Better Homes & Gardens USA – October 2019
English | 145 pages | pdf | 167.42 MB
I’ve lived in Des Moines for four years now as editor in chief of this magazine, and though there are many special things about my new community, one of my favorites is the charmingly idiosyncratic way Iowa’s capital city celebrates Halloween. We don’t.
In the late 1930s Kathryn Krieg, recreation director for the city’s playgrounds, came up with a novel idea to discourage the recent outbreak of petty vandalism. By replacing Halloween with a holiday that occurs one day earlier (on October 30), Krieg hoped to decrease the destructive behavior that had grown up around the holiday by substituting something more manageable— bad jokes. By the ’40s, the holiday known as Beggar’s Night had become widespread, with school leaders and the local media helping to establish the tradition. For years The Des Moines Register ran bulletins from Krieg every October outlining the rules. From a 1948 article: “The kids will tell a joke, sing a song, recite, dance or ask a riddle. In return, they’ll want a stab at the cookie jar, ice cream tray or candy box.”
I like to go see the show at the home of our executive editor, Oma Ford, who lives on a quiet side street renowned for its Beggar’s Night. Hundreds of kids from all over town walk the block. Some are shy, too shy to deliver a joke or riddle as they try to hide behind their parents’ legs while wearing a blow-up dragon costume. Others boldly march up the front steps as the latest superhero, performing their jokes with a flourish. “Why did the skeleton NOT cross the road? Because he didn’t have the guts” is the most common go-to. Or “Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the P is silent.”
The notion that the kids have to earn their treats—after getting into some elaborate costumes, no less—does put a little pressure on a few of the younger kids, and sometimes there are tears. But even so, learning a bunch of 8-year-olds’ corny punch lines and witnessing a vintage slice of Americana that welcomes families from all walks of life are the only treats I need this Halloween. – STEPHEN ORR, Editor in Chief