Kevin O’Hara, a longtime Eagle contributor, is the author of “Ins and Outs of a Locked Ward: My 30 Years as a Psychiatric Nurse.”

As trick-or-treaters prepare to attack every lit doorway in our fair city on Monday evening, my aging buddies and I recently reminisced over our own Halloweens — 1950s and ‘60s — when we took to the streets like zombies on steroids.

“Did any of you ever soap windows?” I asked our crew over pints of Guinness at Patrick’s Pub.

“I did, and a whole lot more,” confessed Dan. “In fact, I once smashed a guy’s jack-o’-lantern and draped toilet paper over his bushes.”

“Why?” we all asked our usually docile mate.

“This guy worked the evening shift at the GE,” he explained, “and before he’d leave for work on trick-or-treat night, he’d put out a basket that read, ‘Please take just one nickel from my basket. Happy Halloween!’ Well, every year when we got to his door, we found the basket empty. So we figured a few early tricksters had snatched up all the nickels. Wrong! One Halloween, a neighbor checked out this guy’s basket as soon as he left for work and found it bare. That’s why he got himself one royal soaping, and then some!”

“I have a few neighbors whose windows I’d love to soap, Halloween or not,” grumbled George. “Careless neighbors too lazy to recycle their trash. Planet-polluting neighbors who start their cars 15 minutes before going to work on frosty mornings, and mindless neighbors who love to leave their barking dogs outside.”

“Maybe our country needs a National Soaping Windows Day,” suggested Bill, “so citizens can vent their grievances without causing much harm.”

When it was my turn, I recollected. “My brothers and I would dress up like hobos and dirty our faces with burnt cork. After we had hit our neighbors’ doors, we’d run up to the nearby Wilson Project, which to us kids was a virtual Candyland.”

“Wilson Project?”

“Yep, 126 apartments wedged into 28 buildings that housed World War II vets and their families in North Pittsfield. We’d go from door to door as swiftly as Navy sappers on a do-or-die mission. Once our grocery bags were full, we’d return home, dump our spoils onto our beds, and dash off again.”

“Off again?”

“Yep, our second go-round. We’d race up Calumet and down Watson Street, and cross the footbridge over Bel Air Falls to Lenox Avenue, while munching on Mason Dots and Sugar Babies for octane. We’d only catch our breath at St. Charles Rectory where its young curate, Fr. Daniel Brunton, would hand out goodies from a bushel basket.”

“Did you go to the nun’s convent as well?’

“We sure did. The sisters, like us kids, enjoyed pulling pranks. Before our class was dismissed in fifth grade, I remember our teacher, Sr. Theresa Gabriel, saying, ‘Alright children, for tonight’s homework I want you to write a thousand-word essay on the reign of King Charlemagne.’ After hearing our collective moans, she broke into a welcome smile and say, ‘I’m only tricking, but I expect a few tasty treats on my desk in the morning.’ We’d then bolt home once again, dump our hoard and head back to Wilson Project.”

“Wouldn’t the residents recognize you as repeats?”

“Some would, but Jimmy, Dermot and I would split up and join other children on the crowded doorsteps — Tweety Bird, Dracula, Little Bo Peep — and jam our bags in with their own. It wasn’t uncommon for an O’Hara boy to score three full-size candy bars from the same household. Three nickel bars that now go for $1.65 apiece.”

“I’ve heard of highway robbery,” joked Tom, “but never doorway robbery.”

“Say what you will, but once we returned home to empty our spoils, we swapped rags for our third and final round.”

“Wasn’t it late by that time?”

“Naw, just after 8. Besides, a few porch lights were still on, beckoning us to their doors. But these houses were either hit or miss, as bellyaching occupants shuffled to their doors only to see three familiar ragamuffins making their curtain call. Sometimes we were scolded or shooed away, while other folks would throw loose popcorn, bruised apples or soiled pennies into our bags. Only then did we accept that our annual candy harvest was over. So we dragged ourselves home for good, exhausted yet triumphant, with enough candy to last us until Christmas.”


“Yep, Christmas.”

After hearing my tale, George looked down at his empty glass and said, “Well, I think it’s the perfect season to trick ourselves into another treat.”

“Good idea,” we all agreed, realizing that over the long years our preferred treat had gone from Goobers to Guinness.

Kevin O’Hara, a longtime Eagle contributor, is the author of “Ins and Outs of a Locked Ward: My 30 Years as a Psychiatric Nurse.”