Hauntings through History: Looking Back on Halloween

According to “Today I Found Out,” the concept of the modern-day practice of trick-or-treating began sometime in the 1920s and has been an American tradition ever since.

Oakland University  is no stranger to this holiday. Hidden in the pages of one the earliest The Oakland Observer issues in our archives, we found a cover story on Halloween that was ran in 1970.

Though the cover was artfully done in Halloween spirit, there was no Halloween-themed content or stories about Halloween events on campus. There’s no note of who the man on the cover of the paper was or who the designer was.

The first Halloween-esque celebration we found in our archives was back in 1964, when The Observer reported on a “Hay Dance.”

This dance was sponsored by the “Dorm Social Committee,” which is similar to today’s Resident Hall Association (RHA). There was a hay ride taking students from Hamlin Circle to the “Sports Building,” where the dance was.

However, admission was not free like many of today’s dances and events are on campus. The event cost was 25 cents a person. But, attendees got apple cider and donuts for attending and shelling out a quarter.

By 1979 The Oakland Sail, the new student newspaper, had begun experimenting with color in its black-and-white paper, making the Halloween issue appropriately themed in black-and-orange as well as housing some Halloween content. The story accompanying the themed issue was about the history of Halloween, tracing its roots back to “druid” practices.

But these articles weren’t totally accurate. In reality, Halloween traditions today are borrowed from four different festivals: The Roman Feralia festival honoring the dead, the Roman Pomona festival honoring the goddess of fruit and trees, the Celtic festival of Samuin and the Catholic “All Soul’s Day” which is also known as “All Saint’s Day.”

There was discussion in The Sail’s article article of keeping children away from trick-or-treating due to the dangers of razor blades or poison in the trademark fun-sized treats. Ironically, this is a conversation that seems to return year after year, nearly 40 years later, with parents worrying about the safety of taking candy from strangers.

However, OU didn’t just celebrate Halloween in 1979. The same year, Oktoberfest also came to campus. Though no alcohol was reported in the stories, the piece reported on other “Olympics” such as apple bobbing, root-beer chugging, “pass an apple with your neck,” a sack race, a five legged race and donut eating.

This was also the first time The Sail published information on what’s known today as “haunted halls,” where in 1979, Hamlin Hall had floor decorating contests. The second floor of South Hamlin won a pizza party for its resident’s efforts.

Hill House and Van Wagner House also held a costume dance in the Oakland Center in 1979. Awards were given for cutest couple, “sexiest” costume, most bizarre and most original.

The cutest couple was given to a prisoner and cop duo. The sexiest went to a student dressed as a member of the rock band “Kiss.” The most bizarre? A student dressed as a decayed mummy. And the most original costume of the night was Darth Vader. Though really, the photograph of the student’s doesn’t do the major movie villain much justice.

Today, Oakland students enjoy cider mill trips and the annual “Zombie Walk” hosted by RHA. Though there is no formal trick-or-treating on campus, Oakland students still embrace their inner-child on the holiday that allows us to be someone else for a day.

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