Old School Trick or Treating

By the Maine Crime Writers

Were you a hippie or a hobo? A princess or a pirate? Did you dress up as a cartoon character, perhaps? Or maybe a cartoonish version of a politician or other famous personage of the day?

Halloween is the holiday those who love costumes look forward to all year, and may it always be so. These days, many kids show up at the door in what we used to call “store bought” costumes, assemblages that come complete in a package, mask, and all. But I’m always impressed by the number who resist the siren call of off-the-rack costumes for ones they dream up themselves.

This year the MCW crew has decided to celebrate the day by remembering our best/worst/most memorable Halloween costumes.  Some of us have photos to  bring it all back. The rest will have to use our descriptive skills to give you the idea.

Brenda Buchanan: The first Halloween costume I remember was actually store-bought, a pint-sized Smokey The Bear outfit (Smokey as a cub, I guess.) Mom knew I had a big thing for Smokey, and I was so proud and happy to be dressed like a little bear on my first trick-or-treat spin through the neighborhood.  I’m guessing I was four or five years old.  Halloween night was warm that year, and I had a full set of clothes on under the costume, so pretty soon I was sweating. The inside of the mask became damp with respiration, too. It kept slipping sideways, misaligning my eyes with the eyeholes. So I stumbled around a lot, and remember being kind of freaked out by the whole experience of half-seeing unrecognizable, masked kids careening in my direction. There are, alas, no photos of Brenda The Sweaty Bear.

Me, as a horse (back-end), fourth grade

Barb Ross: Though my mother didn’t sew, she was always able to execute whatever crazy costume idea I came up with. In fourth grade, my friend Virginia convinced me to go in with her on a horse costume. She was horse-crazy, and could do a perfect human imitation of a trot and a canter, so she felt strongly that she should be the front-end, whereas my talents lay — to the rear. Her mother invited my mother over to “discuss the girls’ costume,” and served tea from a silver service. My mother said at that moment she knew she’d be making the entire thing. That Halloween I learned that walking the whole neighborhood bent over is a pain. Even worse are the homeowners who don’t see that second candy bag sticking out of the back-end of the horse.

Lea Wait My mother wasn’t big on costumes, so her solution for Halloween was to take what she could find. In this picture, taken when I was 6 and my sister was 3, I have no idea what we were supposed to be. But I do know I was wearing the embroidery usually found on the back of our baby grand piano. Who knows? Maybe it was originally a shawl. And probably it’s just as well the picture is out of focus. We could have been spirits! One Halloween I remember well Nancy and I had collected a lot of candy (score!) but Mom ran out of what she was distributing, and teenaged boys from a neighboring town (a rough one) started showing up, and they also ended up with all Nancy’s and my candy.

Maureen Milliken: I was always a fan of Halloween, but not so much the costume. I love candy. LOVE IT. But I don’t like dealing with clothing, or having to think too much about what I’m wearing. My number one goal is to be comfortable and not have to think of it. I can’t remember any of my Halloween costumes as a kid. Not one. I’m not making that up.

That’s me, Maureen., the ghost, with my college friends. Junior year, Halloween 1981.

But in college, the goal was comfort, and to be able to eat and drink without the costume getting in the way and to not have any props to hold that would get in the way of holding food and drink. My first year in college — where getting costumed up was definitely a thing — our whole dorm floor went as the Blizzard of ’78, which involved wearing white and sticking together. I soon drifted off like a wind-blown squall. One year I dressed as my brother, who was a year behind me, wearing one of his Frank Zappa T-shirts and and army pants, and to further make the point, a sticker that said, “Hello, I’m Jim Milliken.” My biggest college triumph was junior year, when I really didn’t want to dress up or do anything, but just wanted to go to the school pub, where I believe a band was playing. My friends convinced me though, that I’d have more luck pursuing that fellow I had a crush on if I got costumed up and went out to the parties. So I took the most worn sheet, that my mom would miss the least when I came home at Christmas — flowered — cut two holes it in and presto! I was a ghost. I did find the guy, too. And as we were talking, he said, “Take off that ridiculous sheet. I can’t talk to you when you’re wearing that.” True love. We ended up dating for more than a year.

The only time I really put any effort into costume was after I was out of college and went to a party as Zippy the Pinhead. I spent days working on a papier-mache head and it came out quite well. It was at the home of a coworker at the Haverhill Gazette whose wife worked for the New Hampshire Union Leader. The following Monday, I had an interview at the Union Leader I got the job and worked there for 25 years. But I don’t think the Zippy costume had anything to do with it. That’s the last time I ever wore a Halloween costume, by the way. 1986

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson: I wish I still had the picture my father took of the “Lincoln Place Zoo.” Each street had a theme for the town’s Halloween parade. The photo showed an adult zookeeper in a pith helmet and (if I’m remembering correctly) a lion, a tiger, and a monkey. I’m not sure which one I was. Much later, since my birthday and Halloween are close together, I had a costume party to celebrate both. I was twelve.

I remember setting up a fortune-telling corner, so I guess I was supposed to be a Gypsy, but looking at this picture now, it appears I was going for a highborn Spanish lady. At twelve, I’m not sure the distinction was all that important.

John Clark: I have a confession related to Halloween. Back in the early 1970s, I was dating a girl who was easily spooked. This was when the TV series Dark Shadows was popular. One Halloween night, we stopped so she could buy cigarettes. While she was in the store, I took the gum I was chewing and made it into a pair of upper fangs. When she got into the car, I turned and grinned at her. I’m certain the scream could be heard all over the south end of Rockland. Looking back, it wasn’t the nicest thing I’ve ever done. It’s also the closest to a costume I remember wearing.


Susan Vaughan: My family wasn’t much for taking snapshots. I’m the only camera bug, so I have no photos of early costumes. My dad was the one who helped me with various getups. No ready-made costumes back then, at least none we could afford. My mom didn’t sew, so he had the challenges cut out for him. My favorite one was a witch costume when I was seven or eight. Mom donated an old dress. I cut the hem to a length that would work, into points–like a real witch would wear, right? I helped Dad dye the dress in the kitchen sink. We got black vegetable dye everywhere, to Mom’s dismay. Remember tagboard from various childhood school projects? We used black tagboard to make the hat, well, he made the hat. Somehow with tape and glue, it ended up curled into a point and even had a brim. I don’t remember whether or not there was a broom. But I had fun trick or treating early and later at the church hall bobbing for apples and playing games. My dad was the school principal, and none of my friends believed he actually made my costume.

Kate Flora: Halloween in Union, Maine, where we were a quarter mile from the nearest neighbor, meant being driven down to “the Common” where the houses were clustered. People had their Halloween traditions–someone always gave apples, another homemade popcorn balls, and one was famous for giving out full sized candy bars. It was spooky and exciting, and sometimes there was snow. I carried the excitement over when my boys were small, spending the month of October making costumes. Once it was a Care Bear, where the head alone had 36 pieces. Once I made a unicorn, and a neighbor asked my enchanted son if he was a clown.

Here are some pictures, from my childhood (I was a very unhappy clown, John was a bull), of me done up in Grandma Clark’s Victorian finery, of my sister Sara in the bull costume, and of my boys as a knight, a unicorn, and Robin Hood, and Sara and I making pumpkin men:

Scanned Image 1Scanned Image 2Scanned Image 3Scanned Image 4Scanned Image Halloween

Bruce Robert Coffin: When my brother and I were growing up in Scarborough, Maine Halloween was always a time for digging through old bags of clothing and rags for items to accessorize our costumes. One year we dressed up as hobos, complete with plastic hats, cigars, and a whole lot of padding to allow us to fill out adult-sized clothes. Back then we lived in a small neighborhood where we could safely walk in our quest to fill the bright orange plastic jack-o-lantern candy containers we carried. Unfortunately I’m traveling as I write this and unable to get my hands on any of the old pics. But I do have a recent photo to share. For all you Trekkies out there, here is a pic of my brother-in-law Josh and me in our attempt at paying tribute to the original 1960s show. The scary thing is that we only had to make small modifications to clothing we already owned to pull this off. Wishing you all a spooktacular Halloween! Oh, and I almost forgot, live long and prosper!


Brendan Rielly:  I have always loved Halloween, trick or treating until my community passed a law forbidding me from trick or treating, leaving me no choice but to have kids so I could continue trick or treating. My wife, Erica, is a phenomenal costume maker, turning our son into a revolutionary war figure or Anakin Skywalker, and our daughters into a bucket of puppies, or a washing machine, or jellyfish or a bathtub. Here is one from years ago of Shannon as an artist and me as her gallery.

Never too old to trick or treat!

Vaughn Hardacker: In 1968 I trick or treated as a door gunner in Vietnam!

Marine Helicopter Door Gunner


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3 Responses to Old School Trick or Treating

  1. Vida Antolin-Jenkins says:

    I completely empathize with Barbara ‘s horse story, as I also was the hind quarters of a horse with my sister one Halloween. My back still aches whenever I think about it! When my children were young, I sewed a lot of costumes, but once I realized how much work it was, sewed the costume so it could serve as a pajama. One of my daughters was the Snow Queen for a year.

  2. We five children were encouraged to pull together our own costumes from what was on hand, cowboy/girl, pirate, gypsy, hobo (black cork on face) . . . once my Aunt Yoko loaned me a kimono, the only exotic one I recall. Those costumes became part of my Black Bubble Gum story, based on a Steinbeck tale. (link below) I love the costume becomes pajamas idea! When we teachers did a haunted house at our junior high, my mom bought me tiger slippers and skull earrings to complete my cannibal costume.
    When I was first teaching at FHN, we dressed for Howell-oween (discontinued later because too hard to restrain high school testing of limits). I wore long skirt and shawl, pinned a red A to my white blouse, and carried a baby doll. We read SCARLET LETTER weeks later, and a student exclaimed, “Oh, I get it now! Your costume!” They didn’t like the book as much as I had, even reading only parts of it and watching the excellent PBS video performance, so I only taught it that one year. Students equally befuddled by Nora in THE DOLL’S HOUSE. “Why does she put up with that?” Encouraging, really . . . we have come far, still farther to go.

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