Written and maintained by a retired career firefighter, this blog includes posts on a wide range of topics, which may include the fire service, travel, or other unsolicited viewpoints. Opinions expressed, other than those attributed, are my own. Please feel free to share as needed with appropriate attribution. (However, should something be considered offensive or really, really stupid, then it was most likely placed by a clever imposter. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)
Many years ago there was a story in my home town paper about a neighborhood Halloween celebration that a few families tried to arrange that drew fire from others as for -- lack of any sensible definition -- "politically incorrect". The celebration involved the ceremonial burning of a fabricated witch in effigy as part of the Halloween program. There were concerns of "Satanism", devil worship and all manners of religious paranoia that pressured the city to not grant permits for the event and essentially killing the idea.
The story stimulated a twinge of nostalgia concerning my
father Robert A. Ornberg, who passed away in 1958, who began the tradition in our hometown in
the mid 1950’s.
Dad was wondering aloud, I recall, just before Halloween how
the neighborhood kids needed something else to do besides soaping his windows.
Instead of planning to call the police every half hour, he contacted a few
neighborhood and business friends and got to work.
First he persuaded several local merchants and businessmen
to donate various treats such as candy, ice cream, cookies, punch and a few
toys for prizes. As an Advertising Manager for a local manufacturer, he was
able to assemble a few 16 mm cartoons, a projector, a long extension cord and a
large bed sheet. Others gathered what seemed like every empty cardboard box in
the city, old newspapers and some old wooden skids.
Then, on Halloween Eve, I remember peeking down into the
basement as Dad meticulously assembled, from 2 by 2’s, bunched up newspapers, black
crepe paper, cardboard -- along with a warlock’s imagination – the biggest,
ugliest and scariest looking witch that a 7 year-old had ever seen mounted on
a long wooden pole.
Flyers had been hand delivered throughout the neighborhood
for several days. On Halloween, hundreds of costumed kids with their parents
gathered at the old Community House, located at a neighborhood park. There were games to play, treats to consume and prizes to win. As
it grew dark, the sheet nailed to side of the small field house lit up with the
images of Woody Woodpecker, Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Then it was time for the
With Dad at the head of the crowd carrying the paper and
wooden witch high overhead, the entire crowd followed Dad and the witch out of
the park and marched through the neighborhood. Someone began the chant, “We’re
gonna burn the witch! We’re gonna burn the witch,” a few times which quickly
ignited the entire crowd chanting in unison as they moved from block to block.
After snaking through much of the neighborhood we all returned to the park
where the cardboard witch was propped up at the top of the large pile of
cardboard and wood. With ample ceremony, and a fire engine and crew standing by
nearby, the pile was put to the torch.
The excitement that had been building all evening exploded
in cheers and hollers as flames consumed the evil make-believe witch, and seemingly
burning away all the ideas of pranks and youthful mayhem as well. Everyone
finally went home feeling like Halloween was indeed a holiday.
I know there must be a few other “kids” out there that
remember this tradition as fondly as I do.
Dad sure had a way of coming up with
the right idea at the right time.