Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Pop Culture

The first Irvington Halloween Festival and the law.

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Original 1946 Irvington Halloween Festival Ticket.

Original publish date:  October 16 2011

Next week, once again, Irvington will celebrate “All Hallows Eve” better than anyplace else in the Hoosier state by hosting the 65th annual Halloween Festival. Trick-or-treating, window painting, house decorating, and a costume parade down the middle of Washington Street are all cherished traditions eagerly anticipated by the participants involved. But what about that first Halloween festival back in 1946? What was that like? And most importantly, were Irvingtonians breaking the law by hosting it?
Disney Trick or treatWe’ve all heard the stories, legends and rumors surrounding that now legendary first event. It was sponsored by the Walt Disney company featuring costumed characters with a Disney based theme. The Disney folks gave away potentially priceless hand painted film production cels right here on the streets of old Irvington town. Walt Disney himself was seen walking down Audubon with Mickey Mouse at his side. It’s hard to separate fact from fiction nowadays.
However, a good place to start would be the history books. What was going on in the world back in October of 1946? Mensa was founded in Great Britain and the United Nations held its first meeting on Long Island. World War II ended a year before, yet the Nuremberg War trials concluded with the execution of ten German war criminals just two weeks before the festival. Among the adolescent ghosts and goblins wandering the streets of Irvington 65 years ago was a spectral leftover from the second world war looming menacingly over the costumed treat seekers. The specter of Sugar rationing. Really? Sugar rationing on Halloween?
When the empire of Japan conquered the Philippine Islands in the early months of 1942 the United States lost a major source of it’s national sugar imports. Sugar shipments from Hawaii had already been curtailed by fifty percent when cargo vessels typically used for transporting sugar from the islands to the mainland were diverted for use by the military. Seemingly overnight, U.S. sugar supply fell by more than one-third. To ensure adequate supplies for manufacturers, the military, and civilians, sugar became the first food item to be rationed during the war. Manufacturers’ supplies were reduced to 80 percent of pre-war levels and that percentage was further reduced over time.
On April 27, 1942, Irvington families registered for ration books at the local elementary schools. One book was issued for each family member. To prove they were serious about wartime rationing, the US Government required that these books were to be surrendered upon death of the recipient. In a drastic move that harkens back to FDR’s closure of the banks and financial institutions during the Great Depression, the sale of sugar was halted for one week to prepare for the program. During that sugarless week, to discourage hoarding, each family was required to report how much sugar they had on hand and a corresponding number of stamps were removed from the ration book.
z WWII OPA Rationing BookletA week later on May 5, 1942, every United States citizen received their much anticipated “War Ration Book Number One”, good for a 56-week supply of sugar. Initially, each stamp was good for one pound of sugar and could be redeemed over a specified two-week period. Later on, as other items such as coffee and shoes were rationed, each stamp became good for two pounds of sugar over a four-week period. The ration book bore the recipient’s name and could only be used by household members. Stamps had to be torn off in the presence of the grocer. If the book was lost, stolen, or destroyed, an application had to be submitted to the Ration Board for a new copy. If the ration book holder entered the hospital for greater than a 10-day stay, the ration book had to be brought along with them. Talk about your red tape!

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World War II War Sugar Ration Stamp.

Housewives learned to be creative, using saccharine, corn syrup, and even packets of Jell-O as sugar substitutes. Sugar beets became a staple of nearly every American dinner table. Women’s magazines featured recipes with reduced sugar or creative ingredient substitutes. “Victory Gardens” sprung up all over the cities and home canning was strongly encouraged during the war. However, canning requires sugar and to provide for this patriotic need, each person could apply for a one time only 25-pound allotment of lower grade canning sugar each year. Each local war ration board determined the quantity and season of availability based on the local harvest. A special canning sugar stamp was issued and included in the ration book. This special “spare canning sugar stamp 37” had to be attached to the government application. Problem was, that they looked exactly like the household sugar stamp and confusion reigned as many people mistakenly used the regular sugar stamp 37 in it’s place, invalidating it for normal household purchases. Did I mention the red tape?
z photo-1127-2013-conserve-sugar-posterTo make matters worse, just because you had a sugar stamp didn’t mean sugar was available for purchase. Shortages occurred often throughout the war, and in early 1945 sugar became nearly impossible to find in any quantity. As Europe was liberated from the grip of Nazi Germany, the United States took on the main responsibility for providing food to those war ravaged countries. On May 1, 1945, the sugar ration for American families was slashed to 15 pounds per year for household use and 15 pounds per year for canning – roughly eight ounces per week per household. Sugar supplies remained scarce and, just as sugar had the distinction of being the first product rationed at the start of the war, sugar was the last product to be rationed after the war. Sugar rationing continued until June of 1947, over six months after the first Irvington Halloween festival in October of 1946.
So, knowing this, can it be said that every sugary sweet handed out to euphoric trick-or-treaters in Irvington during that first festival was a violation of Federal law? Technically yes, but in reality, it might best be compared to ripping the tag off of your mattress today. Never fear, Irvington is not Australia and you are not descended from a colony of law breakers and felons. By the time of that first Irvington Halloween Festival, war time rationing was on the wane and most Americans were eager to celebrate after a long, hard fought war, too enraptured with the outcome, and their personal survival, to care much about wartime shortages. As evidence, one need look no further than the baby boomer generation, a direct bi-product of that euphoria.
z Halloween Festival (2)An argument can be made that it was events like the First Irvington Halloween Festival that kicked off the tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today. Although the Halloween holiday was certainly well known in America before that first Irvington celebration, it was predominantly a holiday for adult costume parties and a chance to cut loose with friends playing party games while consuming hard cider. Early national attention to trick-or-treating in popular culture really began a year later in October of 1947. That’s when the custom of passing out the playful “candy bribes” began to appear in issues of children’s magazines like Jack and Jill and Children’s Activities, and in Halloween episodes of network radio programs like The Baby Snooks Show, The Jack Benny Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. Trick-or-treating was first depicted in a Peanuts comic strip in 1951, perhaps the image most identified with the children’s holiday in the hearts and minds of baby boomers today. The custom had become firmly established in popular culture by 1952, when Walt Disney debuted his Donald Duck movie “Trick or Treat”, and again when Ozzie and Harriet were besieged by trick-or-treaters on an episode of their popular television show. In 1953, less than a decade after that first festival in Irvington, the tradition of Halloween as a children’s holiday was fully accepted when UNICEF conducted it’s first national children’s charity fund raising campaign centered around trick-or-treaters.
z s-l640Most of this column’s readers are aware that part of my passion for history revolves around collecting, cataloging, displaying and observing antiques and collectibles. There exists in the collecting world a strong group of enthusiasts devoted to the pursuit and preservation of Halloween memorabilia of all types. Costumes, decorations, photographs, publications and postcards in particular. The origins of Halloween as we now know it might best be traced in the postcards issued to celebrate the tradition. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show costumed children, but do not depict trick-or-treating. It is believed that the pranks associated with early Halloween were perpetrated by unattended children left to their own devices while their parents caroused and partied without them. Some have characterized Halloween trick-or-treating as an adult invention to curtail vandalism previously associated with the holiday. Halloween was not widely accepted and many adults, as reported in newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s, typically saw it as a form of extortion, with reactions ranging from bemused indulgence to anger. Sometimes, even the children protested. As late as Halloween of 1948, members of the Madison Square Boys Club in New York City carried a parade banner that read “American Boys Don’t Beg.” Times have certainly changed since that first Halloween festival 65 years ago.
z 58bdce96102ac.imageA 2005 study by the National Confectioners Association reported that 80 percent of American households gave out candy to trick-or-treaters, and that 93 percent of children, teenagers, and young adults planned to either venture out trick-or-treating or to participate in other Halloween associated activities. In 2008, Halloween candy, costumes and other related products accounted for $5.77 billion in revenue. An estimated $2 billion worth of candy will be passed out during this Halloween season and one study claims that “an average Jack-O-Lantern bucket carries about 250 pieces of candy amounting to about 9,000 calories and containing three pounds of sugar.” Yes, 65-years ago, Halloween looked quite different than it does today. Next week, doorbells all over Irvington will ring, doors will be opened and wide-eyed gaggles of eager children will unanimously cry out “Trick-or-Treat” from Oak Avenue to Pleasant Run Parkway.
z halloween festivalCostumed kids will be rewarded for their efforts with all sorts of tribute in the form of coins, nuts, popcorn balls, fruit, cookies, cakes, and toys. As a casual observer born long after that first Irvington Halloween Festival and an active participant in the festivities that will begin next week, I’m glad that our Irvington forefathers skirted government regulations all those years ago. In fact, as a fan of all things Irvington, I’d go so far as to say that this community has played a big part in the Halloween holiday as we know it today. Because, grammar notwithstanding, nobody does Halloween like Irvington do.

 

Disney, Politics

Walt Disney Meets LBJ.

WaltAndLBJOriginal publish date:                October 29, 2014

Mid-term elections are over, so I figure it is once again safe to write about politics. Well, sort of anyway. One of my favorite political stories involves a pair of baby-boomer heroes on the eve of the seminal 1964 Presidential election. On September 14, 1964, Walt Disney received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, from Lyndon B. Johnson. The award recognizes those individuals who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”
There can be little doubt that Walt Disney deserved the honor, but controversy revolves around what Mr. Disney was wearing when he received the medal from President Johnson that day. Controversy from the man who brought us the happiest place on earth. What could that possibly be? Well, when Walt met Lyndon, he was wearing a Barry Goldwater for President button on his lapel. The lapel opposite the one that LBJ would pin the distinguished medal to.
The White House announced on July 3, 1964, that Walt would be a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. It was during the Goldwater campaign, and Walt Disney and his entire family were all united in their enthusiastic support of the Conservative Arizona Senator. Walt felt that it was all a ploy to surround the incumbent Democrat LBJ with people judged to be outstanding Americans for a powerful photo op during the campaign. The invitation came at a time when Walt Disney had bigger things on his mind: the New York World’s fair opening, the first death at Disneyland (Mark Maples on the Matterhorn) and the United States Lawn Bowling Championships. Wait, what? Lawn Bowling?
Betcha didn’t know that Walt Disney was one mean lawn bowler did ya? The White House ceremony was scheduled the Monday after the U.S. Lawn Bowling Championships at Buck Hill Falls, in the Pocono Mountains of eastern Pennsylvania near Scranton. The White House ceremony came at the end of a cross country journey Walt had arranged to take his Beverly Hills lawn bowling team back east to play in a few tournaments. Disney was passionate about lawn bowling at this time in his life. Walt bowled in the championships at Buck Hill Falls surrounded by, and competing against, just plain folk less than a week before he would meet the President of the United States.
At some point during his bowling sojourn, Walt decided he wanted to wear a Goldwater button to the White House. He asked an aid to get him a Goldwater pin. They got him two; a large 3″ pin with the slogan “Go-Go Goldwater” and a small tie-tac sized metallic gold metal lapel pin that combined the letter “G” and the numerals “64” as shorthand for “Goldwater in ’64”. Walt wore the big button on the plane going to Washington and joked to friends that he was going to wear it to the White House, although no-one really thought that he would.
Here’s where the story gets a little confusing. Some say that Walt wore the small “G ’64” pin in full view on the front of his lapel while others say he wore it pinned upside down under his lapel. Some of Walt’s friends say that he left the larger pin in his pocket while still others claim that he wore it pinned under his lapel. The very lapel that LBJ would pin the medal onto.
When Walt went to the podium to receive the medal from the President, he in some way tried to let Johnson know that he was wearing the Goldwater button. One account has LBJ discovering the pin while pinning the medal on. At the point of feeling the obstruction under the lapel, Walt flipped the lapel up to show the President the pin. Another states that LBJ saw the smaller tie-tac pin while initially pinning the medal onto the opposite lapel. Still another account claims that while Walt was on the podium and at a point when he and the President were face to face, Walt flipped up his lapel to reveal the pin.
For decades, this episode was viewed as an urban legend. It’s only recently that accounts from eye witnesses have surfaced confirming the incident. Although the exact details may remain fuzzy, the event itself has not been denied. Some members of the Johnson administration came forward to admit that LBJ “was not very happy about it…but I don’t think anything was said between them” and that “Johnson did not take Walt’s political commentary with good grace at all.”
One account of the incident comes from Emile Kuri, a longtime set decorator for the Disney live-action films. Kuri was a regular travel companion of Walt’s in the 1960s. Kuri recalls: “Walt didn’t like Johnson at all and he was wearing a Goldwater button. I was wearing the same button. But before I entered the White House, I took the button off. Walt didn’t. When he went into the White House, the aides to Johnson said, “Mr. Disney, please take that off.” He said, “Why should I? I’m voting for him.” You know he had the courage to do that. I didn’t. I had to take my button off. That man had such tremendous courage.”
2013GoldwaterLine-1x10Back in Los Angeles, Walt told his daughter that he had worn the small button openly and that he had worn the larger “Go Go Goldwater” button on the underside of his lapel. He explained this double placement as “So if anyone said anything about it [the small button], I’d flash this [the larger button]… as if to say, ‘which one do you prefer I wear?’ Wearing an opponent’s button visible to LBJ would seem to have been a slap in the President’s face, a rude gesture difficult to reconcile with the Walt Disney legend.

Walter Elias Disney, was born in Chicago and grew up in Missouri. He was a very devout Congregationalist Christian, the religion of his family, and was named after the family minister. Walt’s political leanings are well-known to be conservative, anti-union, and vehemently anti-communist. Disney was a close ally of “Red Scare” zealot Joe McCarthy. Walt even testified against some of his Hollywood peers in McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings. But was Walt Disney a boorish, ungrateful guest in the People’s House receiving an award so prestigious that- like the comparable Congressional Medal of Honor- it must be bestowed by an act of U.S. Congress?
Whatever the exact nature of Walt’s gesture, it was not defiant or insulting. It was more of an expression of Walt’s Midwestern sense of humor. If Walt said anything to LBJ about the incident, it would have surely been in jest. LBJ was well aware of Disney’s support for Goldwater before he bestowed the honor upon him. The subject of Walt’s support for Goldwater came up in one of LBJ’s recorded telephone conversations on September 6, 1964, eight days before the Medal of Freedom ceremony.
Disney was by nature an enthusiast, and in 1964, politics had become one of his enthusiasms. He had gotten to know General Dwight Eisenhower on social occasions at Palm Springs, and in July 1964, just a few days after the Medal of Freedom announcement, he visited the GOP national convention in San Francisco and was photographed there with Ike and his son, John. By wearing a Goldwater button, Walt may have been sticking up for his friends. Probably a mix of motives was at work: loyalty to fellow Republicans, sharp political differences with Johnson, and, perhaps most importantly, a once in a lifetime opportunity to pull the ultimate prank.
Years later, Walt’s daughter Diane said, “It was in bad taste not to remove it when he was received by the President. Dad did not respect Johnson, but did have great respect for the office he held. I was uneasy about what he said he’d done, but I did not let on. Rather, I probably said, ‘Good for you!’ or something like that. Alas, your animated man was not a perfect man. But he was not a coarse man. He did like to do the little unexpected ‘cute’ things like the bride and groom he designed for our wedding cake [the bride figure, representing Diane, was dressed in Levi’s, and the groom figure, representing Ron Miller, was dressed in Bermuda shorts and bare feet—and a football helmet]. He was the consummate gag man.”
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Whether you believe Walt Disney was making a political statement or just pulling a gag, this little known episode from the real life of a man whose name, like Ford, Hershey or Firestone, has become an iconic American brand, must surely make you smile.