Halloween wasn't much of a holiday when I was coming along. The older boys, probably with parental assistance, always put somebody's hayrack on the post-office roof, and if we tykes were home by bedtime it was all right to tick-tack-toe the next-door window of Mr. Goodspeed, who sat there every evening reading a "blood-and-thunder" and couldn't hear us when we pushed the tack into the casing. If you don't remember, you pushed in the tack, looped the black, Aunt Liddie thread on it, and then unwound the thread as you backed away and hid. Pull the thread taut and then let it slack, and the shingle nail would fall to the glass and make a tick.
With Mr. Goodspeed, we could hoist the nail and let it fall and he never knew we were around. Then we'd go home and Mother would ask, "Who's been into my darning basket and took my Aunt Liddie?"
One year, and it was 1919, Eddie Skillin and I devised a superior Halloween trick, and it had our little Down-Maine seacoast town mystified right up to now, when I break silence.
Eddie and I were boyhood chums, and during school days we mostly did things together. Mostly we did things that were safe to tell about, but now and then we'd pull something that was too keen to put our names to, and we'd get neither credit nor blame. One such was our Halloween trick in 1919.
Eddie had the idea, and I recognized it at once as a brilliant stroke. It called for some engineering and not a little careful work. Well before Halloween, we cased the Bow Street cemetery and made some measurements. Bow Street ran from our village center to Porter's Landing. The landing had numerous fine homes, but was just one mile out of town (by Bow Street). This was before street lamps. Automobiles were not yet numerous, and to get to town or to return home, Porter's Landing folks usually walked. Eddie's bright idea took advantage of this situation.
We strung a wire from a tree on the knoll across Bow Street from the cemetery, and ran it down to the pink granite tombstone of Capt. Lanson Holbrook. Captain Holbrook had been resting there for some time, but in his prime had been a master mariner in the Pacific Coast trade. He was the first captain to bring a vessel from New York to San Francisco, through the Strait, in less than 95 days.
Then Eddie proposed that we get a small pulley that would run back and forth on the wire. The whole purpose was to hang a sheet on the pulley by the tree, and let it ride down the wire to wrap the sheet around the tombstone of Captain Holbrook. In this way an innocent person, passing by, might be led to believe that the ghost of the good captain was returning after haunting something or other and might be thrown into utter fear and so forth.
Eddie and I had to arrange things when nobody was passing. The hay-bale wire was too high to be seen after we got it up. Just on the edge of darkness on Hallow Eve, Eddie and I got the wire in place and the white sheet in readiness. Bow Street would be traveled, so we had but to wait for darkness. I was up on the knoll ready to release and Eddie was down in the bushes by the cemetery ready to give me the signal, which was the somber cry of the whippoorwill.
Eddie and I were both good as whippoorwills. We had mastered the entire vocabulary and used it as our personal code. So when Eddie decided we had a victim he would whip, I would release, and the simulated ghost of Captain Holbrook would return from whatever spooking errand had called him to be away. Twilight fell.
At the landing lived Helen Blodgett, a maiden lady of about 21 stone who did housework for the moneyed folks. She had lingered that evening to have supper and do the dishes and was now on her way home after a long day. Eddie felt we were favored by utter good chance, and he clucked and whipped.
It was now dark, but Eddie could make out the well-known Helen Blodgett. He had a jack-light he was about to turn on. A jack-light was a six-cell flashlight used in Maine to "jack" deer. Light transfixes a deer, and he or she gazes at a jack-light in terminal awe. This is illegal. Everybody has a jack-light. And Eddie would use his jack-light as a spotlight to illumine the arriving ghost. As for me, once the pulley was gliding down the wire with the sheet, I was to blow on my fish-horn. Everybody had a fish-horn. This is legal. It was a galvanized, rust-resistant horn meant to be used as a fog-horn by workboats and small pleasure craft that didn't have power horns.
I was to blow my fish-horn to call attention to the descending spectre, something that cannot be done in secret. This I did, Miss Blodgett screamed, the sheet fluttered and enfolded the tombstone, and Miss Blodgett ran home. Eddie and I gathered things up, wound our wire on a stick, and Halloween for 1919 was over.
Earl Buck, our night watchman, conducted an investigation and found nothing to substantiate the fanciful report of Miss Blodgett. (Earl kept an ancient trotting mare as a pet, and every night at bedtime he read her a chapter from "Black Beauty.") Miss Blodgett spent the rest of her days trying to convince anybody that she really did see a ghost on Halloween. Eddie and I were terribly ashamed that we had perpetrated this, which explains why you never heard about it until now.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society