Chicago Halloween Traditions: Boo’ze Optional

Chicago Halloween Traditions: Boo’ze Optional

Chicago’s history could send a chill up anyone’s spine.  If you don’t think it might be even a little haunted as a result of its notorious gangster past, let’s meet at midnight on Halloween where the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred.  You go first!  It’s always been this way, so before you plan your Halloween festivities and claim that this is the first iconic Halloween in the City of Chicago, you’re already wrong.

Free booze (*note not “boo’s” sadly) were made available on the streets of Ravenswood on Halloween in 1908, leading to an unfortunate headline that ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune on November 2, 1908:  “Hordes of Boys Follow Distributors and Halloween Drinking Bouts Result.  Orgies Arouse Place.”  Apparently the word “orgy” meant something different in 1908 than it does in 2019; nevertheless, it was a raucous event that left a “gang of boys” in trouble with the law.  Those that distributed the free whiskey would be guilty of, “a deliberate attempt to demoralize a neighborhood and children of a neighborhood.”  Maybe whiskey meant something else in 1908, too, then, because generally it’s known now to improve morale.

No, Chicago, it wasn’t Malort that caused the “incident”.  Malort wasn’t worth stealing during Prohibition because it was legal for its obvious medicinal benefits.

Witch burning was also an annual Chicago tradition until 1982 when it became as taboo, say, as an orgy in Ravenswood.  Apparently, beginning in the 1930’s the park district and neighborhood associations would bury a coffin only to resurrect it on Halloween night and then burn it in effigy.  By some reports, though, there was no pretend witch inside the coffin because resources were tight and the park districts couldn’t afford to replace the witch every year.

On Halloween night in 1936 in sixteen cities across the country, the widow of Harry Houdini staged her last, and final attempt to contact her dead husband.  The séance was scheduled for 8:30PM on the rooftop o the Hollywood Knickerbocker Hotel.  For whatever reason, Houdini did not appear as summoned and his widow decided to close the door on further attempts at resurrection.

The ghosts and goblins were reigned in, though, or so the press would have us believe after educational campaigns targeted school aged children and promoted a more wholesome sort of Halloween celebration.

Fortunately, we don’t have to burn empty coffins, or follow whiskey distributors looking for an orgy—seriously, just do not do that—because we can drink legally on Halloween.  If anyone suggests to you that you do either of those things, you’ve been over-served and you and your costume should call it a night and head for home.

Written by Amy Williams

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