Halloween in the 1950s — East End, Part 2


My mother and I were talking over the weekend about what was my first Halloween costume.  She said she thought it was the tiger suit she made for me (see photo above, circa 1958). I said I wondered if it was the Mickey Mouse costume my brother’s wearing in this same photo. I don’t remember actually dressing up as Mickey Mouse, but I swear we have a photo somewhere of me wearing the costume (we never got around to digging out the photo to confirm this).

Another reason I believe I wore the Mickey Mouse costume first is because I doubt The Mouse was something my brother would have wanted to be; hence, the costume probably got passed down to him. (I’m four in the photo, so he’s two years old; later, the tiger costume was handed down to him as well.)

I can’t recall why on earth I wanted to be a tiger, but I do remember many details of Mom making that costume: studying the satiny orange fabric, watching her draw on the “stripes” with a marker (they don’t show up in the photo), and trying on the finished product. I also remember her wanting to paint a nose and whiskers on my face, but I wouldn’t let her. That tiger suit was shiny and soft, possibly the most comfortable Halloween costume I ever had.

We were also debating about what I was wearing the first time I went trick-or-treating. Mom thought it was the tiger costume, and maybe I did visit relatives while wearing it. But the ensemble I’m sure I was wearing for my first real beggar’s night was the princess gown Mom sewed, topped by a crown Mom fashioned out of her own bridal veil headpiece. I remember pearls and sequins and netting on the headpiece, but maybe that’s just me embroidering the recollection (no pun in tended).

Mom used to keep journal notes on family events, and here’s something I remember from that first beggar’s night:

She took me, my brother Frankie,  and my cousin Donnie (they were the same age, two years younger than me) to a few trusted homes in our East End neighborhood. There were lots of stairs to the various houses built on slopes under the railroad tracks — maybe elevated because too often the Ohio River reached Eastern Avenue in the old days — and that might be why our trick-or-treat visits were limited. Mom said the script was the same at every door:

Donnie: “Twick-or-Tweat, Twick-or-Tweat!”

Frankie: “Dick-or-Deet, Dick-or-Deet!”

Me: “I don’t think anybody’s home.”

There are home movies of Frankie and me visiting Grandma Mary and Aunt Clara as well as my cousin Charlie, who lived in the same multi-family house. Later she filmed us in Grandma Martha’s dining room at home, eating apples from our treat bags and getting up to waltz for the camera as Grandpa and my father sit sternly in the background, trying to watch some Western on television.

That same home movie also shows two beggars who came to Grandma’s door for treats. Both were African American, dressed in everyday pants and jackets, wearing only masks as costume pieces. One is sporting a mask of Jimmy Dodd from the Mickey Mouse Club; the other simply wears two eye masks — one over his eyes, one over his mouth (both different colors). Costuming was much more casual then, especially in the East End.

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