Historic Hauntings At NU

Matt Spector

By Matt SpectorThe Daily Northwestern

For Northwestern alumnus Kevin Leonard and his fellow students, the mischief and mayhem of Halloween began spontaneously.

“We were looking for some excuse to break the routine,” said Leonard, Weinberg ’77, “to get out of our rooms and do kooky things.”

While Leonard kept to campus, he said NU’s more intrepid revelers would venture out into the residential areas adjacent to the campus, “raising a ruckus.”

“They were looking for people to hand out liquor instead of candy,” Leonard said.

Each generation of Northwestern students has its own unique legacy, and each generation had its own way of celebrating one of the most festive, spooky days of the year. From creepy, schlocky haunted houses to annual dances with bats and bogeymen, NU’s Halloween traditions have come and gone.

In his 32 years at NU, university archivist Patrick Quinn has experienced and recorded the full gamut of Halloween traditions and festivities.

“Some years it was a very big deal, other years not so much,” Quinn said. “It all depended on who had the energy or the vision and whether it was out of ASG or a student group.”

The various fraternities and sororities have had their own traditions regarding Halloween and celebrated quite extensively, he said.

On Halloween 1919, the residents of Willard Hall held a “rip-roaring affair, one that will go down in the history of Willard as an epic making event,” according to a DAILY article from that year. That night, the girls of Willard Hall “frolicked” and entertained with ghosts and goblins.

In the same night, the women of Chapin Hall dressed in sheets and pillowcases and celebrated with apples, doughnuts and pumpkin pie.

During the 1920s, annual “class sprees,” or dances, held on Halloween would bring together groups of students much like this year’s Freshman Formal. According to the rules, “any student who fails to wear a costume en masque is to be forcibly kept from the Hallowe’en jollification.”

A 1919 Halloween editorial criticized NU’s illustrious “playboys,” who left the campus “looking much like a garbage can” after their festivities.

“Grabbing Hallowe’en as their excuse, this group succumbed to their childish selves for the evening and gave up their battle to act like mature college students,” the editor wrote in the DAILY.

Mischief and mayhem, including “playboy tricks” and “‘rah rah’ pranks,” are longstanding traditions at NU.

In the 1940s, the Sheil Club held its ongoing Punkin’ Panic Saturday celebration featuring “magician’s magician” Jim Whithurst, and Evanston partnered with NU to run its holiday parade. To this day, Evanston and NU still take part in joint Halloween celebrations that bring together both communities.

A bit of short fiction brought the Halloween spirit to the 1969 DAILY. In the story, a witch, Hazel, transformed into a “long-haired protester,” carried a picket sign and snuck into the president’s den.

“When everybody smoked cannabis, there was a real surreal quality to the celebrating of Halloween,” Quinn said.

Each Halloween celebration was colored by the fashions of the era.

During 1989’s Pumpkin Prom, “an angel danced with a devil as a priest watched.” The resurrection of the Pumpkin Prom, a longstanding tradition at NU in the 1980s, commemorated a “Decade of Decadence” and drew a sellout crowd of devils, priests, black cats and Playboy bunnies.

All Hallow’s Eve traditions continue to thrive at NU. DAILY reporter Casey Newton attended the 1999 Project Pumpkin. Newton noted that the event drew “pint-sized posse of monsters, Spice Girls and Jedi Knights to the four floors of Norris.”

Some parts of the Halloween experience have proved timeless. As one DAILY writer declared on Oct. 31, 1925: “This article hereby authorizes every member of NU and all guests to join in the celebration as of old and make general fools of themselves.”

Reach Matt Spector at [email protected]

As Northwestern students suit up, strip down and otherwise deck themselves out for their favorite costume party, it seems pertinent to look back on Halloween history. Every NU class has put its own stamp on Halloween, but when push comes to shove, the spirit of outrageous fun and conspicuous sweets consumption has remained a constant. So have a look back at this fall holiday classic.

In the 1920s, ‘Halloween jollification’ meant pumpkin pie and doughnuts for Chapin’s co-eds and merry-making that left campus in a trash-strewn mess. DAILY editorials from the era condemned the school’s illustrious playboys for their misbehavior but still exhorted the student body to partake in some ghoulish delights.

What says 1969 better than Halloween-themed protest literature? A piece of DAILY holiday fiction picked up the decade’s protest theme, telling the story of Hazel the witch, who transformed into a hippie protester before sneaking off to pay the school’s president a visit.