Outhouses weren't safe on Halloween

Jerry Apps
Outhouses weren't safe from tricksters when jerry Apps was a boy.

(Note: Although Halloween 2019 is in the books, author Jerry Apps recalls childhood pranks during the autumn holiday.)

When I was a kid, Halloween meant tricks only. No “trick or treats.” The favorite trick was tipping over somebody’s outhouse. No one had indoor plumbing in those days. The country school outhouses were favorite targets.

The toilet tippers tried to avoid the possibility that someone might be in the structure when it was tipped. If that were the case, the consequences would be dire. Some farmers were known to sit up most of Halloween night, shotgun in hand, protecting their outhouses.

Another trick I heard about was a group of tricksters that managed to take the neighbor’s horse harnesses and put them on his cows. There was no dressing up in strange costumes and walking from house to house—just too much effort as the farm homes were at least half a mile apart.

We always had a Halloween party at our country school, with the mother’s invited. (The men were usually still involved with the fall harvest.) We bobbed for apples that floated in a galvanized washtub. The only way to retrieve an apple was to hold your breath and chase your apple of choice to the bottom of the tub, resulting in a very wet head.

Additionally, the teacher would blindfold us and led us past a bowl of grapes, which we would feel and be informed they were a ghost’s eyeballs. We would smell some vinegar—a witch’s brew, and feel some cooked spaghetti—I don’t remember what the spaghetti represented. Mothers brought cookies and cake for treats.

At home, we carved pumpkins and put a lighted candle in them. But no trick or treating. Older boys usually were the ones involved with neighborhood tricks.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Fond memories of Halloweens past.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to