Trick-or-treat feels like an ancient American tradition. But like everything “ancient” in the U.S., it’s actually a pretty recent invention. In the 1950s, many adults were puzzled or even angered by the appearance of kids on the doorstep expecting a treat.
Today, if you don’t like trick-or-treat you can just turn out your porch light. But one of my favorite trick-or-treat stories is about a disgruntled High School principal who took matters into his own hands…literally.
It was Halloween in Brooklyn, 1952. Dr. Mason was having a hard night. Gangs of rowdy boys had been roaming the neighborhood, overturning trash cans and ringing door bells. Dr. Mason, an upstanding educator, was not amused by the high spirits of youth.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, little Richard Wanderman, age 10, asked his mother for permission to join some friends for a “trick-or-treat tour.” Mother agreed and suggested they start at Dr. Mason’s house. Dr. Mason being a school principal and all, Mrs. Wanderman was sure he’d give them something.
Richard rang Dr. Mason’s bell. Dr. Mason was not happy with their ungentlemanly demand for a treat. Instead of candy, he offered a five minute lecture on the evils of begging and why little boys should not run about demanding tribute and behaving like little gangsters.
Richard and crew were not so easily edified. Richard stepped up, put his fist in Dr. Mason’s face, and growled “Hand it over, or else!”
At which point, Dr. Mason did hand it over in a sense: a back of the hand to little Richard’s face.
For that Halloween, there were no treats. Instead, Richard got an ice-pack, and Dr. Mason got a charge of assault in the third degree and a court summons. In his defense, Dr. Mason noted: “I did not know it was a neighbor’s child.”
Source: “Trick-or-Treat Seeker Gets Neither: Mother Says Principal Slapped the Boy” New York Times 4 Nov. 1952; “Everyone Regrets Halloween Slap,” New York Times 11 Nov. 1952.