MORE 1962 FUN
It’s October, 1962 and Halloween is coming up fast! When I was growing up, we got most of our candy at Halloween and Easter, with a smaller dose at Christmas. Halloween was the most fun, because we went door-to-door in costumes and collected the candy ourselves. The beauty of getting candy from a lot of different people was that they bought a lot of different things for you. I never cared too much for the taffy products like B-B-Bats, Mary Janes, Kits or peanut butter twists. I also didn’t like popcorn balls and Tootsie Rolls were just so-so. But I ate a lot of bubble gum, candy cigarettes, and anything tart like Smarties or Lik-M-Aid. I also loved candy corn, caramels, and candy bars. Those wax bottles with liquid candy were also great, if odd. The oddest treat was Pumpkin Seeds: real pumpkin seeds roasted and completely coated with salt! Butterfingers were one of my favorite candy bars, even though they stuck to your teeth after you were done. I suspect that was the cause of several of my rear tooth cavities. Learn more about your favorite Halloween candy at the Roadtrip-'62 ™ How Sweet it Was page.
We always carved pumpkins, usually the night before Halloween. And to this day, nothing says Halloween to me like the aroma of pumpkin innards. We always lighted them with candles inside, set them on the front porch, and let them burn until the candles went out. By then, the smell of burnt wax always ruined the fresh pumpkin aroma. Looking back, I’m surprised that kids under age 10 were trusted with sharp kitchen knives to cut pumpkins, but I’m sure none of my brothers or myself ever cut ourselves. Of course, we only operated under my mother’s watchful eyes: I guess mom knew what she was doing. I recall several years of cutting rather typical triangle eyes and square-toothed smiling Jack-O-Lanterns before realizing, maybe about age 12, that you could be more creative. I eventually tried my hand at Charlie Brown and Alfred E. Neuman.
The Sycamore Pumpkin Festival, Sycamore, Illinois, started as an idea by resident Wally Thurow in 1956 to do something special for the students of Sycamore. It quickly grew from display on his front yard into a full festival by 1962, and today is the city’s biggest event, running for 5 consecutive days. There will be over 1000 entries in the Decorated Pumpkin Display, 2 carnivals, 3 indoor craft shows, and a parade on Sunday. You’ll even find a Giant Cake Cutting Ceremony with the giant cake donated by Hy-Vee supermarkets. Meanwhile, in Circleville, Ohio, they will be holding their annual Pumpkin Show, which is always held the 3rd Wednesday through Saturday in October. The event began in 1903, again as a small personal display. Mayor George R. Haswell placed a small exhibit consisting mostly of Jack-O-Lanterns in front of his house. The next year, others joined in the idea and it eventually grew into today’s multi-day festival featuring music, crafts, food, and four different parades! This festival also includes the baking (and eating) of The World's Largest Pumpkin Pie. It’s 14 feet in diameter, uses almost 800 pounds of pumpkin, and takes 10 hours to bake!
Besides the candy, I’m sure stores made the most money from Halloween on the costumes that every kid wore for trick-or-treating. You could find costumes of favorite cartoon characters, standard witches, pirates, reptiles, monsters, spacemen, cowboys, etc. I’ve seen online auctions featuring 1962 costumes of Dick Tracy, Ollie of “Kukula, Fran & Ollie”, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear and friends, Mr. Ed, Popeye, and Disney characters. There were even characters from “Tales of the Wizard of OZ”, a largely forgotten cartoon from Rankin/Bass, who would produce the classic “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special just two years later. Most of the commercial costumes were made by Ben Cooper, Halco, or Collegeville. They were the three largest Halloween costume manufacturers in the United States from the 1950s-1980s. Though Spider-Man was introduced in comics in 1962, he was not yet popular enough for a costume. That would change by 1963, when Ben Cooper sold the first Spider-Man costume. You could buy these costumes from any department store such as J. C. Penney or Sears, or Woolworth's, Kresge’s, and other five-and-dime stores. Of course, many people made their own costumes, including us. I remember being part of a troop of Zorros as my mother made my brothers and I identical costumes. We used those for several years.
Back then, there were no public displays of horror or zombies, no Halloween fright houses, or similar attractions. But the beginnings of these may have been foretold by one of the popular songs of the year, “Monster Mash”. Though firmly tongue-in-cheek, it showed there was an appetite among adults for some Halloween fun beyond taking their kids out for trick-or-treats. Bobby "Boris" Pickett wrote the song with Leonard Capizzi and they recorded it with studio musicians that included pianist Leon Russell, as "The Crypt-Kickers.” The lyrics refer to the few popular horror movie stars of the day, Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman. Besides 1962, the song has been in the Top 10 two other times, in 1970 and 1972. The “Mash” in the title refers to the "Mashed Potato" dance craze it is based on. They performed it live on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” TV show, which was in its final year as a live national broadcast. The next year the show moved Los Angeles as a taped weekly program. Even Boris Karloff, who Bobby Pickett modeled the voicing after, loved Monster Mash. He performed it on a special Halloween edition of the TV show “Shindig!” in 1965. Pickett recorded a number of other monster-themed songs over the years, but none has come close to Monster Mash in popularity.
Besides the “Monster Mash”, another pop culture legacy of Halloween 1962 is the legend of The Great Pumpkin from the Peanuts comic strip. Though strip creator Charles Schulz came up with the idea some years earlier, he fleshed it out in 1962 strips such as the one shown below. Several of the strips from that year were adapted into the TV special “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” in 1966. Well, I’m off to read the comic strips and eat candy; see you next time on Roadtrip-'62 ™!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2019 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2019 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.