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Joy and Innocence, Mischief and Fear: Halloween in the 20th Century In Greenburgh
By: Riley Wentzler & Felicia Barber
Halloween is fast approaching. We know what it will bring this year, loads of kids out with their costumes and buckets seeking a hoard of candy. There is sure to be a wide range of costumes some funny, others cute, and still others will be truly terrifying. But what about in years past? How exactly was Halloween celebrated in Greenburgh in the early 20th century? Perhaps the quickest way to answer this question is to look at Tarrytown, after all, it is next to Sleepy Hollow, and what screams Halloween more than Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman?
A quick look at the Tarrytown Daily News coverage of Halloween from 1916-1920 shows the dichotomy of Halloween child-like innocence on one hand and devilish pranks on the other, in all its splendor.
* The authors acknowledge that some of these articles may be difficult to read. If you are having difficulty reading them, click here.
Saturday October 28th 1916:
On Saturday October 28th of 1916, The Tarrytown Daily News reported on two distinct Halloween dances.
The Tarrytown Racquet Club held a dance the previous night at which there was also a costume contest. Some of the more memorable included: The Statue of Liberty, a Scottish Highland Warrior, seaweed, and a butterfly. (Tarrytown Daily News Saturday October 28 1916, p. 1)
Not to be outdone, The Girls’ Club of Pocantico Hills also held a dance that night. It was held in the Lyceum Building. Here what was memorable was not so much the attire of those involved as the corn stalks and Jack-o- Lanterns which decorated the dance hall. This event was also marked by an unusual beverage, “Instead of the usual punch, there was sweet cider” (Tarrytown Daily News Saturday October 28 1916, p 1).
*If you are having difficulty reading this, click here
Saturday October 30th 1920
While the events reported on October 28th 1916 reflect the innocence and joy associated with Halloween, Tarrytown has also had its fair share of the other side of Halloween, mischievous pranks. This side was reported by the Tarrytown Daily News on Saturday October 30th of1920. In 1920 Halloween fell on a Sunday and so a committee composed of: Tarrytown Village President Pierson, Edward Buckhout, Patrick Bannon and Amos Brown sat around a table discussing whether Halloween would be observed the night of Saturday October 30th or Monday November 1st (Tarrytown Daily News Saturday October 30 p. 1).
While discussing this question, they also reminisced about Halloweens past. They recalled an incident few others would remember involving the Putnam Railroad trestle in Tarrytown Heights. While many Tarrytown residents would not remember this incident, this committee recalled it with perfect clarity because, Mr. Bannon played some small role in it Tarrytown Daily News Saturday October 30 1920, p.1). The authors are sure most Greenburgh residents know about the Putnam Railroad, but some readers may not know what a trestle is and therefore may not understand why the Putnam Railroad would need one. A trestle as defined by Merriam Webster dictionary is,” a complex structure made of a horizontal piece between two vertical pieces that is used especially for supporting railroad tracks over a valley, river, etc.”
On Halloween night, Ambrose Van Tessel and his friends (including Patrick Bannon) got a dummy, stuffed it, and suspended it upside-down from the trestle. They then hid behind some rock to watch the show, and these pranksters were not disappointed. When a Tarrytown resident named Willie saw the dummy, he froze for a second and then his eyes bulged. Then, he ran out of town. The next two people to see this sight were an unidentified man and his girlfriend out for a drive in their horse drawn carriage. From his hiding place, Ambrose Van Tessel made a noise, causing the woman to look up. When she did, she screamed and fainted. The man turned the coach around, whipped the horse, and galloped to the East View Section of Greenburgh. Later the village sent out a search party to look for the body of the man hanging from the trestle and identify it. But, they of course, never found it, because, before they came Ambrose Van Tessel and friends had removed and hidden the dummy.
In case any of our readers are curious about the answer to the question which initially brought the committee of Tarrytown Village President Pierson, Edward Buckhout, Patrick Bannon and Amos Brown together, it was decided that Halloween would be observed on the night of Saturday October 30th (Tarrytown Daily News Saturday October 30 p. 1).
Halloween is fast approaching. We pretty much know what’s coming this year. Halloween is always equal parts joy and fear. That was as true in the 20th century as it is today, even if both parts of this dichotomy were slightly more dramatic back then.
Previous Slices of History include:
About the Authors:
We are both Assistant Town Historians at Greenburgh Town Hall and we are engaged to be married and are currently looking for permanent employment.
I was born and raised in a small rural town in central Pennsylvania. In high school, I took every honors course available including four years of Spanish. I received A’s in all of them. I graduated third in my class of 146 students. This brought me to Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. Once there, I continued my trend of academic excellence. I graduated summa cum laude in Political Science with a minor in Spanish and a Master’s in Communication Studies, with a G.P.A of 3.94. It was also there that I met my lovely fiancée, Felicia Barber. My Master’s in Communication has promoted public speaking, teamwork, and customer service. My Political Science degree has developed my research skills using computer-based tools and provided me with experience using the Microsoft Office products. My minor in Spanish has facilitated my bilingual capabilities. During my internship at Greenburgh, I created the petition for the State Roads project using website tools. My diverse education and areas of interest have provided me with a wide range of skills. I look forward to finding a career opportunity in business or government. To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to help me find employment, you can contact me at email@example.com
I was born in New York City and raised in Hartsdale, New York. I graduated from Ardsley High School. I recently earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. It was here that I met my fiancé, Riley Wentzler. As a result of my academic excellence, I won a scholarship every year. I learned and applied many graphic design skills to projects during my summer internships and at school. I am proficient in using Adobe graphic design applications including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. For my Identity/branding course at Edinboro, I created logos to appear on the tee-shirts of Physical Education majors. For a veteran’s upcoming event, I used a typeface to focus the reader to the soldier in the poster. For the State Roads Legislative Campaign project, I created the embedded graphic-photo that accompanied the petition I am looking for a job to utilize my skills as a Graphic Designer in an agency, print shop, company or government To suggest a topic for next week’s article, you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about my artwork or to help me find employment you can contact me at email@example.com.
Two Interviews with the authors:
Unknown. (1916, Ocotober 28). Halloween Dance Girls’ Club of Pocantico Hills Give Delightful Affair. Tarrytown Daliy News, p. 1.
Unknown. (1916, October 28). Halloween Dance of Racquet Club. Tarrytown Daily News, p. 1.
Unknown. (1920, October 30). Tonight Will Be All Halloween Old Time Pranks Are a Thing Of The Past. Tarrytown Daily News, p. 1.