds bring their costumes to school with them at 7:45 AM.  They are not allowed to put them on until 1:30 PM.  How many times do you think they inquired about the party throughout the day?  Many.  Very, very many times.  Here’s another little sweet tidbit.  Each teacher had at least twenty-five students.  They all had to put on their costumes, enjoy their party, and take off their costumes within ONE hour.  One hour.  As teachers, we sent home several (dozen) kind notes asking parents to please send simple, easy to put-on costumes.  We could not possibly help all those children put on elaborate costumes in such a short amount of time.  We did have parent helpers, but even so, we were outnumbered. 

Simple costumes.  Perhaps not the all-out costume you had planned for trick-or-treat.  Is that so hard to understand?  Apparently.  I would receive notes the day of the party asking for things like:

  • Sally is dressing like Little Orphan Annie.  Would you mind taking the rollers out of her hair before the party?
  • Bob is dressing like the Hulk.  Here is his green spray paint.  You will need to take him outside and spray his whole body green before the party.  It takes 20 minutes to dry.  I won’t be there.  Take pictures for me!
  • Susie is dressing as a bunch of grapes.  Can you attach the 125 purple balloons in this garbage bag to her clothes before the party?
  • Fred wants to be a clown.  I’m going to Walmart to buy some clown face paint.  I’ll leave it at the office for you.
  • Lilly’s costume is too complicated to put on at school, so I’m not sending her today.  I’ll just bring her in for the party.  

We also asked that the costumes go over the clothes.  We separated girls into one classroom for dressing and boys into another, but we were very specific about how to put on the costumes.  It went something like this:

Teachers: Boys and girls, when we go into the classrooms to change, you need to put your costume OVER your clothes.  We are not taking any clothes off.  We are just putting the costume over the clothes you have on already.  

So, are you taking off your shirts?

Children: NO!

Teachers: Are you taking off your pants?

Children: NO!

Teachers: Should I see anyone’s underwear?

Children: (hysterical laughing and rolling on the floor) NO!

Teachers: I’m not joking around.  I do NOT want to see any naked bodies or underwear.  Do you understand me?

Children: (hysterical laughing and rolling around.  There will obviously be very much nakedness and underwear.)

I cannot adequately describe what it was like to be in the room with those kids flinging their clothes around.  Remember, they could not wear costumes on the bus, so they had to come back off.  And there should have been nothing coming off, only on.  The shoes alone were enough to drive a person to the edge of sanity.  They all took them off, even when not necessary.  Then they could not find their own to put back on.  I seriously don’t know how we ever got them into their costumes, but we always did.

An extra fun little bonus prize about those years was that one of the first grade teachers had a student whose parents owned an exotic animal park in the area.  (Remember- all doors were opened and it was a free-for-all.)  This family was so good about bringing one of their exotic animals to meet the students at their parties.  Yep.  Right there in the classrooms.  No warning whatsoever.  You’d just be serving up the drink pouches one minute and have a loose emu pecking you on the shoulder the next.  Or maybe you’d be reading a book and a kangaroo would come jumping through the classroom.  It really added to the general air of anxiety.  (But, to be fair, the students loved it.)

After the students had stuffed themselves with cupcakes and wrapped themselves into toilet paper mummies, it was already time to disassemble the costumes and stuff them back into backpacks and get ready to head home for trick-or-treating.  If we were really lucky, they would be back bright and early the next day.  

It was a real disappointment to many when the decision was made to stop having the first graders wear costumes.  I know I was heartbroken.  It is amazing how things have changed so much since the late 1900s.  I wonder if that means that I shouldn’t wear my black and orange jumper with jack ’o lanterns on Halloween?  I’d sure hate that.  I have the matching button covers and everything!


5 thoughts on “Halloween in the late 1900s: underwear and emus”

  1. My first year teaching Kdg I was in a brand new “portable” trailer. The Board Office and Board members decided to tour their new purchase at 1:30 on October 31st. Imagine a dozen men dressed in suits in the midst of the costuming. At one point I was ready to say “Either leave or help the Tweety Bird get his feathers on.”

Comments are closed.

Share on
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on pinterest
Share on whatsapp
recent post