Reclaiming the ‘Spirit’ of Halloween

halloweenIs Halloween an evil holiday? Is it secretly pagan? Is Halloween too dangerous for children to celebrate? These are all questions that, sadly enough, many parents ask themselves every year. When I was a kid (way, way back in the 1980s), I can remember trick or treating with my older sister (when I was very young) and then when I was older, with a group of friends. We trick or treated at dusk, or when it was dark, and then afterwards we joined our parents for a Halloween party at a neighbor’s house. Nearly every home was decorated in some way for the holiday.

Years later, when I was in college, I joined my then girlfriend for Halloween at her parent’s house in a small town in central Illinois. I couldn’t believe what I saw. Parents actually drove their kids from house to house and walked them to each door (the few that came). The idea seemed to be “hurry up and get away” from your neighbors as fast as possible. As we drove through town, we saw very few homes decorated for the holiday. Where was the sense of community I had experiences as a child? As I’ve gotten older, particularly in the last several years, Halloween seems to have turned into just another excuse for twenty-somethings to dress in “sexy” costumes and get drunk. What happened to my favorite holiday?

Scott Richert, editor of Chronicles Magazine and the About.com Catholicism expert, has written a series of enlightening articles about Catholicism and Halloween, why Christians should celebrate the holiday, and where a lot of misconceptions about Halloween come from. These articles will be interesting to secular-minded readers as well. I’ll summarize them below, but you can read all three at these links: “Halloween, Jack Chick, and Anti-Catholicism,” “Why the Devil Hates Halloween,” and “Should Catholics Celebrate Halloween?

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Carbondale After Dark: An Underground History of SIU

The following is not a fable — it all really happened and it has no morals.”

Carbondale After Dark by HB Koplowitz
Carbondale After Dark by HB Koplowitz

I first became aware of H.B. Koplowitz’s Carbondale After Dark and Other Stories while I was doing research on Southern Illinois University for a book on the legends and lore of Illinois colleges. Carbondale After Dark was first published by the author in 1982. A 25th anniversary limited edition was released in 2007. The new edition contains a foreword by actor Dennis Franz, a Backword by humorist P.S. Mueller, and of course a new acknowledgements by the author himself. At 132 pages, Carbondale After Dark can almost be read in one sitting, but you will want to pick it apart piece by piece. The book contains standalone articles (as opposed to one linear narrative) so there is no need to read it from cover to cover.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, SIU-C went from a small rural teacher’s college to a major university in just a few short years. That shift permanently altered the landscape of Carbondale, Illinois, creating what became known as “the Strip.” Since then, the Strip has been the scene of mass parties, riots, and a lot of fond memories. H.B. Koplowitz was right in the middle, writing for alternative publications and documenting these changes as they happened.

Carbondale After Dark is divided into three sections: The Strip, Pontifications, and A Koplowitz Now. The highlight of the book is the section devoted to Carbondale’s Strip, which also takes up the most amount of pages. What particularly stands out is a year-by-year history of the strip, from its inception to the early 1980s. Student parties and protests are mentioned, but the author also documents the origin of SIU’s massive annual Halloween party, which was a fixture of campus life until a particularly devastating riot in 2000.

Continue reading “Carbondale After Dark: An Underground History of SIU”

Happy Halloween!

As many of my readers know, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Over the years, I’ve been privileged to be featured in and interviewed for a number of articles on haunted places all over Illinois. From a historian’s point of view, newspaper articles never lose their value over time, even though most people simply read them and throw them out that same day. Let’s take a look back at some of these articles from recent years.

“‘Tales of Coles County’ features spooky stories,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 28 October 2010.

“Sunset Haven: the Asylum That Never Was,” Volunteer News (Carterville) 7 October 2010.

“Sunset Haven: A Rich, Mysterious History,” Daily Egyptian (Carbondale) 11 August 2010.

“Local Haunts — Author explores ghostly tales across Illinois,” Streator Times (Streator) 24 June 2010.

“Three Coles County legends are detailed in book,” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 27 April 2010.

“Grad student masters the macabre,” Western Courier (Macomb) 15 February 2010.

“Charleston is Haunted,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 30 October 2009.

“The Science of Spirit-Sleuthing Part III: Local Lore,” Rock River Times (Rockford) October 28, 2009.

“Publication highlights Moon Point Cemetery,” Times (Streator) 1 June 2009.

“Real Folklore,” Daily News (Effingham) 21 February 2009.

“Pemberton’s legend, Mary,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 31 October 2008.

“Twisted tales,” Times-Courier (Charleston) 23 October 2007.

“Ghost Club hunts for haunts,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 8 October 2007.

“Student author gets creative with Coles history,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 28 October 2005.

“Strange Occurrences,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 28 October 2005.

“Haunting Club,” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 29 October 2004.