“Yesterday’s Memories Tomorrow’s Dreams” by Carmen Tom – Halloween of 1938, The Biggest Prank

Halloween of 1938
The Biggest Prank

It was the fall of 1938. I was 12 years old. It is real cold this time of year, and this was HALLOWEEN. We had been looking forward to this night for at least six or seven months. I had secretly been planning a real trick. Today they call it “Trick or Treat.” But back in the thirties it was a big thing to look forward to. All the kids and big kids would really pull some doozies; tipping out-houses was the number one on their list. I and Virgil had all we needed up on the water tower. We and our friend Victor had been planning this big prank. All three of us had saved as much money as we could all year. Come the 4th of July, fire works was the big thing in those days. We bought all the fire works we had money for. We didn’t fire any off on the 4th; we saved them for the big night coming up on October 31st. We had our masks to hide our identity. We had flash lights, real heavy jackets, gloves; all we needed. So I said “Virgil, let’s do it.”

BrittonOur plan was to climb up the city water tower to the top rail which went all the way around the tower. It also had a ladder which went to the very top. If one was really brave, which most , we would climb to the very top and yell down to our friends below. Some kids thought it totally crazy. We had planned on making a dummy to take to the top of the tower. At the night time we would drop him down on the crowd below. We figured this would really drive the cops and crowd below nuts. Our little town of Britton, 1500 people, had one old cop, my uncle Bill Stadler. Also, a county sheriff and one deputy. The sheriff and deputy had at least 8 towns to watch over. So they were busy most of the time. It was around 9:30 on the eve of the 31st. We climbed to the top of the tower. We had our dummy, eggs, flash lights, water and food; and all we needed. We had planned on spending a few hours up on the tower. Around 10 o’clock we flashed our lights at the ground below. I threw an egg at one old lady and Virgil threw one at an old man. We both missed. By this time there was a good crowd below. They were all talking and one man called up “you kids come down at once.” At that moment I threw an egg at him and hit him. He became very angry. All the people started yelling, “You crazy kids, come down.” Remember, no one knew who was up on the tower. Pretty soon Bill Stadler, the cop, showed up and yelled for us to come down. We threw eggs at him and I poured a gallon of water on him. That really got him mad. This is just what we wanted. We plastered him with eggs. He said he was coming up to throw us down. We said, come on you old devil. If you come any further, we will throw down our pal Fred. At this time they thought there were only two of us. I held the dummy up. He looked real from 30 ft. in the air, let alone 120 ft. The cop yelled up, “What’s your last name so we can go tell your parents. We made up the last name of “Price.”

Pals foreverThere was a family named Price who lived up in the hills East of Britton who had lots of boys, so they really didn’t know who Fred was. In fact, the Prices lived 18-20 miles out of town: no phone, no lights, real poor people. Their youngest son was a good friend of mine. We called him “Cuffy.” I remember a year before he bought an old Model T Ford for $15.00 from OLD SAM’S Used Cars. Sam sold cars, farm machinery, etc.; for $50.00 or less you could buy a good used car. My mother bought a used car (our first car), a 1929 Chev. for $65.00 from Thorpe Auto. She saved years to buy this car. Old Cuffy let me drive his car. All of us kids would save our money until we had 30 to 40 cents for gas (18 cents a gallon). You didn’t need a drivers license. You could drive at any age. I remember one time my mother had to haul something and we had no car. She asked me to go to Herman Johnson and ask if we could use his truck for an hour. Herman had a grocery store and they delivered groceries to your home. Almost everyone in town owed him money. He was a wonderful, kindhearted man. I used the truck and I told him thanks and that I would help unload the big grocery truck when it came in once a week. His truck was a 3-speed. I really loved to drive that truck. Old Herman would always give us kids candy bars when we helped him.

Now, back to my story:

The big bully kept coming up the ladder. He was wet and covered with eggs. He said how are you kids? We said nothing. I had saved the big surprise for this moment. I had hauled 3 big bags of cow manure up the tower days before. This was wet and runny stuff. The guy kept on coming. I thought, this is it and I poured a sack of the goop on him. I did this just as he looked up. That did it: he couldn’t get down fast enough. He was yelling that he was going to get his gun and kill us. The cop said you can’t do that; I’ll get them down. He had one last big bully from town, Lou. He was real big and he thought he was someone special. He started up the ladder and it was covered with eggs and water and manure. He had on a nice jacket and pants and gloves and shoes. I told Virgil we will let him get 70 to 80 ft. up then give him the works. We had one big bag of manure left and just as he looked up we poured a gallon of water on him, and 10 eggs, and the manure. He almost lost his footing. This scared him.

He kept on yelling, you boys are going to jail for this trick. We said you have to catch us first. He looked up and said Who the hell are you kids? I know every kid in town. We said we are not from Britton, you big dummy. He looked up again and I threw the last bag of manure on him. It hit him right in the face and neck. Then Virgil poured 2 gallons of water on him and we plastered him with some more eggs. That did it. He started down and Stadler knew he could not climb the ladder. He kept yelling for us to come down. We were getting low on our supply of water and eggs, so I told Virgil it is time we drop the dummy down. I started playing with the dummy; he looked as real as could be. The crowd kept yelling to come down.

By this time it was getting cold. We had had enough fun, so I pushed the dummy. He fell right into the crowd below. As he was falling, we could hear the people crying and saying, the poor kid, I wonder who he was? We had hooked the two bags of blood in the dummy (old cow blood). When the dummy hit the ground, blood spattered all over. People screamed and began to leave. They couldn’t take any more. The cop yelled again for us to come down.

It took about ten minutes before someone had the nerve to look at the dummy. The crowd was getting smaller. When Stadler saw it was a dummy he really got mad. He said he was coming up himself to get us kids. He started up the ladder and I told Virgil this is our last chance and we will give all we’ve got left. We plastered him with eggs, water and our last bag of manure. He could take no more. He climbed down as fast as he could without slipping. We could hear him say he was going home to clean up. He was freezing. Only a few were left.

About this time Virgil hollered “FIRE” in town. Looks like the theater. We could see real good as we were 120 ft. up. Old Victor had done his job. He had rigged the fire works to go off at just the right time. Smoke bombs and all. It looked and sounded bad. The crowd all left and started running to their homes and to the town two blocks away. We waited until they were all gone. We climbed down faster than any fireman could have. We were on the ground before you could say “Jack Robinson.” We ran down by the elevators, took off our masks and hid them; brushed ourselves off and just walked away. Remember, it was now late, 12 or 12:30 AM and really cold. We thought we would really have some fun and we drifted down town into the crowd. The people started saying there is no fire, let’s go back to the water tower. When they got back there was no one there. They all started blaming on another. Said someone should have stayed and watched those kids; but being so cold they all left for their homes. And, we went home, too.

This trick was the talk of the town for months and years to come. They all wondered who those kids were. We went right along with them. They all said some day they will find out. You know what? They never did. Well, it’s 62 years later. Both Virgil and Victor died several years ago. I’ve been gone from Bntton for over 57 years, but I go back at least once a year. My parents are both gone, but I have brothers and sisters there and many friends. I am sure most of those that were in that crowd that Halloween night are dead. Old Uncle Bill died years and years ago.

I wondered for years if I should ever tell this story. I’ve argued both ways; should I or shouldn’t I; but, what the HELL. If there are any of you who remember the “Biggest Prank” of Halloween 1938 — it was I and Virgil and Victor.

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