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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 23 -- Halloween Antics.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 22 -- My Money Box.

In a Scottish neighborhood such as ours, Halloween, the evening before "All Saints Day," was an eventful occasion for the young people. It was a night full of charms and spells and big with prophecy. It was the one night of all others of the year when witches, devils, ghosts, fairies, warlocks, apparitions, enchantments, elf-candles, and mischief-making beings and spirits were supposed to hold high carnival, and through contact with which young people sought to solve their future destinies. This desire for prying into the future is a striking and besetting passion of the whole human family. The pulling of cabbages was one of the most popular activities.

Hand in hand, with eyes bandaged or closed, the testing parties go out in the darkness to the kale, or cabbage patch, and pull up the first ones they encounter. As it is straight or crooked, large or small, so will be the appearance and character of one's future spouse. If dirt adheres to the root, it meant good fortune. If none, it foretold poverty. To the extent that the heart of the kale was sweet or bitter, so would be the disposition of one's future husband or wife. The uprooted plants, or portions of them, would be placed over the front door, and the Christian name of the prospective husband or wife would be determined by the first person who chanced unwittingly to pass under them, following the order in which they were placed.

Another frequent and popular method of gazing into the future was by placing two chestnuts in the fire together, naming one for a lady and one for a gentleman. If they died together it was indicative of a peaceful, happy married life. If one popped from the ashes, it indicated the courtship would be broken off. The popcorn contest was of the same nature. Two grains of corn were similarly named and placed on a shovel held over the fire, the outcome of a future relationship being determined in the same way. Sometimes only one grain -- named after a particular boy or girl -- was placed on the shovel, and the direction it took in popping indicated the future wife or husband.

Sowing hemp was another test. Unobserved, you moved outside and began to plant hemp seeds, and while doing so, you repeated, "Hemp-seed I sow thee, my lover come after and pull thee." By looking over your left shoulder in the dark you will observe the appearance of the one destined to be your future husband or wife, in the attitude of pulling hemp.

Flailing was another means of divining the future. Going to the barn alone, both doors are opened and, flail in hand, you begin wielding the flail, as though in the act of winnowing out wheat. Repeated three times, on the third time the apparition or appearance of your lover will pass through the barn from the windy side, and out at the other door. Similarly, by stealing unnoticed to the bean or oats stack, and measuring it three times round with your arms in the dark, at the last measure you will clasp in your arms the appearance of your future husband or wife.

Another test was by taking three dishes, one empty, one with clean and the other with foul water in it. The person testing is led blindfolded to these, and if he or she dips a finger of the left hand into the clear water the future companion will be a single person; if in the foul water, a widow or widower, and if in the empty dish, there will be no marriage at all. Yet another involved writing your name on a piece of pasteboard and placing it unobserved against the foot of the door; the first person turning it over by entering the room would be your future companion in life.

On one of these Halloween occasions some of our merrymaking friends placed sacrificial proxies of Minerva and me on the fireplace shovel. "Minerva" left him, going in the direction of one of our brightest male associates. This was the result of three different trials, bringing peels of laughter from the company, to my great distress. They then tried the chestnut roasting, in which I was again the roasted party, for "Minerva" again left him. It greatly depressed me for the evening. This was noticed by Minerva, and on the road home she asked me if I was superstitious. "I regard them as the sheerest nonsense in the world, Minerva," I said, "but coupled with my misgivings concerning the result of my deep affection for you, they have filled me with feelings which I cannot shake off."

Minerva grasped my arm and, looking into my eyes with a light laugh, she said, "You are taking life too seriously. You must cheer up. Life has too many sad things in it to begin grieving over them so young. I wish to see you always cheerful. If you continue to grow so, I shall have to refuse you when the time comes. There is no reason for your apprehensions. You cannot point to a single instance in which I have not treated you with most marked consideration. This has been noticed by others. Are you less observant and more stupid than they? Now, I want you to make me a promise you will throw this off and be more cheerful in the future. Will you?" I promised her, and after a long and confiding talk I took my way home. On the way I heard the hilarious noise and confusion of a Halloween party in the distance, and I thought of my promise.

After such charms and sports as these had ended at some house where a company had gathered to spend Halloween, and the young men had escorted the young ladies home, many of the boys would meet at some designated spot to play tricks upon the neighbors. There were few overlooked in these wild escapades, the boys most usually helping perform pranks at their own father's farms in order to prevent suspicion. One of these, however, ended in a bitter and closely contested fistfight in which the parties guilty of causing it were never discovered.

Our eldest brother Robert, our cousin Robert Crowner, Westley or Reuben Ashton (I forgotten which), Ezekiel Weeks, and some others, all of whom were recognized as polite and exemplary young men, decided to try their hands at "halloweening." After turning our own farm topsy-turvy, they went to the residence of Ezekiel Weeks, young Ezekiel's namesake cousin, and, among other things, by means of a ladder, dropped large heads of cabbage down the big open chimney into the wood fire, knocking the hot coals out into the room and nearly setting fire to the house.

From there they passed on to other places. At the stable of Joseph McKim they placed upon the side of his lean and half-starved horses a label reading "Corn for Sale." They lifted a yearling calf into the hay loft and fastened it there, and placed the stable door on top of a haystack. They then threw cabbage and turnips against the door, and took the front gate and carried it to a neighbor's farm, Mr. Bailey, placing it on the roof of his one-story dwelling. Amid the noise, old man Bailey was awakened, and came to the door to give them a lecture. Of course he could not see who they were. In order to drown his voice one of them blew a horn.

At this point they heard someone on the side of the hill in the direction of the tavern, say, "Boys, drop everything and run. A lot of Halloweeners are down there at the house, and we'll catch them." It proved to be David Bailey, John Coss, and Adam Clark, brother-in-law of David Bailey, who were returning home after a night of it at the tavern. They were powerful and bad men in a fight, and were of the rougher element in the neighborhood. The Halloweeners, hearing them coming, ran a short distance from the house and hid in the bushes. When David Bailey and his companions were informed by his father the direction the disturbers had taken, they immediately concluded it was the Henderson boys, some half mile further up Buckeye Run, and as they were traditional enemies, they determined to follow them up and punish them.

Going to the Henderson house, they found no one there but old Mrs. Henderson. They concluded their prey had gone to the tavern, and that they would follow them there, so after destroying the Henderson's pumpkin and watermelon patch, they started up the hill to the tavern. Two of the Henderson boys, utterly unaware of what had transpired, were coming home from Bridgeport, and they met half way up the hill. Then and there took place a royal battle. The Henderson boys ultimately whipped the other three badly, for they were the best fighters in the neighborhood. It proved to be an instructive lesson to the Halloweeners.

Old Ezekiel Weeks, whom they had Halloweened, and who liked a joke, seemed to have discovered who they were and kept them in great fear for years, threatening to tell the other neighbors, and so have them get a "licking," as he termed it, from both sides.

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 24 -- Making Maple Sugar.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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