After the column on Hamilton County’s covered bridges ran, Kermit Ross sent me a rather timely covered bridge memory.
When Kermit was in elementary school, his school bus used to pass through Cicero’s covered bridge. He recalled that each year around Halloween someone would hang a straw-filled dummy at the west end of the bridge. (That’s the end closest to the cemetery.)
Kermit’s email reminded me that Halloween wasn’t always as tame as it usually is today. In years past, pranks and out-and-out vandalism were as much a part of the holiday as costume parties, spooky decorations and trick or treating.
Occasionally someone would come up with an original “trick,” like planting a Noblesville city limits sign at the edge of Sheridan, but many of the same stunts seem to pop up year after year.
For example, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries no outhouse was safe around Halloween. Some were simply turned over; others acquired new locations.
Wagons and gates were vulnerable then, too.
The morning after Halloween in 1887, one wagon ended up on the platform of Noblesville’s Midland railroad depot, while another was loaded with pipe, ties and other items, and positioned so that it blocked the depot’s door.
In addition, a dozen wagons and buggies were found a few blocks away in the school yard (today’s Seminary Park), as were about 50 gates. Other gates were discovered swinging from treetops.
Another common activity of Halloween mischief-makers over the years was soaping the display windows of downtown businesses. Cleaning up the soap may have been a nuisance for shopkeepers, but I suspect they preferred it to sweeping up broken glass (which also happened.)
In the 1920s and ‘30s something called a “tick-tack” was used to try to scare unsuspecting victims. This was a wooden spool with notches cut in it. A nail was inserted into the spool’s hole and a long string wrapped around the spool. When the tick-tack was placed against someone’s window and the string was pulled, it made a horrible racket.
Sticking car horns was also popular, and was easily done since few people bothered to lock their cars in those days.
In the mid-twentieth century, Fishers developed a rather strange Halloween tradition of blocking the main street through town (116th Street) with various obstacles.
The 1950 barricade was particularly notable. This masterpiece was so large not even a bicycle could squeeze past it. It consisted of “an old automobile body, two trucks, dozens of coal buckets, hundreds of fence posts and trash of all kinds.” The cherry on top was an old outhouse.
That same year, perhaps inspired by the Fishers pranksters’ efforts, someone built a wall of corn stalks and wheat straw on the bridge between Cicero and Arcadia, then set the wall on fire.
When I would walk to school on November 1 in the 1960s, I could always count on seeing car windows that had been soaped and a ton of shelled dried corn kernels on porches and sidewalks. (Yes, we actually walked to school back then.)
I’m not sure what the purpose of the corn was. Maybe it was thrown on houses in an effort to scare people. Maybe it was just to make a mess. Maybe both.
Other ornery Halloween pastimes in the 1960s and ‘70s included egging various targets, and smashing jack o’lanterns. It wasn’t uncommon to see pumpkin “guts” strewn all over sidewalks, streets and porches.
I also understand that some high school students occasionally indulged in the fine art of decorating people’s yards with toilet paper. This was known as “tee-peeing” or “rolling.”
But — ahem — of course, I know nothing about that.

Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears each Wednesday in The Times. Contact her at