Niagara Gazette

October 30, 2013

BRADBERRY: Bewitched, bothered, bewildered -- and delighted

By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Ever get a song stuck in your head and you just can’t get rid of it no matter what you do? Well it happens to me; this time its Ella Fitzgerald’s 1956 rendition of the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart song, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered from the 1940 Broadway musical, Pal Joey.

For some strange reason, it put me in a Trick-or-Treat state of mind, reminding me of a time not so long ago when Halloween was safe, clean, fun.

I’m hoping that the good spirit of the tradition continues to return to its roots; it looks like it could be making a real comeback, and that could be a good thing. Safe streets, good, trusting, trust worthy neighbors and candy seem to go together, and they could certainly go a long way toward restoring faith and confidence in a city.

Personally, I like Halloween; I especially enjoy interacting with the little ones, the youngsters all decked out in cute costumes, made up like tiny pirates and princesses, not really trying to scare anyone, just collecting candy for the fun of it.

Respectful of the anti-religious twists and turns that some have painted the tradition with; I don’t particularly appreciate the darker, demonized side of Halloween, some of that stuff can go too far, and can be pretty scary for good reason.

I know people who spend the night in church, afraid that real demons straight from Hell actually walk the Earth on that night. Some are convinced that this new abundance of interest in all things zombie is clear evidence that Satan roams amongst us collecting souls; they could be right!

I have had a few tricksters, too old and too big to be kids appear at my door wearing what may not actually be costumes in what I hope and pray are disguises, peering too deeply into my eyes, lingering a little too long ...

Now THAT’S CREEPY!

But that is not the way I was raised. No, when I was a kid, Trick-or-Treating was just fun, no real devils, no real danger, rarely a trick, almost always a good treat; a good scare, followed by a good laugh, followed by a mouthful of candy, and that was about it!

I’m not sure when my parents bought costumes for all eight of us, in fact, I’m not sure that they ever did; Mom, with our “help” usually made them herself, applying plenty of make-up to our faces instead of masks, letting us become whatever we wanted to be, and we absolutely loved it, everybody did!

It usually started in school with cupcakes, apple juice and candy corn, then after school, on the way home, hordes of kids disguised as ballerinas, cowboys, Indians, skeletons, ghosts and goblins and everything under the sun, including the sun, began knocking on doors, ringing doorbells and filling our sacks with as much candy as we could carry.

With eight kids in the family, we made quite a haul which our parents wisely inspected, sorted, stored and gingerly rationed. Sometimes the candy lasted the entire year. Had it been left to us kids, it would have been completely consumed by morning at the expense of our tummies and what few teeth we may have had left in our heads by sunrise the morning after.

According to some reports available online (Wikipedia, etc.) trick-or-treating has been a North American Halloween tradition “since the late 1940s”, generally running between 5:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on October 31.

But outside of North America, the practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for candy dates back to the Middle Ages and includes Christmas wassailing.

The same report compares trick-or-treating to “the late medieval practice of “souling”, when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (Nov. 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2)”.

“It is claimed to have originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. The custom of wearing costumes and masks at Halloween goes back to Celtic traditions of attempting to copy the evil spirits or placate them, in Scotland for instance where the dead were impersonated by young men with masked, veiled or blackened faces, dressed in white.”

So, maybe that’s where the whole dark side comes from, but as I said, I never really quite saw it that way, I still don’t.

Instead, I see it as a fun time for masquerading, partying, and reminiscing about happier times before it became so dangerous in so many places like Detroit, for example.

As if Detroit cannot be frightening enough as it is lately for other reasons, writer Laura Sternberg reminds us that tonight is known there and in other cities in the Midwest as Devils Night.

She writes, “The night before Halloween, October 30th, has traditionally been a night of pranks and mischief in much of the Midwest and some of the northeastern United States, as well as some parts of Canada. Devil’s Night in Detroit can probably be traced back to mid-1880s Ireland, where the night of mischief was originally attributed to fairies and goblins. In the United States, the holiday morphed into a night of soaping windows and toilet papering trees. In other words, October 30th was the “trick” to Halloween’s “treat” and gave suburban kids a night of rebellion and anarchy.”

But in Detroit and much of Michigan, the night is known infamously as the place where innocent pranks quickly escalated into widespread arson in the 1990s.

Last year “ONLY”93 fires were reported in Detroit on Halloween and the days leading up to it, the fewest in 17 years, according to Mayor Dave Bing who, with a parade of other officials, patrolled the city during what is now known as the Angel’s Night period.

According to a Detroit News article published last year, “In the 1970s, Devil’s Night exploded in Detroit to a three-night arson orgy. In the 1980s, there were as many as 800 fires set every year.”

While that may be one, albeit foolish way to demolish vacant structures, of which Detroit has an over-abundance, a good percentage of the torched buildings were occupied, and tragically over the years, lives have been lost as a result.

Not my idea of fun under any stretch of my imagination, I say, let the kids have their fun dressing up and eating some candy for Halloween.

And, why not extend it to the fun loving adults as well; it is always interesting, to say the least, to see what full grown adults will do while they are masquerading as someone else, eh?

By the way, that song, Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered was originally introduced by Vivienne Segal on December 25, 1940 in the Broadway production of Pal Joey; the 1956 version by Ella Fitzgerald, with a studio orchestra conducted and arranged by Buddy Bregman from the album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Rodgers & Hart Songbook is still ringing in my head, especially the only line I know by heart:

I’m wild again

Beguiled again

A simpering whimpering child again

Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I …

Any suggestions on how to clear it from my mind for a while would be much appreciated!

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com

Contact Bill at bill.bradberry@yahoo.com