Daily Campus History: I, a Halloween skeptic, try to understand

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As much as I, a reluctant Halloween observer, wish it wasn’t true, the holiday that occurred yesterday has been a tradition at this university for over a century. 

The first mention of Halloween in a Daily Campus predecessor comes from the Storrs Agricultural College Lookout all the way back in 1898. In the Lookout’s November edition of that year, only one sentence mentions the holiday, and it comes from the section devoted to Grove Cottage, the women’s dormitory: “Hallowe’en the young ladies had a very interesting time.  The early part of the evening was spent studying and later the parade by the boys was watched with much interest.” How the writers of the paper knew this is curious, as the Lookout was almost completely staffed by men at the time. 

Upon looking through the mentions of Halloween in the Connecticut Agricultural College Lookout (from 1899 to 1914), I was able to find out that Grove Cottage was the center of Halloween festivities in Storrs for many years, due to an annual dance held there that included a costume contest and many other festivities that continue on to this day. 

Skipping ahead to 1955’s Halloween at Storrs, it seems as if many traditions continued to stay the same, with mention of a themed dance held in Fairfield Hall that included cider doughnuts, scarecrows and ghosts. 

Now that we’ve talked about traditions that haven’t gone away throughout the years, let’s get to the weird stories. In the Nov. 1, 1971 edition of the Daily Campus, the front-page story read “Furry Halloween prankster defuses area.” The short version of the story was that a squirrel chewing through power wires at the Connecticut Light and Power substation caused a five-and-a-half hour blackout at UConn. Of all days for this to happen, Halloween definitely proved to be a spooky one. Luckily, we Storrs inhabitants need not fear this happening again, as most of our power grid is now underground. 

1980’s Halloween issue brought another interesting headline: “Hags outwitched with simple tips.” The article provided insight into how to prevent witches from getting to you, with tips such as “don’t open your door” and to baptize your kids.   

No matter what era of UConn history, it’s miraculous just how consistent Halloween has been. Many of the modern tropes we associate with the holiday have stayed constant for so long, and the holiday itself has existed in some form for way longer. 

What’s perhaps the most interesting thing about Halloween for me is the secularization that it has undergone. What began as the Celtic holiday of Samhain, where ghosts were said to return to Earth, over two millennia ago, was adapted into Christian worship as Christianity moved into Ireland. This evolved into many different holidays still celebrated today, one of which being the form of Halloween celebrated in the United States. Instead of continuing to be religiously based, Halloween has become an incredibly important holiday for small communities, with trick-or-treating and costume parades taking center stage. 

That sense of community seems to make Halloween the perfect holiday for UConn, or really for college students in general. We get out of school in early December and have a Thanksgiving break, so all the holidays that fall in that time don’t work for students on-campus anyway, which leaves Halloween a big opening for a rise to prominence. 

As I stated when I began this article, I am very Halloween-averse. Much to my chagrin, however, UConn’s history and the current state of Halloween festivities on-campus suggest that the traditions aren’t going anywhere, and I just need to suck it up and try to enjoy myself a little. 

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