SOWN Much Fun!

Tales of trick-or-treating from way back when…

Happy October and welcome to autumn in Philadelphia. This fall, the Supportive Older Women’s Network unveiled “SOWN Connect” for download from both the App Store and Google Play. This app allows Grandfamily Resource Center participants to share resources, register for events, take surveys & polls, DM staff and connect with each other between group sessions.

For more information, go to or reach out via Facebook or Instagram. Better yet, download the app and check it out! It’s easy to ask questions as you go.

Meanwhile, we asked SOWN staff and seniors to help us get into the spirit of the season by sharing their favorite Halloween memories. Come step back in time with these vintage stories that have only gotten sweeter over time.

Debby Davis

Debby Davis, SOWN Social Worker

I remember being a “can-can dancer” in third or fourth grade. We went around our neighborhood — no need for adults. No decorations on houses that I remember. No mischief night (in Tallahassee, FL). We mostly got penny candy. If we got a full candy bar it was a bonanza!

One Halloween I was sick and could not go out. My mother amused me by having me memorize the Edward Lear poem, “The Owl and the Pussy Cat”, which I still remember. It’s a more vivid memory than any candy or costume.

Nancy Morrow

Nancy Morrow, SOWN Strategic Development Specialist

Both of my parents helped my brother, sister and me create our costumes. I think the first costume I remember was as a pilgrim in, maybe 1st grade. My mother made my costume out of an old black shower curtain! One memorable costume was in about 3rd grade when I went as Pinocchio! It was a fabulous costume that my parents had made, including a long nose made out of cardboard. I loved the costume and went out trick or treating with my best friends in our neighborhood, Cindy and Davy.

On our street the best treats were always from Mrs. Battles, an older woman who lived alone with her dog Echo. The only thing was, Mrs. Battles made you do a trick in order to get the treat! So, we went up to her door, rang the bell and she, like always, asked what was our trick? I decided to do a somersault … oh no… you can imagine what happened to Pinocchio’s nose!!

I remember one Halloween in high school when my mother decided to go out trick or treating to the neighbors dressed up in my brother’s gym suit! I was mortified!!! But it was very funny!

I loved Halloween, except I do still remember being nervous about the Halloween parade at my elementary school. I continued dressing up for Halloween in college … a two-headed monster with my freshman roommate was the best … and beyond!  And, I kept the tradition of making my own children’s costumes (with help from my mom!) as they grew up. Pumpkin, clown, Batman, our yellow lab Izzy, panda bear, the Invisible Man, 70’s jogger lady, and more!

Denise Hood, SOWN participant

My dad, who died when I was 12, was a huge part of my love for Halloween and my memories of the holiday. When he was alive, I loved it. I was so spoiled, he made sure I had the materials to be whatever I wanted.

I loved to make my own stuff up. I would take a sheet, cut out the eyes and be ghost. It was so much more fun when you made your own thing, and see who could out-do the other one. Now, it’s not like it was back then. Someone would always have a party, and the house was all decorated and they would have a theme, and there would be singing and dunking for apples. I loved candy apples. I went to a Catholic school and the costumes you wore during the day had to be holy, but at night you could be monsters and things like that. It was just fun!

One of my favorite costumes was a Wicked Witch costume I made. Of course, with the last name Hood, I used to dress up as Little Red Riding Hood. I had long braids in the front, with the basket and would skip along with in my patent leather shoes, like I was really going to grandma’s. Sometimes one of my brothers would be nice and be a wolf with me, but I think that was just because he wanted to scare me!

We would take our pillowcases out to collect candy while trick-or-treating. You weren’t allowed to touch the candy until you got home, which of course we didn’t listen to. But parents needed to go through and check — we thought they were stealing our candy! Sometimes people gave money instead of candy. To us, 50 cents was like five hundred dollars! On Halloween, we’d also go to a place called Dutch Treat on 51st and Walnut (it was a burger joint similar to a Sonic) because they would hand out coupons for free soda or French fries.

Favorite candy: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups

Least favorite: Gum

Mischief Night: In my neighborhood, not much happened except kids would toilet paper houses. But in West Philly and North Philly, kids would “terrorize” houses by throwing eggs and filling little bags with unsavory items and then lighting the bags on fire on people’s front porches. I was a well-behaved child, so I mostly stayed away from Mischief Night pranks. I did it one time, because it was exciting to see kids throw eggs. After my parents disciplined me for going out on Mischief Night, I never did it again. Next time I picked up an egg, it was strictly to cook with!

Jill Gates Smith

Jill Gates Smith, SOWN Outreach Coordinator

My mother loved Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy. So much so that she decided I should be Raggedy Ann for Halloween and that it would be a homemade costume. In fact, I doubt there were store-bought versions of Raggedy Ann costumes in 1957. It didn’t stop my mother who didn’t, and still can’t, sew.

At 99 years old, theater arts have been and still are her passion. She’s been on the stage since grade school and actually made it to TV on an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”

She has an affinity for Halloween due, in part, to her birthday being 3 days before it. Closer to the truth, however, it’s because Halloween means costumes and make up and acting as someone else. But she knew her limitation as an actress. If she couldn’t pass herself off as a trick-or-treating rag doll, she decided I could.

I have a dimly lit, black and white photo of the party for which I was dressed as Raggedy Ann. I am in the back of the room with just my head, covered with a ‘wig’ of red, stringy yarn, dark eyebrows, red cheeks, and heavy lipstick, showing above the heads of other 7-year-old girls in attendance.

Jill (rear center) at a Halloween party in 1957
Warrenetta Mosley

Warrenetta Mosley, SOWN Peer Leader

We came from a family of seven, and we all made our costumes. We relied on our imagination to create them, and it was fun back then.

We went out during the day after school. Then in the evening, my dad would take us where my aunt lived and we would go out there for about an hour. Then our parents would search through our bags and take out the things we couldn’t have.

Favorite candy: I loved chocolate and I still do. My aunt for used to work for Whitman’s and would bring boxes home. I could eat any kind of chocolate, except chocolate with coconut. What started getting me away from chocolate a little was fasting during Lent. Now I’ll have dark chocolate, but I don’t go for milk chocolate like I used to.

Mischief Night: My father didn’t allow us to participate! He didn’t want you to go around throwing eggs when you could eat eggs. There were seven of us, so you didn’t want to waste an egg!

Lori Latimer

Lori Latimer, SOWN Director of Programs

I trick or treated in the mid-80’s. We have family photos of my first time Trick-or-Treating. My mom put together homemade clown costumes for me and my older brother. We looked terrifying. Not my mom’s intention, I’m sure!

Once we got a little older, my brother and I used to go out with other neighborhood kids. It was the Wild West back then. Just groups of kids staying out past dark! We got a bunch of different candy: mini candy bars, lollipops, and other little mini bags of candy. If someone gave you a full-size candy bar, you felt like a millionaire. Very rarely did someone give us something homemade, like a popcorn ball. By the time I was a kid, “stranger danger” warnings were in full effect, so we had to throw out anything that was homemade, which always made me a little sad for the person who put in the effort to make something for the kids.

A lot of houses would decorate, and some houses even went all out and would do mini haunted houses on their front lawn or porch. It was pretty neat.

A big thing in our family was that after my brother and I came back from trick-or-treating, my dad would raid our candy bags and take out all the chocolate he liked. We had to be strategic and not reveal our whole haul to him.

These days it seems like kids start trick or treating earlier and end earlier. A part of the fun when I was a kid was the running around after dark. It gave it a little extra thrill. It seems now out of necessity for safety that doesn’t happen too often.

Favorite candy: Snickers and Reese’s Cups.

Mischief Night: My family first lived in Southwest Philly and Mischief Night was a big thing. Lots of teenagers soaping cars and throwing eggs. When we moved to Delco, I remember there being the threat of Mischief Night, but I don’t remember anything really happening. I was a certified good kid and would never dream of going out for Mischief Night!

Fun Fact: The Local’s Carolyn Fillmore wore this costume in 1974

Mary Fairy, SOWN participant

Most children made their own costumes when I was a little girl, though some children did have store-bought costumes. As for me, I didn’t have store bought nothing! (laughs) For my costumes, I would dress up in my grandmother and aunts’ old clothes. Like lots of other other kids, I would hide my candy and take it to school with me the next day to show off to my classmates, ‘See what I got? See what I got?’

Favorite candy: Candy Corn, lollipops, Sugar Babies, and Taffy

 Jessica Begley, SOWN Family Literacy Educator

Not too many Halloween memories except that that I loved Now & Laters, Jolly Ranchers, and boxes of Lemonheads and Cherryheads. I still enjoy those treats every now and then.

Audrey Stevens, SOWN Participant 

When I was a kid, we didn’t have store bought costumes. Our costumes were made up of old clothes, high-heeled shoes, wigs, and lipstick (usually all around our mouths). We didn’t have trick or treat bags like the kids do now, we had supermarket bags. My aunt did such a beautiful job with makeup — we were pretty princesses, and my brothers would be Frankenstein or some other monster. She would paint blotches of make-up on the sides of my brothers’ faces to create the monster look. My favorite childhood costume was Little Red Riding Hood. Mom helped make the cloak with a red towel. When we finished, I just knew I was her, with my basket and some flowers inside!

When it came to trick-or-treating, I went out with my big brothers so nobody would snatch my bag. They were busy eating the candy while I went up to the houses. You went right around the area you lived in. You knew which houses to go to, the ones that were lit up with a person standing out front. We didn’t get candy like the children get nowadays, not Snicker’s bars or things like that. I guess you would call it penny candy.

Nearly every house in our neighborhood was decorated with pumpkins and scare crows out front. I lived near a school and families would decorate with real pumpkins that the children painted in school. One Halloween, they kept the street lights on, but once they went off, that was the end! Time to get back home.

Favorite candy: Tootsie Pops, BB Bats (a taffy that came in vanilla, banana, and chocolate), dot candy and candy necklaces.

Mischief Night: In my neighborhood, Mischief Night activities were rare. The block captain would come around before Halloween and warned us not to throw anything or steal from the younger children. (The block captains knew the children and the children knew the block captains.) And my parents would make the message even clearer, telling us ‘You’re not wasting our toilet paper!’

We hoped you enjoyed our reminiscing. Please share your own memories in the Comments below, or feel free to ask us any questions about Halloween in the good old days…  See you all next month!

SOWN provides community-based services and information to generations of older Philadelphian women. A grassroots news partner with WHYY/N.I.C.E.
4100 Main St. Suite 403, Philadelphia (MAP LINK)
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This column was written by Lori Latimer, SOWN’s Director of Programs. Read last month’s column here

PS: Enjoy more neighborhood Halloween stories with these East Falls memories

About SOWN 17 Articles
SOWN strengthens community support networks, reduces social isolation, and improves the well-being of older adults, especially women and their families. It offers a number of resources, including peer counseling groups by phone and in person, individual counseling, educational workshops, and resource referrals.

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