The Last Real Old-Fashioned Halloween Before Everything Changed

It was 1941 and Halloween was a night for outrageous pranks. Within weeks, things took a serious turn.

  • Editor's Note: In 2010, Chatsworth historian and former Patch columnist Virginia Watson wrote this fascinating story which is worth revisiting today.

Jim Summers has lived in Chatsworth since the 1930s and he is a good one to ask about what Halloween was like in Chatsworth back then. Also the late Bill Schepler reminisced about Halloween in his book Windows Into the Past. Both men spent their teenage years in this sleepy little community not far from Los Angeles where Halloween was a night for pranks.

Jim and his family lived in the old Gray family home that was on Lassen Street near Topanga Canyon Boulevard. His father farmed the land that had originally belonged to N. A. Gray. His Dad tilled the land, took care of the orchards, supervised the animals and the artisian well on the property. Jim helped with all the various jobs necessary on the farm. But he had time to spend with other boys in town and he remembers Halloween jokes that were talked about for a long time afterward.

William "Bill" Schepler also moved to Chatsworth in the early '30s. His father had been one of the businessmen responsible for making Wilshire Boulevard a "Miracle Mile" before the depression drove him to the small orange grove in Chatsworth — property that was still owned by his wife when his own fortune disappeared.

Both Bill Schepler and Jim Summers remembered that soaping windows was a
common event, especially decorating the windows of parked cars. Also tomatoes and rotten eggs were thrown at moving automobiles, many of them still open cars.

Schepler noted that it was not unusual for the youths to use items at hand since most people in the area had gardens with plenty of vegetables to be used as ammunition and most people had chickens which of course gave them eggs.

Turning over garbage cans was par for the course and moving signs from one business or location to another was considered funny. Many palm trees in the area had low growing fronds that were easily ignited making a big fire. Summers remembered that the fires seemed bigger and longer in Chatsworth because the closest fire department was in Canoga Park.

This was before the days of playground costume parades or school carnivals with
games and things to do. Residents did not leave their homes on Halloween night -- they stayed home to watch out for pranksters. Most of the activities were not serious but sometimes they were more noteworthy.

Both Summers and Schepler mentioned one particular Halloween when a big event took place.

It was Halloween, Oct. 31, 1941. Jim remembers it as the last real old-fashioned
Halloween and he says that it is important because it was the Halloween before Pearl Harbor Day. That changed everything, he remembered. After that it was a different world.

"We were at war," he said. Everyone was at war. Almost every family had at least one person serving in the military. Families were separated. We had gas rationing and shoes were rationed, sugar, tires, and no new cars for the duration. Jim remembered that we all helped win the war and that changed our way of life.

The Halloween he remembers took place at the corner of Devonshire Street and Topanga Canyon Boulevard which was the center of town.

In the morning after Halloween it was a sight to be seen! He remembers that all
the sidewalks from the hardware store on Devonshire Street to past Mrs. Hughes drug store and around the corner in front of the other businesses up to Louie's Barbershop on Topanga Canyon Boulevard were covered with manure from the local farms. There was a wagon turned over in the street and old farm equipment, rusty and dirty was scattered around on the streets and on the sidewalks and topped by an old weatherbeaten outhouse.

But there was no mess in front of Louie the Barber's business because Summers
mentioned that everyone in town got their hair cut there so he was spared.

It must have been an unusual scene for Schepler wrote about the event mentioning
the old outhouse that topped the mess in the street. It was the year of a particularly
heated election between Roosevelt and Hoover much as we are having this year.
Schepler remembered a note posted on the outhouse that suggested "placing Hoover votes in the second hole."

Halloween did change over the next few years. The country was at war and a lot of people just didn't celebrate the holiday. Tales of destruction seemed to fade from the news as the local playgrounds began having festivities and attracting pranksters to their fun and games.

And I believe that Jim Summers is right — Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 did change our world.


If you would like to learn more about other people from the past you may visit the local museum at The Homestead Acre, 10385 Shadow Oak Drive, within Chatsworth Park South at the west end of Devonshire Street.  The museum is open the first Sunday of every month from 1-4 p.m.  There is no charge and plenty of free parking.


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