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Halloween was a way for youths to take revenge on adults with few consequences. Pranks were part of Halloween fun, and tomfoolery was accepted so long as no one was hurt and property damage was kept to a minimum. Even when things went too far, property owners often refused to press charges. Popular pranks in the early 1900s included stealing gates and porch furniture, tipping outhouses, soaping windows, and blocking the street with whatever wasn’t nailed down.

A three-panel comic strip called Boots and her Buddies. First panel: A woman in silhouette, standing on her porch, looks at a chair on the lawn and says "Oh Horace - I thought I brought in all th' porch chairs - but I guess there's one I forgot." Horace, walking toward the chair, says: "Yeah - I guess th' little rascals have been here already - I'd better bring it in before it gets any farther." Second panel:  A larger man has entered the yard and says: "So! You're another one of these lads with a sense of humor, eh? Gimme my chair." Horace thinks: "Huh?" Third panel: Silhouette of Horace climbing a power pole. A chair hangs from the power line. The larger man is chasing Horace up the pole, hitting him with a blunt object. Horace says: "Now listen, big boy - this joke has gone far enough." The larger man responds: "Naw, you ain't - You shinny up there and bring down my other chair."
Boots and her Buddies [Edmonton Bulletin Oct 30, 1927] This comic strip published in the Edmonton Bulletin in 1927 is a humorous take on pranking at the time, and is evidence of how culturally pervasive the ritual was.

By the 1920s some pranks were becoming more dangerous, and steps were taken to make the streets safe. To deter young vandals, policing increased on Halloween nights. By the 1930s the glory days of Halloween pranking in Edmonton were over, although petty vandalism continued.

A Game of Cat and Mouse

Pranking was a rite of passage for many of Edmonton’s young people. But just because it was expected didn’t mean homeowners gave up completely. The newspaper clippings below are from the late 1920s. They show that adults were not always easy targets for pranksters, and sometimes took steps to outsmart the city’s marauding youths.

Trained Bees Protect Gate From Pranksters
Edmonton Bulletin Nov 1, 1927

Tonight’s the Night! Edmonton Youngsters Preparing For Raids
Edmonton Bulletin Oct 31, 1928

Law and Order

According to police reports a lot of property damage was done on Halloween night in 1930. Some of the more interesting pranks that occurred that night included derailing the streetcar, damaging sidewalks and fences, stealing gates and street furniture, and eight young men who stole and wrecked a democrat (a horse-drawn wagon). Interestingly, most of the children got off with a warning.

City Police Department Special Report re. Damage Done Hallowe’en Night
[RG 11 7.3 File 201]

For More Information

City of Edmonton Archives

Prince of Wales Armouries, 2nd floor
10440 108 Avenue
Edmonton, Alberta

Email cms.archives@edmonton.ca
Website http://archivesphotos.edmonton.ca/

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