Throughout the calendar year, a number of holidays and celebrations brought together early North Dakotans – Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, and even Halloween. Halloween was celebrated a bit differently a century ago.
People, particularly young men, often played elaborate pranks. Schools were often the target. In Dunseith, with farm implements, wagons and buggies ended up on the school steps or even the roof.
One man found a calf placed in his bed, and his keyhole was filled with plaster of Paris.
In 1925, a group of youngsters got together in Braddock, North Dakota, and “redid” Main Street. They stood culverts on end in the middle of the street, stacked cream separators by sign posts, and put outhouses on sidewalks. They even put the train depot’s wagon on the depot’s roof. It just so happens that the Braddock school had burned on Halloween a couple years earlier, just after the students had completed a fire drill. Classes were held downtown until a new school was ready in 1924.
In Stirum, North Dakota, “anything that wasn’t bolted down” was placed in the street or in the doorways of stores one Halloween. A cow was placed on the school’s second floor one year, then a horse another year. Kids put a buggy on the elevator and tipped over outhouses.
One storeowner in Leonard, North Dakota, had potatoes poured down his chimney on Halloween. Farm machinery also wound up at his door – even a threshing machine in the street. One year, a cow was placed in an old boarding space above the bank. Leading the livestock into strange places was popular, but getting the animals out wasn’t always easy.
In another prank, students in Mayville and Portland rigged the school bell with twine to ring it from two blocks away. And one of the last big Halloween pranks in Thompson, North Dakota, was in 1939 when a group of boys lowered a tractor into an empty, 18-foot reservoir. They even unscrewed the lightbulb from the corner street light to avoid being seen. They moved the tractor into the hole using a car and chain. The farmer was furious. Those responsible were caught, however, and had to pull the tractor out and pay for repairs.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Braddock History Book Committee. (1984). Braddock, N.D., 1884-1984.
Centennial Book Committee. (1981). A saga of two cities, 1881-1981: A history of Mayville-Portland.
Dunseith Book Committee. (1982). Prairie past and mountain memories: A history of Dunseith, N. Dak., 1882-1982.
Leonard Centennial History Committee. (1981). Leonard centennial 1881-1981. Cass County Reporter: Casselton, ND
Stirum Diamond Jubilee Committee. (1982). Stirum diamond jubilee, 1907-1982.
Trydahl, G.M., Weber, A.M.C. Thompson centennial, 1881-1981. Tri-County Press, Grand Forks, ND