Great Amsterdam Traditions – Halloween

Amsterdam continues to develop wonderful new Halloween season traditions. I just participated in one of them. The Historic Amsterdam League’s 7th annual Ghost Tour took place last weekend (the accompanying photo shows your’s truly playing the ghost of Henry Grieme, one of Amsterdam’s most accomplished builders and business owners). This Thursday, another rendition of the popular Trick or Treat on the MVGO Bridge will be taking place. So I thought today would be a good time to look back at how Halloween in Amsterdam spawned three older traditions that entertained an entire community, especially the Rug City’s young ones.

Paintings on the Windows of Downtown Stores
Every October back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70’s, the Amsterdam Kiwanis Club sponsored a Halloween window painting contest for the youth of our community. Instead of soaping windows as a Trick-or-Treat prank, the Kiwanian’s awarded cash prizes to the teams of Rug City students whose plate glass backed depictions were judged to be prize-worthy. Over fifty different downtown merchants would participate in the event, donating one or more of their store’s display windows to serve as canvases for the amateur artists. Dozens upon dozens of kids would descend on Amsterdam’s downtown armed with paper sketches of what they were planning as their finished piece, wax pencils, paint brushes and jar upon jar of different color paints, heavy on the orange and black. Each sketch had to first be approved by the children’s art teacher. When all the windows were done, downtown would become very crowded with amateur art lovers who would walk the L-shaped outdoor Halloween gallery, which extended all the way from the corner of Market and Division to the Bargain City discount store on Main Street.  In 1962, the talented team of Louise LoBalbo, Sharon Pallotta, Stella Kohut and Agnes Boccio collaborated on the ghostly checker game that is pictured with this post, which appeared on the window of Morrison & Putman’s popular music store then still located on Market Street. The four young painters split a first prize of $10. Such a paltry sum is a clear indication that the kids who participated were in it for recognition more than money. How valuable was that recognition? A kid named Paul Tonko made the prize list at least a couple of times during his childhood and today he’s a US Congressman!

The Annual Halloween Parade
Another Amsterdam Halloween tradition once sponsored by the Kiwanis Club is the annual Halloween parade. Every year for as long as I can remember, the kids of this city put on their costumes and headed toward the parade route to march past thousands of parents, grandparents and kids who were either a bit too old or thought they were a bit too cool to join the promenade of witches, ghosts, monsters and some of the most creative disguises many of us have ever seen. The Little Giants players and cheerleaders and all of Amsterdam’s various youth scouting organizations had it easy when it came to figuring out what to wear because they always marched together as groups dressed in their uniforms. All the other costumed marching participants were divided up by which school they attended. One of the highlights of each year’s parade and a custom still being practiced is the appearance of the Amsterdam High School Marching Band and Majorettes all dressed in their own costumes of choosing. I remember my own four kids marching in this parade and in fact have a vivid memory of myself as a youngster doing the same. The late ABC Newsman, Joe Spencer, his little brother Phil and I marched in the 1964 parade as the Spirit of 76. We won a pen set, but so did everyone else. The Amsterdam Elks Club took over sponsorship of the Parade in 2000 and have made sure it continues on as an Amsterdam tradition and they deserve the gratitude of our entire community for doing so.

Trick or Treating
My own children and grandchildren still don’t believe this. When I was a kid in the late 1950s and early ’60’s, Amsterdam had three official nights of Trick or Treating. That’s right, Rug City youngsters would gobble down their suppers, put on their costumes, grab the brown paper grocery bags their Mom’s used to fold up and store on the back porch and spend the next four hours knocking on doors seeking full-sized Milky Ways, Hershey Bars, Almond Joys, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups etc. I repeat, home owners and apartment dwellers in every neighborhood of this city used to hand out full sized versions of these popular sweet treats not the little miniatures they do now, for three full nights. Of course those big bar versions were only a nickel back then and lot’s of people still gave us apples and the dreaded popcorn balls, but it did seem that it was a lot easier for everybody to get into the candy-giving spirit than it is now-days. The three-day span also gave kids the opportunity to scope out a trick-or-treating travel strategy to maximize both the volume and quality of stuff dropped into your bag. We used to do the flat streets of the West End the first night, the hills the second and then on the third, we’d attack the fringes of surrounding neighborhoods always making sure to revisit the places that gave us the best treats from the nights before.

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