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WHO’S THE APRIL FOOL?

Whatever else is in your family history, you can count on this: Your great -great (-great?) -grandpa probably was a wild little terrorist.

Several articles have appeared here earlier describing the bedlam of Hallowe’en in the years around 1900-1910, as boys prowled the streets in search of opportunities to inflict damage. Most common was removing front yard gates (sawing them off, if necessary) and hiding them some distance away. Other popular vandalisms included throwing paint on buildings, trampling gardens and dismantling a wagon or buggy. One year the Santa Rosa Republican suggested “parental floggings” and Petaluma had “special officers in plain clothes and bicycle police” on patrol. Still, it was worse in other places and some newspapers took to printing tallies of Hallowe’en deaths, which were usually caused by pranksters being shot as prowlers.

Hallowe’en tricks like gate stealing began appearing in the papers in the mid 1890s, but before that Hallowe’en hooliganism was rare; Oct. 31 was all about parties, costumed or not, and there was often dancing as most of these soirées were for young adults. Kids apparently kept to themselves after dark, whispering frightful stories about haunted places and divining their futures with Hallowe’en charms. (“…if you swallow a thimbleful of salt repeat a verse of poetry and go backward into bed, you will see your fate.” – Petaluma Courier, Oct. 29, 1884.)

But these kids in late Victorian America weren’t any better behaved than the ones who followed – they were probably worse. The only difference was that they conducted their mayhem on April Fool’s Day instead.

San Francisco Call, April 2, 1900

 

 

The worst was probably on April 1 in 1897, when about twenty boys ransacked Santa Rosa High School, trashing furniture and lab equipment. They were caught only because they were stupid enough to ring the school bell, drawing the attention of police.

The Petaluma Argus wrote in 1884 that “a mob of young hoodlums” with boys as young as eight were roaming the streets, ripping off front gates, trampling flowers and terrifying residents with tic-tac noisemakers (a homemade gizmo described in depth in one of the earlier Hallowe’en items). The town was being held under siege by its own children: “…A house cannot be left vacant for a short time without having number of windows broken out by boys, and during the fruit season trees are broken and fruit destroyed through pure deviltry.”

In the same issue Carrie Carlton, the Sonoma Democrat’s correspondent in Petaluma, wrote that April 2 was “the day that the Petaluma small boy feels the bad effects of late hours, having sat up until midnight or thereabouts trying to accomplish the big job of unhinging all the gates in town and piling them up promiscuously where least likely to be found; the day that lone women may be seen walking forlornly through the streets looking for that which is lost and cannot be found…”

Most of the April Fool jokes popular back then are still familiar. The victim is tricked into eating soap/something else that tastes foul (or inhaling something that causes a sneeze). A prank letter lures victims into an embarrassing comedy of errors. Coins are glued to sidewalks, or a dollar bill is tied to a string. A load of manure is ordered to be delivered to the victim’s home. A pat on the back means the victim now wears a sign reading, “kick me” (or worse). There is a frightening surprise – an exploding cigar, a mouse in the sugar bowl.

Some of the old tricks are long out of fashion. A passerby is asked to help by picking up a package, unaware that the box is attached to a fire hydrant or other immoveable object. As it was apparently the habit back then to kick hats lying on the sidewalk, jokesters put bricks underneath. And in the horse and buggy days it was considered funny to con a victim into running a time-wasting errand. The latter probably faded in popularity after it was widely reported in 1886 that a guy named Tom Rogers sent a message to the doctor in Kaufman, Texas concerning a woman gravely ill three miles out in the country. The doctor made the trip and discovered he hadn’t been called. Boiling with rage over the stupid prank, he returned to town and viciously stabbed Rogers to death.

April Fool’s Day wasn’t limited to kids, although the age cutoff for gate theft and noisemaking seemed to be about 18. Most famous among the local grownup pranksters was “Doc” Cozad, who once phoned lots of men and told them to don their best suit and rush to the Press Democrat office because the paper wanted photos of prominent citizens. (For April Fool’s Day in 1907 the tables were turned when some of Santa Rosa’s movers-and-shakers surprised him with a perfectly choreographed prank).

What’s surprising is how often adults seemed to attempt actual crimes only to claim, “April Fool!” when caught, like the fellow in Philadelphia who was interrupted during an armed robbery and claimed he was just kidding. On April 1, 1876, a man went to the Santa Rosa Bank to deposit a roll of $20 silver coins in a wrapper from the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa. When the roll was weighed it was found to be slightly lighter than expected, so it was unwrapped and revealed to be simply an iron bar. “Serious results might have followed this very trick,” commented the Sonoma Democrat. In 1910 two autos in Santa Rosa were stolen and driven away for joy rides. Although the cars weren’t returned until one of them got stuck on a country road and had to be towed back to town, “a visit to the police station was threatened, but nothing came of it,” according to the Press Democrat. Try any of those stunts today and see if the “hey, it was just April Fool!” excuse still works.

Hallowe’en and April Fool’s Day switched places as the most riotous children’s holidays near the turn of the century, and April 1 mostly settled down to being more of an excuse for a party or dance – although I’ll bet guests sometimes eyed the refreshments suspiciously, wondering if the eclairs might actually be filled with soap. Aside from ads for such get-togethers, the newspapers most often declared the day passed without incident except for “usual” April Fool pranks.

Likely the last truly original trick happened in 1932 when an Argus-Courier staff writer received an important call. He dutifully took notes and at the appointed time, used a handkerchief to cover his desk telephone and sat back, patiently waiting for the phone company to blow all the dust out of the line.

San Francisco Call, April 2, 1901

 

April Fool. —Everybody was on the look-out on Saturday last, April fool’s day, to victimize any person or persons that came within their jurisdiction. Several very good jokes were perpetrated, the best one of which was the sending of a number of parties to the stable of James P. Clark to see a certain blooded animal which bad been lately imported here. Jim showed the “thoroughbred” to all who applied, and the joke was fully appreciated.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 8 1871
 An April Fool Joke.

All Fools’ Day came as usual and was numbered in the past. Many pranks were played on unsuspecting individuals and which were innocent in their character, but one person whose name has not yet been called to mind, thought to take advantage of an innocent custom and turn an honest penny at the time of creating merriment by the joke. So the said unknown individual procured a bar of iron of the dimensions of a twenty-dollar silver roll and wrapped the same carefully and neatly up in a paper having the card of the Savings Bank of Santa Rosa upon it, and passed it in to the cashier of that institution, who in turn passed it to Mr. Prindle and he to Mr. Gray, and he to Mr. Hopper. Mr. Hopper took it to the Santa Rosa Bank to deposit it when it was placed upon the scales and found to be some two or three dollars light. Then Mr. Hopper unrolled the paper and the bar of iron was exposed to open day, and Hopper was hopping mad. Mr. Gray returned it to the Savings Bank, and there the joke ended. This is carrying a joke rather beyond the limits, and serious results might have followed this very trick.

– Sonoma Democrat, April 8 1876

About one o’clock Sunday morning the fire bell commenced ringing, causing the few people who were awake at that hour to hurry out in the streets in order to ascertain where the fire was. The bell had only rung a few times, however, when it suddenly ceased, and a conviction slowly dawned upon the minds of the alarmed ones that they had been sold. “April fool!”

– Sonoma Democrat, April 7 1883
Carrie Carlton’s Letter. Petaluma, April 1st.

The day that the Petaluma small boy feels the bad effects of late hours, having sat up until midnight or thereabouts trying to accomplish the big job of unhinging all the gates in town and piling them up promiscuously where least likely to be found; the day that lone women may be seen walking forlornly through the streets looking for that which is lost and cannot be found; the day that the principal of our public schools generally gets the biggest dose of April Fool! And just here we are reminded by the presentation of another of those ominous little notes that have been fluttering down upon us all the morning, that it is the day in which you are immensely fooled as to the amount of money you owe people…

– Sonoma Democrat, April 5 1884
Malicious Mischief.

It has been the habit for several years past, in this city, on the eve of April 1st for a mob of young hoodlums to parade through the principal residence streets and commit misdemeanors that should not be allowed to go unpunished. On Monday evening last a large number of boys, ranging from eight years up to eighteen, were out until a late hour taking gates from their hinges and carrying them several blocks from where they belonged. They also rang door bells, played tic-tac and similar tricks. There is nothing funny or smart in any of these April fool jokes and this sort of nonsense has been allowed to go unpunished so long that the boys pay no regard to personal rights or property of others. No one objects to boys having all the fun they want so long as they confine themselves to harmless sports, but when a band of young hoodlums go around unhinging gates, tramping through flower gardens and indulging in like malicious mischief it is time that they be stopped. There is certainly a law against this sort of mischief and it should be enforced. It would be a very salutary lesson if a few of the boys engaged in this business were arrested and fined. If parents will allow their children to run around at night and indulge in all sorts of mischief unrebuked, it would be fitting for the City Marshal to attend to that branch of precocious youths’ educations. A house cannot be left vacant for a short time without having number of windows broken out by boys, and during the fruit season trees are broken and fruit destroyed through pure deviltry. It is a poor protection to persons trying to beautify their premises to allow every small boy in town to steal gates and carry them away and tramp among the flowers like a wild animal. There was once an ordinance in this city compelling boys under eighteen years of age to keep off of the street after eight o’clock, evening, but it must have been repealed as the boys are out in full force every night long after that hour.

– Petaluma Weekly Argus, April 5, 1884

“April fool’s” day was an inglorious one for many. It was from morning till night that people could be seen doing decoy errands or carrying attractive placards on their backs. These idiotic jokes might have provoked a little fun in the days of the royal jester, but in this age of civilization it is amazing how many unhung sots there are who made themselves conspicuous figures on the first of the month by their silly, chestnutty and daft perpetrations.

– Healdsburg Tribune, April 4 1895
SOME WERE WISE OTHERS FOOLISH
SOME APRIL FOOL JOKES HAVE BEEN PERPETRATED ON THE UNWARY
Many Citizens Saw to it That Their Front Gates Were Moved to a Place of Safety

On Thursday evening many citizens mindful of the coming of the April fool joker removed the front gates leading into their yards to a place of safety until the time when the old time declaration, “April Fool’s Day is past,” etc., should arrive and the danger of molestation should have passed. Others forgot the advent of the joker and in consequence they may find their gate in somebody elses back yard.

Early Thursday evening some jokers must have been at work in the vicinity of the High School building, judging from the appearance of a buggy on the porch over the basement entrance to the building. No one seemed to know how it got there.

A well known citizen on Humboldt street chancing to go into his yard for a moonlight stroll discovered that had unawares become a florist. On the front lawn a sign had been reared bearing the legend, “Pansies for Sale.”

At Fifth and Humboldt streets some one found a chair suspended from a pole.

On Humboldt one of the street cars left outside the barn was propelled by hand power at a quicker clip down the track that the equine strength usually forming the motive power could have done.

A great many people and the officers on the outside beats kept on the lookout for the enacting of jokes which partook of too serious an aspect. It is reasonable to suggest that after the first few moments after the discovery of a missing gate or what not, the discomfiture of feelings will give way to the realization that “boys will be boys.”

– Press Democrat, April 1 1904

The usual trick April fool packages decorated the sidewalks in the business streets on Thursday and quite a number of local people “bit.” The brick in the hat was also very much in evidence.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, April 1, 1909

A well known local man ate some soap on Monday under the impression it was candy. Another man tried in vain to talk through the telephone which had been doctored up so that he could not get central. Numerous other pranks were played.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, April 1, 1909
APRIL FOOL JOKE TURNS ON JOKER

Some time last night two automobiles were found to be missing by their respective owners. A hunt was made for the machines. It transpired that after all the supposed theft was an April fool joke. Two jubilant youths took the cars for the joke of the thing, invited friends to accompany them and drive out into the country. The joke was turned on one of them, at least. His machine “got stuck” out on the Sonoma road, and a telephone message had to be sent to town for some one to come out and haul the car in. At first a visit to the police station was threatened, but nothing came of it.

– Press Democrat, April 2 1910
POLICE HAVE ORDERS TO ARREST DISTURBERS

Chief of Police Boyes has issued orders to his officers to see that the law is strictly obeyed in regards to the interference of private property particularly on April Fool’s eve. The practice of past years in removing gates, etc., will not be tolerated and the police department wish the public to take heed to this warning as it will he strictly enforced. A great many complaints have been received regarding this practice and the officers are going to put a stop to it.

– Press Democrat, March 30 1917

 

 

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curfewbell

FAREWELL, LITTLE HOODLUMS

Hey, what’s missing from the Santa Rosa newspapers? After 1911, readers no longer saw a steady stream of articles reporting children involved in armed robbery, arson, burglary,  buggy hijacking, and that old favorite, chicken snatching. I loved writing up those stories, relishing the thought of a great-great grandchild of some distinguished judge or senator stumbling across the news of his arrest for leading a gang of ten year-old chicken thieves.

This is a followup to a piece from a while back, “THE VANISHING HOOLIGAN” which described a drop off of kiddie krime stories during 1912. I presumed it was a fluke and the boys would be soon back to no good, such as shooting at men’s hats with air guns and rolling drunks for their pocket change. But their shockingly good behavior extended through 1913 – and a scan of papers in the years immediately following suggests it endured.

What went right? The Hooligan article weighs several possible reasons. There may have been less crime to report – or maybe there was just less crime being reported.

One change was the creation of the Juvenile Court (also discussed in Hooligan) which aimed to punish kids with probation rather than jail. The papers rarely mentioned the names of the wrongdoers or their crimes; one of the papers in 1916 summarized a court docket of “thieving, waywardness of other descriptions, intemperance and the like.” Even the number of cases heard was unclear – it appears there were about twenty in 1913, which is on par with the incidents reported in the bad ol’ days. The difference was that the papers were no longer calling out kids as young as ten as incorrigibles or damning an eight year-old as a “hardened little criminal.”

The most serious misdeed of 1913 was 16 year-old William Marsh trying to derail a passenger train by piling railroad ties and rocks on the tracks. A workcrew spotted and removed the obstructions so no harm was done and the boy was identified and arrested later that day, but not before there were “a number of sensational rumors about town” about the attempt to cause a crash. Still, Marsh got off with probation; in 1908, before the Juvenile Court was formed, an 11 year-old was carted off to reform school for trying the same stunt.

But if there’s a children’s theme to be found for those years it’s this: Adults increasingly refused to cut them any slack. A farmer near Guerneville “peppered” three boys with his shotgun while they were raiding his orchard, hitting one of the boys in the face (the farmer was fined $40). Another trio was caught stealing from a watermelon patch south of Santa Rosa. The owner must have roughed up the kids because the grandfather of one of the boys came over and beat him soundly, breaking his jaw in two places (gramps was sued for $10,500, paying only $682).

Even Hallowe’en, earlier tolerated even though it was all trick and no treat, faced a crackdown. The Santa Rosa Republican called for an end of “this old license for mischief” and suggested “parental floggings” were in order. Petaluma went further and declared “no noise will be tolerated” and there would be “special officers in plain clothes and bicycle police” on patrol that night. Oh, to have a “Petaluma Hallowe’en Special Officer” badge.

The greatest change, however, was strict enforcement of a 9PM curfew for anyone under 18 years of age found outdoors. Santa Rosa was fairly liberal in allowing kids out that late – Napa and some other cities had 8 o’clock ordinances – but the police here brooked no tolerance for violation. Where other youths caught afoot were ordered to go home, Santa Rosa police threw them in jail for the night.

(When the curfew was discussed back in 1908, a Santa Rosa City Council meeting dissolved into pandemonium over who would have the great honor of ringing the curfew bell, thanks to gooey memories of a sentimental Victorian-era poem they all had to apparently memorize in school. It’s always disheartening to find your elected officials acting like weepy drunks, as I wrote at the time.)

A final incident from 1913 was more cute than criminal. A fire alarm sounded and in those days the volunteer firemen were alerted to the location of the blaze by a sort-of morse code blasted out by the big whistle at the fire department. Unfortunately this happened just as the schools were getting out and you can bet every kid in town knew the codes by heart. They swarmed to the site to watch the firemen in action, so many they “literally blocked College avenue,” according to the Press Democrat. Unfortunately, that meant the hose wagon could not get through and had to go around the block.

The fire was not serious but the PD was apoplectic; parents would be responsible if the building had burned down because they did not teach their young’uns to keep out of the street. Like the “parental floggings” remark in the other paper, it was unnecessary moralizing, but probably caused a few breakfast table confrontations the next morning:

“Earl, were you out there on College avenue blocking the firemen?”

“Oh, no, maw, I’m a good boy,” he replied, tucking his legs under the table with his shoes and stockings still curiously damp despite the dry weather.

 

Cartoon from the Santa Rosa Republican, Aug. 30, 1913

 

CHIEF HUSLER GIVES WARNING

Tonight will be Hallowe’en and Chief of Police Edward A. Husler gives warning that Hallowe’en “pranks” which have heretofore been permitted almost unchecked, will not be tolerated in this city this year. The curfew hours will be enforced as usual and no youngsters below the local age will be allowed out after the curfew hour.

Special officers in plain clothes and bicycle police will patrol the residence section of the city. No noise will be tolerated as there as yet many sufferers from the recent accident who must not be disturbed, while no defacing of public or private property, stealing of gates or removal of portable property or use of paint will be allowed. Last year the usual privileges were abused so that this year they will be taken away entirely. Nobody will be excused and all violators of the ordinances or laws will be rigidly enforced. This means everybody.

– Petaluma Argus-Courier, October 31, 1912
MUST GO HOME WHEN THE LIGHTS BLINK

Napa — Henceforth the fire bell will not toll the curfew warning to the younger generation of the city. Instead the street lights of the city will blink the warning. The City Council last night perfected an agreement with the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and with the Great Western Power Company, both operating here, whereby they will “blink” the lights controlled by each at 8 o’clock as a curfew warning. It was decided that the tones of the fire bell could not be heard clearly enough over the city.
– Press Democrat, January 9 1913

RUNAWAY BOYS STOLE TWO BICYCLES

Officer Miller arrested two runaway boys Friday morning who were later turned over to the Petaluma officers. The lads gave the names of Albert De Gregorio of Richmond, and Raphael Custodlo of San Francisco.

Officer Findley found the boys on Thursday night roaming the streets, and he took them to the city jail where they were given a night’s lodging. They told a straight story, apparently, and nothing was suspected. They were released on Friday morning, and were walking away when Officer Miller noticed that one of the boys had a streak of mud spattered on his back as if he had been riding a wheel. He called the boys back and after questioning them learned that they had stolen two wheels in Petaluma.

Chief Hustler of that city was notified and he came to Santa Rosa and took the boys back. The wheels were found near the railroad crossing at Third street.

– Press Democrat, January 18 1913
PETALUMA BOYS ADMIT THEFTS
A Wagon Load of Loot Valued at $300 Recovered Which Had Been Stolen From Many Homes

The police of Petaluma arrested two boys, Andrew Anderson and Henry Ceresa. aged seventeen and fifteen years respectively, Saturday, and have put a stop to the numerous petty thefts which have been troubling the officers of the Egg City for some time past. Loot to the value of about $300 was recovered after the boys had broken down and made a full confession.

The lads are the sons of workingmen of Petaluma, and their families have always borne the best of reputations. A long list of Petaluma houses were Included in the places which the boys confessed to have robbed. The loot recovered filled a good sized wagon. The officers searched the homes of the boys while neither the lads nor the families were aware of the move.

– Press Democrat, January 19 1913

 

EXPENSIVE CURIOSITY SHOULD BE CURBED

When the fire alarm was sounded on Thursday afternoon a crowd of little children just from school rushed to the scene and literally blocked College avenue. James F. Birch, driving the hose wagon, had to go entirely around the block, thus losing valuable time, or endanger the lives of the little ones who could not get out of the way if they had been ordered to move on. Parents are directly interested in teaching their children to keep out of the streets and on the sidewalks, because such a delay might cause them personal loss any day. A delay of three or four minutes at the early stages of a fire after converts a small blaze into a conflagration. The drivers of fire apparatus have other things to look out for besides irresponsible children and even grown folks who have no excuse but their curiosity for hampering and delaying the work of the department.

If an accident occurred the blame would of course be applied to the firemen whereas the parents are the ones at fault. Grown people who get in the way of apparatuses and firemen in the discharge of their duties must stand consequences and have no redress if they are maimed or hurt.

– Santa Rosa Republican,  May 23, 1913
MISCHIEF DONE AT CLUB HOUSE
Boys Guilty of Misconduct on the Tennis Courts Here— Watch Appointed

Complaint is made of vandalism perpetrated by mischievous boys and youths in the club house at the tennis courts. It seems hard to believe that they should so far forget themselves as to commit the depredations charged. Not only have they broken all the windows in the club house but they have damaged the contents and have scattered things in every direction and have been guilty of other disgusting conduct committed after the place had been cleaned up for the opening of the tennis season next Friday.

The officers and members of the club are determined to put a stop to the conduct complained of, even if it comes to the exposure and arrest of the guilty ones. The acts complained of have been going on for some time and must be stopped. It will go hard with the boys it they are caught, and a watch will be set in the endeavor to bring this about. The club is already in the possession of information that may get someone into trouble.

– Press Democrat,  May 28 1913

 

SIXTEEN YEAR-OLD BOY IS JAILED AS TRAIN WRECKER
Ejected From Train He Attempts to Retaliate Places Ties and Rocks on the Track Near Healdsburg on Saturday Morning, But Plan Is Foiled by Section Men

Beset with a spirit of revenge and retaliation because he had been put off a train at Grants station, near Healdsburg, Saturday morning, and thus being compelled to walk twelve miles to Santa Rosa. William Marsh, a youth who recently came to this city from Ogden with his relatives, placed ties and boulders across the rails In two dangerous cuts on the railroad near Grants or “Toolhouse Crossing” and the Sotoyome district schoolhouse. The obstructions were put In as likely places as possible to cause a wreck, but the chances are the youth selected them because ho could carry out his little plan without being seen at work.

Fortunately, about three-quarters of an hour before the Ukiah express, which leaves Santa Rosa at 10:07, was due to pass, section men came along and removed the obstructions and thus prevented what might have been a most dangerous wreck attended with loss of life.

A good description was given of a youth who had been seen walking along the track In the vicinity of the attempted wreck, and word was sent to the sheriffs office here, and Deputy Sheriff C. A. Reynolds of this city and Deputy Sheriff Ben H. Barnes of Healdsburg were detailed on the case to watch both ends of the line. Saturday afternoon, Deputy Sheriff Reynolds, after his return to town, arrested Marsh in this city.

From Deputy Sheriff Reynolds It was learned that the statement given above regarding retaliation for being put off the train, as the motive for his act, was made when he arrested Marsh. Marsh bought a return ticket for Healdsburg to attend the carnival there on the Fourth. He did not come back on Friday night and was on his way home Saturday morning with the return half of the ticket as his passport, when, he says, he was put off at Grants and told the ticket was no good. Marsh told the officer he was sixteen years old and that he had no idea of the seriousness that might follow his act.

There were a number of sensational rumors about town Saturday morning and afternoon regarding the attempted wreck.

– Press Democrat, July 6 1913
Arrests Follow Attack

R. H. Shafer was arrested Sunday and put up $25 cash bail to answer a charge of battery growing out of the defense of his grandson, Frei Shafer, and two other boys, Harold Carlson and “John Doe” Johnson, whom it is alleged, robbed the watermelon patch of R. L. Lowrey. The boys were also arrested, charged with petit larceny in stealing melons from Lowrey.

Lowrey is at the Santa Rosa hospital. where he is suffering from a broken jaw and a badly cut and bruised face as the result of R. H. Shafer’s attack on him Sunday. The case will be heard in the Justice court as soon as Lowrey is able to appear in court.

– Press Democrat, September 3 1913

 

CURFEW BELL IS HEARD AT 9
All Boys and Girls Under 18 Years Are Under Provisions of New Ordinance in Effect

The new curfew ordinance went into effect Monday and the big bell rang at 9 o’clock instead of 8:30 as in past years. The change was noticed by many on the street as the bell ringing at 9 was something out of the ordinary. All boys and girls under 18 years of age are affected by the new ordinance and the police have been directed to strictly enforce its terms. Only those accompanied by parent or guardian escort who are responsible for them are entitled to be on the street after 9 o’clock.

– Press Democrat, October 14 1913

 

FIRST ARRESTS MADE UNDER THE ‘CURFEW’ ORDINANCE

The first arrest under the new “curfew” ordinance, which provides that boys and girls under eighteen years of age, unless accompanied by parent or guardian or proper escort, must leave the streets for home when the big bell of the fire department taps at nine o’clock, was made last night by Officer Raegan. He landed two boys In the new city jail and locked them up for the night. They occupied one of the new cells, equipped with new beds, there to remain until 8 o’clock this morning.

The youngsters had been cautioned on previous occasions by the officer against hanging around town after the curfew had sounded, and parental warning also apparently had no effect. Tears and protestations did not avail when the officer nabbed them and in a short time they realized that they were really in the lockup as a result of their disobedience.

Parents can assist the officers in the enforcement of the new ordinance, for it is going to be enforced. Under the provision* of the ordinance the youngsters picked up by the police must remain in the lockup until the next morning. A number of fathers and mothers have expressed themselves as being pleased with the adoption of the ordinance and have expressed a willingness that their boys or girls who are found down town or abroad in the streets anywhere without proper escort, such as parent or properly deputized guardian, after 9 o’clock, shall be taken in charge. The ordinance is for the benefit of the youngsters and similar provisions are now being enforced in other cities and towns. Both boys arrested last night were several years under the age of eighteen In the enforcement of the new law, it can also be stated, it will be no respecter of persons and applies to all alike.

Mention of the detention of these boys last night is made mainly for the purpose of calling attention to the fact that it is the purpose to enforce the ordinance.

– Press Democrat, November 15 1913

 

ANNOYING SMALL-BOY PRANKS IN THE DARK

Thursday night, during the darkness of the two “dead” lighting systems, several squads of boys, in the spirit of those small deviltries prevalent at the all Hallowe’en period, worked their silly but annoying pranks. Loose planks and other obstructions were piled on porches of residences and the iron covers of water meter boxes were removed and placed where they could mostly disturb the residenters [sic]. Handfuls of mud in some places were thrown against front windows. It is deplorable that the curfew ordinance cannot suppress this form of nuisance, and that some of the prankish brats cannot be caught and punished. A lady returning from the reception in the darkness stumbled over one of those obstructions and was thrown down, soiling her clothing and causing her no little annoyance. This childish work under the overdone practice of all Hallowe’en jokes may be an inspiration for callow cartoonists and a theme for student humorists, but it is a nuisance to the victims. This old license for mischief should be recalled and a few parental floggings–an almost lost practice and art in this country–should be applied where they will do the most good.

-Santa Rosa Republican,  October 31, 1913

 

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NO TREAT, BUT DEFINITELY TRICK AND POSSIBLY MAYHEM

Happy Halloween, 1910! It’s that night when young pranksters are afoot and angry men blast away at them with shotguns.

The last time we looked at Halloween trends was for the year 1907, when there were at least seven fatalities nationwide. Only two died in 1910 but that may have been just dumb luck – there were three accounts of men firing shotguns into groups of boys involved in mischief. One young man was hit in the neck (it wasn’t reported whether or not he later survived) and another had forty buckshot pellets removed from his body. It’s likely there were other incidents like those; non-fatal shootings were local news only, and those three cases were found in the small sample of newspapers currently available through the Internet.

The papers show the country was in a far better mood than that earlier Halloween, which is no surprise considering the 1907 Bank Panic happened just a couple of weeks before the holiday, and many were fearing it was the start of a great depression (Press Democrat headline one week before 1907 Halloween: “FINANCIAL SITUATION IS PANICKY ALL OVER COUNTRY”). But in 1910 jolly Halloween parties were reported everywhere, and many schools and churches threw parties for kids, a transparent ploy to corral the little hooligans.

Pranks were mostly the same as from earlier years. (The whole notion of “trick or treat” as barter against vandalism apparently did not evolve until around 1927.) It was still popular to steal front gates from homes and hoist them high into trees; wagons and buggies were taken apart and reassembled atop a roof.  There were regional variations, too. In the Midwest it was apparently common to dump a load of feed corn on someone’s porch, creating a cleanup mess (think of it as the old-time version of TP’ing trees). The police in Indianapolis were on the alert for vandals throwing putty at passing automobiles. And in Provo, Utah, which became “dry” at the beginning of 1910, prohibitionist pranksters painted the word “blind” and a cartoon of a pig outside the speakeasies (here’s the meaning of “blind pig” for those unfamiliar).

Some pranks also involved a “tick-tack,” about which some deeper research was required. Completely forgotten today, this little noisemaker was incredibly popular at the turn of the century and easy for even a small child to make. Take an empty thread spool and notch teeth on the top and bottom to make the ends into something like a gear. Stick the spool on a pencil and wind string around the core. Pull the string and quickly press it against the outside of a window. Anyone inside the house would be startled by the very loud rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat sound that results. There were more complex versions including a couple of patented gizmos – the image shown at right is from a patent that included suction cups to attach to the window and a metal spring. You can find directions for a rubber band cranked tick-tack in the 1914 book, “The American Boy’s Workshop,” which also includes directions in how to trap a skunk, build a raft (“surely you can find four good stout logs and cleat them with pieces of scantling firmly spiked on”) and several ways to put your eye out. But a tick-tack was not intended to be your everyday ratchet noisemaker; it was meant to terrorize people in the comfort of their home. And so one of the 1910 deaths came to be a sickly two year-old boy in Denver, who had a seizure and died after he was startled by the racket of a tick-tack on his bedroom window.

Here are some other pranks reported in the 1910 newspapers:

* Pranksters remove a guardrail surrounding a excavation pit in Chicago and an unidentified man falls to his death. Also in the grim category is the burning of a freight car in the Rock Island railroad yard, the vandal probably unaware that nearby cars were loaded with timber, coal, and other fuels that might have caused a conflagration

* A Salt Lake City motorcycle cop spots a group of boys dragging away a gate with a rope. As he drives up to them, the boys use the rope to lasso the policeman. The boys spend the night in jail

* A young man in Indiana decides it would be funny for his friends to tell his father he had been kidnapped and would be killed if a ransom wasn’t paid. The group of boys – presumably masked – wake up the surprised dad, who promptly jumps from his second-story bedroom window in his nightgown

The most interesting pranks, however, are the ones that remind us how different things were a century ago.

In the town of Jackson (Amador County) school was cancelled because someone stole the clapper in the school bell, and as everybody knows, school can’t be held unless the school bell rings.

Another school cancelled classes because wiseguys broke into the school, led a cow to the second floor and left it there. This was a two-fer; not only was school called off because of the janitorial mess, but it’s also impossible to lead a cow down a set of stairs – how they got it out of the building is anyone’s guess.

And then there was the teacher in Duncan’s Mill who found her buggy on the top of the barn the morning after Halloween. She demanded her students have it ready for use by the next day and come the following dawn, she awoke to find her buggy still on the barn but now with a goat hitched into position. Anythin’ else we kin do for yer, Ma’am?

 PRACTICAL JOKES AT DUNCAN MILLS
 Teachers’ Buggy Placed on Top of Barn Hallowe’en and Tuesday Night a Goat Was Hitched in Shafts

 Some of the practical jokers at Duncan’s Mills had some amusement Hallowe’en and since at the expense of Miss Ethel Piezzie of this city, who is teaching in Ocean district, and living at Duncan’s Mills.

During Hallowe’en night the buggy in which Miss Piezzie drives to and from he school daily was taken up on top of the barn, and her horse taken out of its stall and an old plug put in its place. When it came time to go to schools, Miss Piezzie was compelled to hire a buggy.

Dire threats were made by the teacher as to the results to the jokers unless her buggy was ready for use on Wednesday morning. When Wednesday morning came there was the buggy still on the barn, but hitched in the shafts was a goat which had been secured during the night and taken aloft for the purpose. The affair has created much amusement to all but the unfortunate teacher.

 – Press Democrat, November 3, 1910

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