Boo! Looking at the Halloweens of Lexington's Past

The iconic PumpkinMania at Transylvania University in Lexington, Ky. Author's collection.
Halloween's first mention in the newspapers of Lexington came in 1896. The holiday had spread across America along with waves of immigrants, much to the dismay of those of Puritan descent. That reference in 1896 explained "Hal'ow'en" "and how it is celebrated. Something about its origin, history and traditions."

By 1901, the "tricks" had begun. The Lexington Leader warned its reachers to be on the "look out for pranks tonight." It was warned that "these local spirits wait a whole year for this night, and woe unto the man whose fences and gates are not bound together strongly or else provided with the proper immovable latches."

The students of the State College (later, the University of Kentucky) joined the fray. Four State College students were arrested for "violent behavior" on Halloween night.

In 1903, students at Kentucky University (later, Transylvania) enjoyed their own festivities. A party was celebrated in the school's gymnasium and "all attendants [were] promised a delightful evening, though they [had] to pay dearly for their enjoyment. Before they [could] enter the large room bedecked with autumnal leaves, corn stalks, pumpkins and other rural beauties, the guests pass[ed] through the weird and uncanny scenes of Hades."

But it was the 1906 Halloween riot that began to change the holiday's tone in Lexington. As a result of the riot, during which a number of Lexington police officers were "roughly handled," several students were expelled by late November. Minutes from the December UK Trustees' meeting reveals that the riots, the obstruction of the streetcars, and the way in which many of the students hid from their actions by retiring speedily back to their dorm rooms caused President Patterson to even consider removing dormitory life from the University.
President Patterson and the University Faculty, ca. 1907. UK Libraries.
That measure did not happen. But the following year, President James Patterson spoke to the student body on Halloween on the origins of the holiday and encouraged peaceful festivities. Patterson's words must have resonated for the holiday did not warrant inclusion in the local papers for a few years.

The Kentucky Kernel, Nov. 2, 1916.
UK Libraries. 
It was a decade later, in 1916, when the police were again "busy" with "pranks and disorders." News accounts in the Kentucky Kernel believed that "according to the ancient and revered tradition of the people of the city, University of Kentucky students were blamed with all the disorder committed." Incidents involving the "several people [who] were shot" during the night were blamed on UK students.

In what must have been a disastrous period for "Town-Gown" relations, riotous events of varying degrees occurred each Halloween through the 1920s.

At that time, the University instituted a annual Halloween dance for its students. While a seemingly fun activity, its design was truly to contain the students.

The Buell Armory's floor was decorated and the students wore costumes to the dance.
A Halloween Dance at the University of Kentucky. UK Libraries
A Halloween Dance at the University of Kentucky. UK Libraries.
The costumes worn by the students would have been unacceptable, offensive, and certainly politically incorrect today. The images above depict some students in blackface while others are dressed up as members of the Klan. It would not be until 1949 when African-Americans were admitted to the University of Kentucky.

By the mid-century, the focus of the newspaper's attention on Halloween had centered around children. In 1977, the Lexington Leader first reported on the disgusting act of tampering with Halloween candy with razor blades, pins, and drugs. In 1982, the LFUCG began urging civic organizations to promote trick-or-treating alternatives (like trunk-or-treats) because of the increasing fears over the tampered with candy. Once council member even sought to ban trick-or-treating altogether.

In 1993, the Herald-Leader suggested that kids dress up as arctic explorers because of the "first-ever Halloween snow forecast." Which, of course brings us to tonight with snow once again on the forecast.

Stay warm, have fun, and be safe! And Happy Halloween!!
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