Halloween at the country school

Jerry Apps

Frost covered the country road, as my little brothers and I walked the mile to our one-room country school. We made the walk every day during the school year, no matter if it was ten below zero, raining hard, or just a pleasant cool day like this one in late October. It was a special day. It was Halloween.

The Halloween party was a memorable break in the fall routine at the one-room country school.

Halloween meant a party at school that afternoon, starting around 2:00 p.m. and going on until the end of the school day. The mothers helped the teacher with the party, and it was always fun—if a bit scary for the younger students.

It was hard for me to concentrate on my studies that day, because all I could think about was the party to come, and what fun activities the teacher had planned. The first mothers began arriving at 1:30. One of them carried a big wash tub, the kind we used for taking a bath on Saturday night in front of the kitchen woodstove. I knew what the tub was for.

Every year we bobbed for apples. This meant the tub was filled with water and a bunch of shiny red apples were dumped in to float on the top. To get an apple, you had to stick your open month on one of the floating apples and chase it to the bottom of the tub, immersing your entire head in the water. Sort of fun if you didn’t mind getting a wet head.

When two o’clock finally rolled around, the party officially started. My fellow students and I stayed out of the way as the various party activities were set up. Then it all began. The apple bobbing, attempting to retrieve an apple that hung on a long string—almost impossible to do as the apples would swing wildly. Blindfolded, we would take turns as the teacher explained feeling grapes in a bowl of water (ghosts’ eyeballs), smelling vinegar (a witch’s brew) and feeling cooked noodles in a bowl (a witch’s brain).

After the “fun” activities, we all enjoyed Kool-Aid and cookies and shared with each other how much fun or scared we had been. There was no “Trick or Treat” in the evening. Only tricks that some of the young men in the community took part in—such as tipping over outhouses and harnessing a neighbor’s cows with horse harnesses.

Walking home that afternoon, I thought about when we would have our next party at school, and which cookies I liked best. They were wonderful, fun breaks from reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: The Halloween party was a memorable break in the fall routine at the one-room country school.

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 or contact him at