Pittsburgh has long been an ethnic neighborhood style city. In the Fall, all of the local and neighborhood children look forward to that one night a year when they can all don an old hat, some old clothes and carry a cane to go from house to house begging. Yes, these little beggers seem tireless as they trip up front steps and sometime even crawl to get that piece of sweet that you are giving to all who say "trick or treat."
Trick or Treating and Halloween go hand in hand and every neighborhood has it's own traditional time to give these little beggers their day. When I was growing up our borough was divided by a hillside. So there was an upper hill group of children and the main town children. It seems that the hill toppers figured out if they did trick or treating the night before Halloween, they could send their children down the hill for an additional night of goodie hunting. We lowlanders knew this was happening but we never dared go up the hill the night before to beg for the extra treats.
Halloween was originally a religious holiday in that it was "hallow's eve" or the day before All Saints Day. Originally all the costumes depicted different saints. But that was way before my time and I don't claim to know all about this tradition.
Halloween conjures up all kinds of scary characters from werewolfs, ghosts and vampires to modern day ghouls such as Freddy Kruger and whoever that chain saw killer was. Coffins and other props create the scenery.
One of the best fright houses in the area is "Scare House" in Etna. Every year people line up around the corner and down the side of what used to be the old Harris Theatre, where Saturday there was a matinee with cartoon characters on the screen. Today what used to be the Elks Lodge in Etna is now turned into one of the best haunted house features in the Pittsburgh area. What isn't well known is that this scare house is manned by a group of students of the art of makeup that is run in a nearby borough. These students learn the art of costumes and make up and are the future make up artists of the movie industry.
In Harmarville, there is a scare house that is run by the Shriners on their property. My granddaughter was a character at that scare house when she was in high school.
Hay Rides and Pumpkin Farms
About 12 miles south of Pittsburgh in Finleyville there is a farm that offers hay rides and various other activities such as selecting your own pumpkin to make jack-o-lanterns.
The Trax Farm is a working fruit and vegetable farm that opens up their fields to hay rides, pony rides and the rainbow express. There you can paint pumpkins and purchase them to make your jack-o-lanterns. They are open to the public for Halloween fun from the 3rd week in September until October 29.
Halloween Party Costumes and Games
The most traditional game for any Halloween party is bobbing for apples. Every year folks buy enough apples to float in watter so that costumed children can bend over a tub and try to catch one of these red fruits between their teeth.
Let's talk about costumes. In my day there were no costume or party stores. You made up your costume from whatever you had in your house. I remember my mother made me a cinderella costume out of her velvet ball gown. The only part of the costume that was bought was usually the mask you wore on your face.
My favorite costume I made from purple balloons and green felt. I blew up the balloons and sewed them onto an old jacket. Then I cut eyes out of the green velvet and pulled it over my head to make a bunch of purple grapes. Of course, as the night went on one or two of the balloons burst but we won first prize with that costume for originality.
Today with Party City and the like adults can buy costumes of all types with all of the accessories they would like to win a prize at your favorite Halloween party.
My daughter and her best friend would hold a party every year at the local Eagles Club. They would decorate with beautifully etched pumpkins and materials stretched out to make a spider web effect. They would hold a costume contest and no one I mean no one told who they were until the contest was judged. Even if your hostess guessed who you were, you didn't let on they guessed. They always had a DJ for dancing.
The buffet at their parties was always overstocked and you lacked for nothing at their parties. There would be sloppy joes, barbecues, potato salad, pasta salad and an assortment of cakes and cookies. The party was for adults only and someone always brought the jello shots.
Children's parties in our area always had an assortment of candy apples, candy corn, potato chips and other delights were always on the table along with an assortment of sodas.
Trick or Treating
When the neighborhoods were safe and we were children, there was always an assortment of home made goodies awaiting us on our trick or treating rounds.
One house a block up from us cinnamon red candy apples and if you were lucky enough to be one of the first 20 children at their door you got one.
On the Avenue next to our house, one lady made fudge and you got a little bag of the deliciously chocolate confection. Further down the avenue, the lady of the house made home made apple cider and gingerbread. You were invited in for a piece of cake and a drink on your begging journey. As you left her house, you were awarded a manufactured candy bar. In our area, most candy bars were Clark Bars because the factory was just down the river from our town.
Those days are gone, but I'm known as the cookie lady on our block because I started giving out brownies or peanut butter cookies to the children when I first moved in about 10 years ago. Since there was such a scare about home made goodies, I quit baking but now I buy the individually wrapped cream filled oatmeal cookies from Little Debbie. I feel that it's far better to give something that most of the children can eat including smaller toddlers. I started out with little bags of potato chips but soon found the boxes of oatmeal cookies. I've been giving those for the past 7 years. Whatever is left over, I enjoy with a cup of coffee but most years I don't have any left over because I get well over 100 children at my door every year.