Presenting the Past: Hallowe'en parties and pranks in the San Ramon Valley | November 7, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Living - November 7, 2008

Presenting the Past: Hallowe'en parties and pranks in the San Ramon Valley

by Beverly Lane

"Hallowe'en is drawing near, better get lock and chain for your gates and other loose articles. Remember it's the small boy's night of joy."

Daily Gazette, Martinez, Danville Notes, Oct. 28, 1924

Hallowe'en was just here and we celebrated with costumes, downtown parades, parties, candy and occasional tricks.

Before the freeway and suburban development, Hallowe'en celebrations weren't such subdued affairs. For one thing, ranches were so far apart that simply walking to trick-or-treat wasn't practical for most families.

Parties for kids were set up each year at the San Ramon Hall, on Old Crow Canyon Road (today's Deerwood Road), according to Barney Robles who lived in San Ramon as a boy. He remembers entering a darkened room upstairs and plunging his hands into something squishy made of peeled grapes, eggs and other slimy products. The children would be told the mix was brains. Very scary indeed!

Children wore costumes made by their mothers and put on makeup using whatever products were around. Lipstick and shoe polish were popular. It probably took a while to get rid of some of the "makeup" marks.

Robles recalls that children did go from house to house in Danville, where the homes were closer together. They brought pillow cases and collected immense amounts of sweets. He said people would come from as far as San Leandro to walk their kids through Danville.

In the San Ramon Valley, Hallowe'en celebrations for older kids were heavy on the tricks. Window-soaping and tomato-throwing were big in the 1930s and 1940s. There were vast tomato fields all over the valley and rotten tomatoes were readily available. The ranchers invited the kids to help themselves.

On Danville's Hartz Avenue, boys would rig up wooden supports on their cars, put boxes or baskets of tomatoes on the supports, and throw them at one another. Sometimes they would ride on the hood for better tossing visibility and nail their friends through their open windows.

Robles said that he and San Ramon friends Sam and Dan Sandoval drove a '32 Chrysler into town, calling themselves the Vigilantes. They were good throwers, better than the Danville boys. They kept an eye out for the constable and, when they saw him, could get away because their car could go fast.

The tricks were more than tomato-tossing, however. The high school boys would get outhouses, often from the Tassajara area, and put them in unusual places. One Hallowe'en an outhouse was set in front of the popular high school hang-out, Cook's Coffee Shop. Robles and five friends managed to put an outhouse on the roof of Randall's Drug Store (today's Meenar Music Club). He said there was a stairway up the back, but he couldn't recall quite how they managed it.

Another time an outhouse appeared in the courtyard of the high school at Hallowe'en. One group put a dead cat in the girls' restroom and watched them come out screaming.

The high school was a real mess on Nov. 1, according to several people. There were broken pumpkins, egg splashes and, of course, tomatoes everywhere.

As much fun as they had, the boys had to get up the next day to do farm chores. Barney Robles said they were just out for good clean - though messy - fun.

Sources: Special thanks to Pam Henry, Barney Robles and Winkie Camacho for sharing stories.

Beverly Lane is curator of the Museum of the San Ramon Valley and co-author of "San Ramon Valley: Alamo, Danville, and San Ramon" and "Vintage Danville: 150 Years of Memories."