Wednesday, September 30, 2009


My earliest Halloween memories are shopping for costumes at the local Woolworth's. I was about 3 years old and went shopping with my older brothers and mother. Everyone was so excited but I didn't really understand what was happening, I just picked up the excited energy from my siblings and knew something good was going to happen.
I was in for a surprise.
First of all, the store had dedicated two whole aisles to Halloween: costumes, decorations, candy, et al. Anything remotely related to Halloween was there. And, at first, it seemed like a very good thing. There was candy! And things that were silly and a little scary! Candles! And things that smelled good.
Then, I turned the corner (probably looking for my brothers) and came face-to-face with something dreadful: the boxed costumes. Back then, costumes were highly flammable and colorful but basically flat. The costume portion had elements of the character it was imitating. The faces were all basically the same: formed plastic with a slit for the mouth, holes for nostrils, and the eyes were completely cut out. The masks covered just the face and had an elastic string that went behind the head and was adjustable.. for some reason -- the mask never really fit. The boxed set was packaged with a clear cellophane window where the mask sat, staring out at customers with empty eyes. The folded costume was behind the mask.
Gazing down the aisle, all I could see were the soulless, eyeless faces staring at me. Otherwise friendly faces were suddenly frightening: Superman, Batman, Captain Kirk, Bugs Bunny, an astronaut. Frightening faces were downright horrifying: skeleton, witch, ghost.
What's the big deal? These things scared me, possibly scared a lot of kids.. so what? I may have mentioned the closet door of my bedroom opening and closing on its own at night. I may have mentioned what would be inside that door when it opened and, of course, wouldn't be there after the door closed. After that Halloween shopping trip, I woke many nights to the door opening to reveal these costume boxes stacked floor to ceiling, similar to the aisle at Woolworth's. Anything to frighten me, it seems, was fair game for those horrid nights. They seemed to be worse around this time of year...
I faced my fears one time. I got out of bed and walked to the closet. The door had opened itself and presented a dozen costume boxes, face out, floor to ceiling.. I reached out and touched the cellophane of one of the boxex. The eyes seemed to shift and 'look' at me as I ran screaming from my bedroom. When Mom or Dad put me back in bed, the closet was normal with my lone costume box sitting innocently on the top shelf, face up and a shoe box on top of it.
One night I woke to something under the sheets. Looking down, I could recognize the outline of the dreaded box without having to look.. but I did look. Sure enough, the cellophane window was gazing at me under the covers. I screamed in terror, my Dad came in and took the box away, then woke my brothers and asked them who had put the box there while I was asleep. Well, waking them up should have been a clue that they didn't do it.
By the time Halloween came around, I was almost too frightened of my costume to actually wear it. I quickly pulled the mask over my face and proceeded to terrorize anyone nearby who, naturally, couldn't understand why I thought Batman would give them nightmares.

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