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Fred Burwell ’86
October 28, 2010

Fridays with Fred: Spooky, spectral pranks

A look at Halloween at Beloit College in 1888.

Halloween 1888. The Owl Club flocks en masse to the college bluff, serenading the stars with mournful night melodies, although distant pistol shots and blood-curdling screams somewhat spoil the effect. At midnight, clans of college boys and college “preps” gather to hurl rotten potatoes at each other, not neglecting to pitch a few at assorted campus edifices.

An ambitious soul steals a ladder from the Northwest Depot downtown, leans it against the Academy and College Chapel (South College) and after one hour of unceasing labor, a lumber wagon loaded with cord wood appears on the roof, its tongue pointing westward ho. Pulled by specters dressed from head to toe in black, the ancient Goodwin House omnibus rumbles across campus to rest on the porch of North College (Campbell Hall) jammed tightly into the door. Goblins carry all of the chapel benches outside and build a convenient pile near Memorial Hall (Logan Museum) while a half dozen wraiths, as a matter of course, carry off the usual quota of doorsteps. A ghoulish huddle of ghosts, staring uncertainly at the decrepit sidewalk on the east side of Horace White Park finally agree that it needs repair, so tear it up. Few wooden sidewalks in the area survive unscathed, but those newfangled concrete walks befuddle even the most scholarly phantom.

From a darkened upstairs window in his house on the corner of Church and Chapin, the “Professor of Dust and Ashes” college janitor John Pfeffer keeps a watchful eye. Before dawn, as the potatoes run out at last, as two or three disconsolate owls fly off, and as Halloween haunters climb exhausted into their clammy lairs, old John emerges, ready to clear all traces of revelry for another year.

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