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Girl in Halloween costume

Girl in Halloween Costume (10/29/32)

Wisconsin Historical Society Image ID: WHi-3999

Halloween Shenanigans

“No Shenanigans Tonight’ Warning of Police Chief to Kids for Halloween.

2003? No. It was October 31, 1932, that Police Chief William H. McCormick informed the youth of Madison that soaping windows, greasing street car tracks, throwing objects against windows, hurling tomatoes, pilfering porch furniture, and the other illegalities of Halloween “will not be countenanced.” Despite the presence of the entire police force, Madison experienced one of the wildest Halloweens in years. Each of the city’s six fire companies responded to false alarms. Vandals removed manhole covers, broke arc lights and windows, hurled bottles onto the streets, stretched wires across sidewalks, stole flower pots, hurled vegetables, barricaded roads, shot off firecrackers, tore down fences, and set boats adrift. They soaped and waxed countless windows, decorated automobiles, scattered rubbish heaps, and rattled beans against windows. “Many a householder answered a doorbell to find no one at the door.” Not a single arrest was reported.

The festivities began on Halloween afternoon when C. R. Secrest, of 1036 Williamson Street, got into a fistfight with Frank Lloyd Wright in the 600 block of East Main Street. Secrest, who claimed Wright owed his wife $282 for work she’d done at Taliesen, accosted the architect and demanded payment. Secrest then struck Wright; Wright seized him, they fell into the gutter, and Secrest kicked Wright in the face, fracturing his nose. (Two days later five of Wright’s Taliesen students attacked Secrest in his home).

But Halloween 1932 was hardly Madison’s most memorable.

In 1899, 300 fraternity students who had not been invited to the girls’ Halloween party at Ladies Hall decided to take matters into their own hands. Wearing only nightshirts, they marched to Ladies Hall in a group, broke in, took 240 linen articles worth $60 from the laundry, put them on, and marched up State Street.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported on November 2: “The occurrence Monday is a stigma on the whole state of Wisconsin. It is a melancholy surprise to be told that young men who represent what is best in the life of our state are such cads as this. It is known on campus that President Adams is determined to deal firmly with the laundry burglars. Some of the leaders are already marked for retirement from college.” At least one young woman, unable to endure the shame of having a young man in possession of her undergarments, left the university.

On November 18, Adams “admonished” the students at the weekly convocation in Library Hall. He condemned the actions of the male students, yet recalled he’d been invited to an entertainment where several women had donned male attire, and “the bloom of their delicacy had suffered a blight.” “If any of them felt an irresponsible desire to don male attire,” Adams said, “let them send home for the garments, take them to their rooms, lock the doors, pull down the blinds and, then, do with them whatsoever they wished.”

Mark Gajewski