Monday, October 3, 2016

Elizabeth Krebs, the Founder of our Modern Halloween

By John Sanidopoulos

If you think Halloween has its origins with satanists and pagans, guess again. Elizabeth Krebs, a woman you’ve probably never heard of unless you are from Hiawatha, Kansas, is actually a very important part of our history with Halloween and how it's currently celebrated.

Back in the early 1900’s Halloween in North America was primarily one of mischief, pranks, and vandalism. This mischief was inspired by how Guy Fawkes Day in England was celebrated, that falls on November 5th, and this mischief initially took place in North America around Thanksgiving time in the late 19th century, eventually moving closer to the feast of All Hallows Eve on October 31st.

Elizabeth Krebs was the president of the local garden club in Hiawatha, Kansas back in 1912. On the morning of November 1st of that year, Elizabeth woke to find her prize-winning garden smashed to bits. There were other reports of havoc; fences being destroyed, houses egged, and windows being smashed. She knew it had to be the same culprits who had destroyed other flowers around town – rowdy children. In her town, kids were notorious for creating all kinds of destruction on Halloween night. Desperate to make her town garden-smashing free, Elizabeth put together a plan.

The next year, Elizabeth threw a huge Halloween party at her house for the town’s children. She had treats, games, and fun planned for them. Several kids came to Elizabeth’s party. Because of the turnout, Elizabeth was confident there would be no chaos.

When she woke the next morning, however, her hopes were dashed. Several gardens were demolished and a mail wagon was even set ablaze! During the next year, Elizabeth worked tirelessly with local law enforcement, city leaders, and educators to come up with a plan to make the holiday more enjoyable and less violent.

On Halloween, 1914, Elizabeth put her plan into action. She organized a town-wide Halloween parade complete with events, games, and costume contests. Practically everyone in the town came! When November 1st rolled in, the town police chief visited Elizabeth at her home. He informed her that the reports of destruction were down dramatically from the previous year!

Because of the success of Elizabeth’s plan, it became an annual event that spread across Kansas and met up with the traditions of the diverse immigrants in New York and beyond and became sort of the modern starting point for costume parties for children and adults. Eventually it morphed into the way we all celebrate Halloween today in much of North America, with adults having costume parties, town's having parades and our children saying “Trick or Treat” door to door (this was established in the 1930's).

All because a little old lady got tired of her flowers being destroyed every year.

Thanks to Elizabeth, our Halloween became less of a trick and more of a treat!

See also: Halloween Resource Page