Halloween! Just the word conjures up magic and memories for children and for the child inside all of us. Here in Athens this year, Halloween events will appeal to all ages. Among the many Athens events during the Halloween season, “Flagpole’s Cruise Down Spooky Street” is a driving tour that showcases Halloween-decorated homes in our city’s historic Boulevard neighborhood from now through Oct. 30—the eve of All-Hallow’s Eve. Click here for details. This year’s Wild Rumpus Halloween Celebration will kick off with a rally downtown at 5 p.m. Oct. 30 and a costume parade through downtown at 8 p.m. For more information, go to wildrumpus.org.
Today’s real scares like plague, terrorism and a jackbooted march toward fascism are more frightening than any ghosts and goblins on Halloween. Still, ‘tis the season for some harmless frightful fun when autumn breezes blow and jack-o-lanterns grin in Athens and across America on Halloween.
I was a small town kid in the postwar 1950s, and like so many other kids back then, I looked forward to Halloween almost as much as I anticipated Christmas. Coming up with a Halloween costume was always the high point of the holiday. I still remember a Dracula costume my mom made for me back around 1957. Kids like me got ideas for costumes from the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland and from classic Hollywood horror movies that were shown on television’s “Shock Theater” in the 1950s. With my Dracula outfit, I felt suitably sinister and thought that I could fit right in during any monster mash. I did. My young friends and I wore masks with our costumes, but they were rubber Halloween masks, not COVID masks. There was always an autumn chill in the air by Halloween back then, but our faces sweated under our masks as we ran, ran, ran to the next house and the next, filling our trick-or-treat bags with all manner of sugary goodies that any dentist or doctor would decry.
Perhaps no writer brings back Halloween memories better than Ray Bradbury, the fantasy and science fiction author who died in 2012 at the age of 91. Best remembered for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and his space saga The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury also wrote two books that should be on everyone’s Halloween reading list, The Halloween Tree (1972) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962). In The Halloween Tree, Bradbury captured perfectly the raucous revelry of costumed kids out on the town: “They banged doors, they shouted Trick or Treat and their brown paper bags began to fill with incredible sweets. They galloped with their teeth glued shut with pink gum. They ran with red wax lips bedazzling their faces.”
Something Wicked This Way Comes takes its title from a line spoken by a witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Bradbury called it the best of all the many books and stories that he created. He may have been right. The novel tells the story of the chilling experiences of two young boys when a haunted carnival comes to their small Illinois town just a week before Halloween. Bradbury called his tale of the two teenage friends a story of “the October week when they grew up overnight, and were never so young anymore.” It was appropriate that I found the book in a small town library when I was a teenager because “the library is always an adventure,” says the novel. “What a fine place the library was, the many rooms, the books. With luck, no one found you.”
Bradbury wrote tales of Halloween horror that are fictional, but the old author could have found frights that are factual in today’s America. The spreading viruses of pandemic, white supremacy, conspiracy mongering and an anti-intellectual, anti-science attitude shared by benighted millions are all specters more frightening than any fictional villains or vampires. Ray Bradbury’s words of warning apply more than ever on Halloween and every day: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
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