Whether by voluntary enlistment or draft, the Civil War that began in April 1861 took fathers and sons away for years — and sometimes forever.
Michael Kennedy of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, was in the first wave of men to enlist after President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to defend the Union. The son of Sylvester and Mary Kennedy joined the 16th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment at Camp Randall in Madison on November 21, 1861. The regiment mustered into service on January 31, 1862 and left the state on March 13 en route to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. After several days encampment along the Tennessee River, the 16th Wisconsin was attached to the Sixth Division, Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Brigadier Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss.
Early on April 6, Capt. Edward Saxe of the 16th Wisconsin’s Company A was ordered to make an advance toward the Confederate line. Within a short distance, an enemy volley killed Saxe and Sgt. John Williams. Thus opened the deadly Battle of Shiloh. The Battle of Shiloh went down in the annals of war as one of the bloodiest ever fought. It was a turning point for the Union. For much of the day, a desperate battle raged back and forth between Union and Confederate forces.
“The rebel hordes were coming on in front and flank, rolling up great columns like the waves of the ocean,” wrote Pvt. David G. James. Companies were moved in and out as ammunition and supplies ran short. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant told Gen. Prentiss if he could hold his position until sundown the army would be safe. Prentiss and his troops held until 5:30 p.m., when they were surrounded and more than 1,000 men taken prisoner. April 6 closed “at that time the bloodiest battle ever fought on the American continent,” James wrote. Prentiss’ Sixth Division suffered 236 killed and 928 wounded, in addition to the 1,008 captured.
At some point in wild battle, Kennedy was seriously wounded and captured by Confederate forces. Union troops were not able to recover bodies or make a full accounting of the missing until April 7, 1862. Kennedy was held prisoner at Corinth, Mississippi, where he died from his wounds on April 26, 1862. He was 20 years old.
We don’t know how much the captivity contributed to Kennedy’s death. Confederate prison camps were notorious for squalid conditions and severe mistreatment of Union soldiers. Kennedy was one of 39 soldiers from the 16th Wisconsin who later died from wounds sustained in the Battle of Shiloh. Overall, the 16th Wisconsin suffered 62 dead and 189 wounded in the battle. Kennedy is buried at Sacred Hearts Cemetery.
In every community you will find inspiring stories of courage, faith and perseverance. And so it was the case when I researched the 1863 founding of my hometown parish, Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. The project lasted several months, and turned up many fascinating stories from the mission-territory days of Wisconsin in the mid-1800s.
Full confession (pun intended): I served as an altar boy for years at Sacred Hearts in the 1970s, and graduated in spring 1978 from the fine Sacred Hearts School. The current church, the third edifice in parish history, has some of the most stunning stained-glass windows you will find outside of a cathedral. That’s what initially drew me to the history of Sacred Hearts.
So what did I learn?
The church was founded during the second expansion of Catholicism in Wisconsin (the first being black-robed Jesuit missionaries who explored the territory in the 1600s). Much of the area at the time was untamed wilderness, now being colonized by immigrants from Ireland, Germany and other parts of Europe.
The early missionary priests rode circuits hundreds of miles long, often saying Mass in private homes or rustic buildings with no roof. Father Martin Kundig, an indefatigable traveler and founder of many Catholic parishes in Michigan and Wisconsin, had an uplifting experience in 1843. The faithful gathered in a private home for Mass overloaded the floor, and everyone except Father Kundig crashed into the cellar. The people reached up and supported the priest, standing on a narrow plank, so he could finish saying Mass.
These pioneers led often difficult lives. The John Sprengel family lost three children to diphtheria within one week in 1882. Emerand Aschenbrucker lost his first wife during the birth of their daughter, Anna, in February 1867. Nicholas Mosel lost his wife to typhoid fever at age 54. The church brought comfort to these grieving families, offering the sacraments and a reverent burial for the departed.
The Civil War affected every aspect of life during Sacred Hearts’ early years. Two young parishioners died during their wartime service, including one who was wounded in the 1862 Battle of Shiloh and died in a Confederate prison camp. Another died on a furlough in 1864. He was just 15. A third was wounded in the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia, in June 1864.
When you set out to research a topic, you never know just what you will find. I found a very fascinating story in the “Catholic Pioneers on the Prairie,” which is what I titled the 28-page e-book that grew out of my research. I invite you to read the whole thing at Catholic Pioneers. View it online or download the e-book as a PDF file.
SUN PRAIRIE, Wisconsin — With a temperature of minus 2 degrees and a fresh coating of 8 inches of snow on the ground, you might think Jimmy the Groundhog would have predicted six more weeks of winter. But alas, the world-famous weather prognosticator did not see his shadow, meaning an early spring. He did, however, take a vicious bite at Sun Prairie mayor Jon Freund, who served as the official translator for the esteemed Jimmy.
A modest crowd of hearty Groundhog Day fans gathered on Cannery Square to witness the 67th annual weather prognostication from Jimmy. Just after 7 a.m. Central time, Jimmy whispered to Freund that spring was coming. But before he did that, Jimmy bit the ear of the mayor, who recoiled in pain but quickly recovered his composure. After a quick apology from Jimmy, the ceremony continued.
Despite the clear skies, Freund said Jimmy did not see his shadow. A few minutes after the ceremony, the sun rose and cast February shadows on both man and beast. A Madison television station quoted Hahn as saying Jimmy did see his shadow. The city of Sun Prairie later issued a statement saying the mayor made the right call. The controversy led to speculation from some corners that video replay officials would be in attendance at next year’s Groundhog Day ceremony.
Folklore says that if a groundhog (also called a woodchuck or marmot) emerges from its burrow and sees its shadow, it will return to slumber in expectation of six more weeks of winter. If the day is cloudy and no shadow appears, spring will come early. According to a roundup on Wikipedia, predictions are pretty well split across North America for Groundhog Day 2015. Sun Prairie’s result is listed as “disputed.”
Jimmy arrived in a stretch limousine with a Sun Prairie Volunteer Fire Department escort. Like a Hollywood star, Jimmy emerged from his limo to camera flashes and blaring lights from two television stations. He was accompanied by his handler, Jerry Hahn, who is retiring from the groundhog business after today. Hahn shed tears as Freund and others paid him tribute for serving as Jimmy’s caretaker since 2003. Jimmy will now be cared for by Jeff Gauger, owner of the Beans ’n Cream coffee house on Cannery Square. Gauger has a hobby farm.
Jimmy has been predicting weather in the Groundhog Capital of the World since 1948. The current Jimmy is the 11th burrowing rodent to serve as Sun Prairie’s weather forecaster. And while a certain East Coast groundhog gets most of the national media attention, Jimmy has a better than 80 percent accuracy rating. According to legend, he’s always accurate. It’s just the mayor does not always translate correctly from “groundhogese” to English.
Even with the bitter cold, I had to see for myself what all the fuss was about. When my late father, David D. Hanneman, was mayor from 2003-2005, he presided over two such ceremonies (see video above). In February 2005, Dad wore a tuxedo to go along with the mayor’s official groundhog top hat. The year before, Dad interviewed Jimmy before a large crowd. “What? You don’t like to be kissed? Well OK, I won’t kiss you then,” Dad said to laughter from the crowd.
View a complete photo gallery from today’s event below:
The book about my father’s battle with lung cancer and his final months on this earth has been in print for nearly five years. It seems a good time to update the book’s official video trailer. The new version, posted below, is in high definition. Back when the original trailer was created, HD video was still fairly novel. But now HD is the norm on home televisions and computers, so it was time to upgrade this important promotional video. You can also view the video in a larger format here.
In the winter of 1966 or 1967, a young father designed and hand-crafted an outdoor nativity scene to decorate the family home in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. David D. Hanneman (1933-2007) painted the set freehand and put it on display just under the garage window of his home on Wisconsin Avenue. The nativity scene was a fixture at the home in those early years, but eventually was put in storage and forgotten.
Forty years later, after David Hanneman died, the badly weathered Nativity figures were rescued from a trash can in the garage. Over the next 18 months they were restored to almost original condition and put on display in the Village of Mount Pleasant.
The original backers and braces were removed from the cutout figures of St. Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus. New 1-inch-thick plywood backers were crafted with a jigsaw, then glued to the figures and anchored with wood screws. Heavy L-shape stabilizing braces were screwed into the backers to give the figures sufficient weight to withstand winter winds.
Samantha J. Hanneman, David Hanneman’s granddaughter, did most of the paint restoration work. With a special set of art brushes, she applied metallic gold and flat black paint to maintain the original look. Touch up paint was applied sparingly to the faces and hands of the figures to keep the hand-drawn details.
The newly restored Nativity scene was put on display at the Hanneman home in Racine County in December 2008, making the old tradition new again for another generation. The crèche was displayed for several years, but had to again be put in storage when we lost our home. Now the figures again wait patiently to have a new home where their warm glow will fill the Christmas night.
St. Francis of Assisi is credited with creating the first Nativity crib or crèche on Christmas Eve 1223 in Greccio, Italy. St. Francis was eager to make the birth of Christ something tangible for the faithful. He had a manger built, brought animals to be part of the set, and had Holy Mass said before this representation of the birth of Christ. After the preparations were finished, St. Francis and some of his followers went to the crèche for the Mass. After a short prayer by Francis, a vision of the Christ child appeared on the hay.The miracle stirred the animals and greatly moved the faithful who witnessed it.
His death was given only passing notice in the Wisconsin State Journal, the state’s official newspaper. “May he rest in peace,” the brief item from April 9, 1864 read. So it was the unwritten that was truly remarkable in the all-too-brief life of James Moore, soldier of the Wisconsin 12th Infantry Regiment in the Civil War.
The son of Irish immigrants who settled to farming in the Town of Sun Prairie, Moore was just 14 when he enlisted in Company I of the 12th Infantry Regiment in late September 1862. Moore and Lemuel C. Neal of Sun Prairie enlisted together at Camp Randall on September 29, 1862. Moore was a boy who went to fight in a man’s war — a theme that would be repeated, most especially in the “war to end all wars,” World War I. His youth, just five months past his 14th birthday, seems quite remarkable for an infantry private. The sacrifice of his very young life in the fight to save the republic should always be remembered.
Moore saw combat and the horrors of America’s bloodiest war, although the 12th Infantry Regiment did not take part in the most famous battles of the Civil War. These men rebuilt and guarded key railroad lines, supported the battle of Vicksburg and took part in General Sherman’s Meridian Expedition in February 1864. That month they marched 416 miles, aiding in the capture and destruction of Jackson, Brandon and Decatur as they proceeded to Meridian. “A shell exploded in the ranks of Company I, killing Eugene Baldwin and W.H. Murray, wounding O. Lind, J.W. Dean, John Thorp and George Everett,” read the account in the 1866 Military History of Wisconsin.
Shortly after the Meridian campaign, Moore was among some 700 men in the regiment sent home to Wisconsin on a 30-day furlough. After rolling into Madison via rail at 5 a.m. on March 21, the men ate a hearty supper at the Railroad Restaurant and then marched to their quarters at Camp Randall. The next day they were welcomed by Wisconsin’s newly minted governor, James Taylor Lewis. The Wisconsin State Journal published a chronicle of their service, noting the regiment had marched more than 2,000 miles to earn itself the nickname “the Marching 12th.”
The newspaper asked the community to be patient with these and other young soldiers, home from the stress of war with full bellies and money in their pockets. “Brave boys, they are going back, and the voice that now makes the night hideous with bawdy songs will utter its last accent in a victorious cheer upon some future battlefield,” the paper wrote. “Yes, they are going back, and he who is now a ‘drunken soldier’ will bear the dear old flag in triumph, amid the whistling bullets and screaming shell, to plant it on the battlements of the enemy.”
The soldiers of the 12th were discharged to their homes on Thursday, March 31. It is a safe assumption that Pvt. Moore was ill when he reached his family farm in the Town of Sun Prairie. He took to bed. His death on Monday, April 4 came before he had any chance to enjoy the well-deserved furlough. We don’t know what disease or illness claimed his life, or if he was exposed to it in battle, on the train ride home or at Camp Randall. His funeral Mass was held at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Catholic Church, which his father helped to build just a year before. His parents and two sisters had the sad duty of burying young James just as Wisconsin shook off the winter of 1864.
James Moore was born in Ohio on April 15, 1848, the only son of Mathew Moore and the former Catharine O’Neill. His parents emigrated from Ireland and spent some time in Ohio before settling on a 37-acre farm on the western edge of the Town of Sun Prairie in May 1850. Mathew and Catharine carried the loss of their son with them every day. Around 1875, the family left the farm and moved into the village of Sun Prairie, where Mathew died on April 28, 1891. Mrs. Moore died on Feb. 22, 1907 at age 93. Their daughters, Margaret Moore and Sara (Moore) Flavin, are buried near their parents — and their soldier brother — at Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary Cemetery in Sun Prairie.
Moore was among the more than 224,500 Union soldiers who died of disease, exposure or other non-battle causes in the Civil War. According to the Wisconsin Historical Society, the state sent more than 91,000 boys and men in 56 regiments to fight in the War of the Rebellion (1861-1865). More than 12,000 died, including nearly 8,500 from disease.
His compatriot Lemuel C. Neal survived the war and went on to live a long, productive life. The son of Thomas Neal and the former Olive Dolley, Lemuel was one of nine children in the Neal farmhouse when he left home to enlist in the fall of 1862. He mustered out of service on May 31, 1865 and returned to Sun Prairie. His mother fell ill that fall and died on October 29 at age 45. The family left Wisconsin for Iowa, and eventually Lemuel settled in the Town of Turtle River, North Dakota. He married the former Ellen Forest and started a family. He kept moving west, later settling at Lewiston, Idaho. In 1896, he was awarded a patent for a clothespin by the U.S. patent office.
Neal again moved west, settling in Oceanside, California before eventually moving to Santa Ana. Neal and Ellen had two sons and two daughters. Ellen died in 1920. Neal remarried in February 1921, taking Clara Skelton Jones as his bride. Neal was hospitalized at the U.S. veterans hospital in Sawtelle, California in 1922, suffering from heart disease and high blood pressure. At the time, records listed his occupation as a merchant. He died at that same hospital on February 13, 1936. He was 91.
As kids growing up in Sun Prairie, any time we ventured into the back room of our basement we were likely to hear a voice from upstairs shout, “Don’t you go near those windows!” Of course we knew what that meant: the antique stained-glass behemoths covered in blankets in the farthest reaches of the basement, next to the furnace. I never gave a great deal of thought to them, until one day in 2006 when my father was dying of cancer.
Founded in 1912, St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison always had a chapel as part of its facilities. In 1926, a new, ornate chapel was built as part of an expansion of St. Mary’s. The chapel had 10 window frames, each with two beautiful arched stained-glass windows that rose 20 feet from eye level to midway up the wall. In between each were two Stations of the Cross. The windows remained part of the chapel until 1973, when that section of the building was razed to make way for a new hospital wing on Mills Street. My Dad obtained two of the windows, a total of four panels, carrying them home in blankets to rest for more than three decades.
When Dad was being treated for lung cancer at St. Mary’s in the fall of 2006, he got an inspiration to give those windows back to St. Mary’s. He asked for my help in doing some research, but he was so impatient he wheeled himself down to the administrative offices to talk to someone about it. That someone, vice president Barbara K. Miller, was enthralled with the idea, but it was her last day on the job before retiring. She promised to get the ball rolling on the donation. “I want these windows to come home to St. Mary’s,” he told her.
Dad was a little worried that his donation wouldn’t get done. The idea occupied his mind more than anything else in November 2006. He knew his time with us was short. He told the story and his idea to his physician, Dr. Gregory Motl. Dad made Dr. Motl promise that if he didn’t survive the cancer, the donation would be completed. Motl grasped Dad’s hand and said reassuringly, “I will Dave. I will.”
To say the hospital embraced Dad’s idea would be an understatement. His timing was perfect, since St. Mary’s was planning a $182 million expansion that would add a new east wing with operating rooms, a cardiac center, outpatient offices, patient rooms and more. St. Mary’s was looking for ways to tie the new facility to the hospital’s heritage. The architects designed special spaces for each of the four window sections. St. Mary’s had a new internal champion for the windows, Steve Sparks, public relations director.
After months of planning, St. Mary’s was finally ready to take possession of the windows. On March 22, 2007, Sparks and workmen came to Sun Prairie to transport the windows. He snapped some photos of Mom and Dad with a window section. Dad looked pale and drawn, but I know he appreciated the milestone that day represented. “It was humbling for me,” Sparks recounted later. “This gift demonstrated exceptional courage and generosity. It is an experience I won’t forget.”
Tears were shed that afternoon as the windows were lovingly carried outside. It was the first daylight to penetrate the stained glass in more than three decades. For Dad, it was the accomplishment of a mission of giving. His part was finished; now St. Mary’s would take over. Not two weeks later, Dad was admitted to St. Mary’s and then discharged to HospiceCare Inc., where he died on April 14, 2007.
In early December 2007, Mom and I were invited to the dedication day at the new St. Mary’s east wing. We attended a luncheon and heard very kind words about Dad from Dr. Frank Byrne, president of St. Mary’s Hospital. They were similar to what Dr. Byrne wrote right after Dad’s death. “It is clear from Dave’s accomplishments that dedication to community was always a part of his priorities,” Byrne wrote, “and we will all benefit from that dedication for years to come. At this sad time, we hope it will be a reminder that though life may seem short, the contributions made by one individual have a significant impact in building a future for us all.”
When we walked into the atrium and first saw one of the window sections, it was enough to bring tears. There it was, set into the wall and brilliantly backlit in a way that brought out the green, red and amber hues of the glass. It was, as designed by the architects, a welcoming beacon for everyone visiting St. Mary’s. Mom posed next to the window, and even did an impromptu interview with Madison’s Catholic newspaper, The Catholic Herald. The three other window sections were placed on different floors of the east wing. One is in a waiting room. The others are in prominent spots.
The story of these chapel windows gives testimony that beauty can emerge from the depths of the darkest tragedies. Dad kept the windows safe for 35 years, and he got them safely home to St. Mary’s just weeks before he, too, made it home.
This post has been updated with additional window photos.
When David D. Hanneman was elected mayor of the city of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in April 2003, it continued a Hanneman family tradition that stretches back more than 400 years to the county Regenwalde in the Baltic Duchy of Pomerania. Hanneman’s election as mayor on April 1, 2003 capped his nearly 40-year public service career — and put him in good family company.
The Hanneman family from Kellner, Wisconsin — from which David Hanneman descends — traces its roots to Pomerania, a picturesque land of Germanic peoples that dates to the 1300s. His earliest known ancestor, Matthias Hannemann, was from the village of Zeitlitz in the kreis, or county, of Regenwalde. Regenwalde means “woods of the Rega River,” referring to the picturesque waterway that ambles 100 miles through the county and empties into the Baltic Sea. This area has long been known for agriculture, fishing and forests, and it bears strong geomorphic similarities to the state of Wisconsin. The village of Zeitlitz covered about 2,200 acres and had approximately 100 households.
Records trace the Hannemann (the original spelling had two ‘n’s at the end) family back at least to 1582 in Zeitlitz. The Hannemanns made up one of the predominant families in Zeitlitz, based on the number of entries found in the Lutheran church register. Many church records were destroyed in a fire in Stramehl in 1720, but the register from 1582 survived. At that time, there were a number of Hannemann families in Zeitlitz, and they owned some of the larger farms in the village. One of these men, likely the eldest brother, held the title of schulze, or mayor of Zeitlitz. Being the schulze was unlike the elected political position of mayor found in modern-day American communities. It was an inherited job, and the duties centered on making sure work was performed equitably in the village, and that the taxes of grain, goods or money were collected for the estate owner. The term schulze can have various related meanings, including “village headman,” mayor or even constable.
As farmers, the Hannemanns were also involved in providing financial support for the local minister and the church. Each tenant farmer paid his taxes in measurements of grain. The unnamed mayor Hannemann and Peter Hannemann were each responsible for taxes on two Hufen in Zeitlitz in the year 1582. A Hufe was the amount of land needed to sustain a family. There could have been more Hannemann families living on those four Hufen, but the church records only listed the major land tenants who paid taxes.
In the nearby village of Groß Raddow (about 6 miles from Zeitlitz), the Hannemann family had a similar history. A tax list from 1666 includes the names of Tews Hannemann (the schulze, or village mayor), Heinrich Hannemann, Chim Hannemann and Peter Hannemann. For at least several generations, it appears the Hannemann family inherited and passed on the office of mayor in Groß Raddow. In 1717, Hans Hannemann was the mayor, so we believe Hans is a descendant of Tews Hannemann.
The Matthias Hannemann family began emigrating to Wisconsin in 1861. Matthias left his home in 1866 and came to Wisconsin through Quebec. The family settled in and around Kellner, a tiny hamlet that straddles the Wood-Portage county line southeast of Wisconsin Rapids. At one time, the Hannemanns owned and farmed more than 1,000 acres in Wood and Portage counties. David’s great-grandfather, Christian Hanneman (Matthias’ son) was the last of this clan to come to America in November 1882.
Dave Hanneman (1933-2007) was first elected to public office on April 2, 1968 when he became Fourth Ward alderman in Sun Prairie. He served only one term as alderman, but stayed active in city politics, pushing the city to upgrade its sewer system to prevent backups into residential homes. He again ran successfully for alderman in 1988 and stayed on the Sun Prairie City Council until 1996, when he was elected to the Dane County Board of Supervisors. He held that post until being elected Sun Prairie mayor in 2003.
“Dave was involved in the growth of Sun Prairie and believed in progress for the community. He worked and helped champion the Highway 151/County Highway C project, which included working with the state Department of Transportation,” said Bill Clausius, who served on the city council and county board with Hanneman. “Dave was involved with the West Side Plan, which brought the Sun Prairie Community together to envision the future of the West Side. Dave supported and worked to begin the West Side Community Service Building. This facility includes a west side location for police, fire and EMS. His vision was to provide essential services to Sun Prairie residents and to shorten response times in case of an emergency.”
Clausius continued: “In 2003, Sun Prairie won the ‘Champions of Industry’ Award of Excellence as one of the best managed small cities in America. Dave personally raised $32,000 in donations from area businesses to fund production of a video featuring Sun Prairie, and highlighting Sun Prairie’s achievements.”
As any serious genealogist will tell you, a visit to a cemetery can provide a wealth of family history information. But it can be much more than that. Each year as we approach All Souls Day (November 2), the season presents an opportunity to renew and maintain family connections, just by walking through a cemetery.
One of the most touching scenes I’ve encountered was at a small cemetery in Augsburg, Germany. Walking past after dark, I looked through the small gate to see dozens of flickering vigil candles. These were not solar lights but real candles. Someone cared enough to visit there each night and light the votives.
A 20-minute walk through any cemetery will provide you access to family stories. Parents who lived long, full lives. Others who died much too young. Babies, some just one day old. Some who were never born. John and Jane Does, victims of murder. And in many older cemeteries, some of the departed rest with no visible monuments. Their markers were damaged or swallowed up in soft ground or by encroaching woods.
Observe the different monuments. Some are massive obelisks, others plain, square markers. A few are made from unusual materials. Some display incredible artistry. In many German cemeteries you will see monuments with engraved hands pointing to Heaven. Angels, crosses and even anchors are common subject of monument carvings.
Some cemeteries are known more for their infamy, such as Oak Grove Cemetery in Eagle, Wisconsin. We chronicled that story earlier in “A Sad Resting Place for Little Ida.” It is sad to see a cemetery fall into neglect and disrepair. It’s especially angering when a cemetery is targeted by vandals. A few years back, thugs toppled more than 100 monuments at Calvary Cemetery and Old Holy Cross Cemetery in Racine, Wisconsin. My Knights of Columbus council spent several weekends righting the monuments and making extensive repairs. Most of the damage was fixed, but some especially old stones were beyond repair.
Military cemeteries and the graves of soldiers are especially touching. I recall walking row after row of World War I grave markers in Ypres, Belgium, where the famous poemIn Flanders Fields was composed in 1915. All of those young lives cut short by “the war to end all wars.” Such sacrifice. World War I cemeteries dot the landscape in Belgium; some in the middle of farm fields.
While our loved ones are gone, they can teach us still. There are great resources available to help you find where your relatives are buried. My favorite online database is the Find A Grave web site. Take a camera along on your next trip to the cemetery and help your fellow genealogists document history.
I have nothing but good memories of Halloween. Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, October 31 was a date we looked forward to. Whether we got to buy a costume at the dime store or made our own, it was always an exciting night.
One of my most vivid Halloween memories was documented in my book, The Journey Home. I recall Dad tearing out the front door in his sock feet. I wondered what was happening. We figured it out a few minutes later when he dragged two teenagers into the front door and made them apologize for smashing our lit pumpkins. He then turned them over to Sun Prairie police.
We had one sad Halloween when my brother David fell into the neighbors tree well and spilled all of his candy. We all shared to make up for it. Another year, we went across town to “trick or treat” at a few houses of family friends. At one door, I was shocked that the lady who answered called me by name. “How does she know me with this costume on?” I wondered. My brother chimed in, “You forgot to put your mask down.” D’oh!
Perhaps the most fun we had was creating our own costumes. Lighting the end of a cork on fire, then using the charred remains to paint black whiskers on our faces. Stuffing pillows up an oversized shirt helped complete the hobo look.
It wasn’t until toward the end of my trick-or-treating days that the scare over supposed razor blades in candy apples occurred. Hospitals offered to X-ray candy bags to check for pins or razor blades. That made me wonder if the candy would then glow? Ah, as it turned out the whole thing was a fraud that took on the sheen of urban legend.
Once I had my own children, Halloween took on a new dimension. Our firstborn was too shy to go door to door, so we made our main stop at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Eventually, Halloween became a major event. French onion soup or chili simmered in a crock pot while we took the kids around the neighborhood collecting goodies. Then we retreated into the warmth of the house for good food, warm apple cider and pie. The kids also ate candy.
With the more recent controversies claiming Halloween as un-Christian or even satanic, it was refreshing to read this article on About.com regarding the Catholic roots of Halloween.