Halloween Pranks

Halloween Pranks of Yesteryear Show Youthful Mischievousness

Halloween has long been associated with tricks and pranks, often of the harmless yet humorous variety.

As Halloween is coming up quick this year, let’s take a look back at some of the troublemaking that took place about a century ago.

Halloween Pranks Cartoon from the Duluth Evening Herald Oct 30. 1909
Duluth Evening Herald Oct 30, 1909

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Mischief on Trolleys

One popular Halloween prank back in the early 1900s was greasing the tracks of the trolleys that were a main mode of transportation then.

Young pranksters would stealthily smear thick grease or soap on the tracks, causing the trolleys to slip and slide unexpectedly as they moved down the rails.

Many a trolley conductor had to deal with the delays and headaches these tricks caused each Halloween.

Though done in jest, the pranks often disrupted public transportation for people who relied on the trolleys to get to work or home.

Soapy Windows

Using soap to decorate windows was another harmless yet annoying trick kids loved to pull off. They would take bars of soap and write words or draw pictures on neighborhood windows.

This required the homeowners to clean off the soapy mess, sometimes multiple times if the pranksters persisted.

Superintendent of Schools of Rochester, New York in a newspaper editorial in 1942, as U.S. participation in World War II was escalating.

“It’s sabotage. Soaping windows isn’t fun this year. Your government needs soaps and greases for the war … Even ringing doorbells has lost its appeal because it may mean disturbing the sleep of a tired war worker who needs his rest.”

Wheels Gone Wild

One prank that was a bit more destructive was letting wagons roll downhill freely by removing the wheels.

Young boys would surreptitiously remove the wheels of farmers’ wagons or carts left unattended.

Once missing their wheels, the wagons would careen downhill with a crash, leaving the owners confused and angry over the damage. The wayward wagons could also pose a danger to people or objects in their path.

Critters on the Loose

A pretty common Halloween prank back then was tying tin cans, pots, pans or other noisemaking objects to dogs’ tails.

The pranksters would sneak up on an unsuspecting pup and attach the items, then watch as the confused dog ran around making a racket.

Other animal-related pranks included letting cows or chickens loose from their pens as bewildered farmers tried to wrangle them back in.

Pea Shooters and Other Nuisances

One of the most popular Halloween pranks in the early 1900s was using pea shooters to mischievously shoot at people.

Young pranksters would load up their pea shooters and then skillfully shoot peas at passersby on the street or unsuspecting victims in other public places.

This often led to annoyed adults trying to catch the pesky pea shooters.

Anoka Creating Modern Halloween Celebrations

The town of Anoka, Minnesota tried to curb these types of destructive pranks by organizing the first civic-sponsored Halloween celebrations in 1920. Their festivities, including parades and parties, offered families fun ways to celebrate the holiday.

This community engagement helped redirect youthful energy away from troublemaking and established Anoka’s reputation as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”

Though some of the Halloween tricks from long ago seem pretty tame compared to modern pranks, they show that kids generations ago still knew how to have some mischievous fun on Halloween.

The lighthearted pranks provided laughter and entertainment for the pranksters, even if they caused temporary headaches and hassles for the victims.


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