There are lots of reasons to hate Halloween, I mean other than the Wal-Mart shelves filled with cheesy costumes and the bags of leftover candy that get deposited in the office break room. The main one for me is the fact that it has morphed from a holiday for kids playing dress-up to yet another excuse for adults to get together and drink too much. And I’m not a fan of slasher films that tend to dominate the cineplexes each October.
I’m familiar with a whole raft of serious concerns about the holiday: how it’s a thinly disguised recruitment ceremony for Satanism, how it inspires all sorts of mayhem from window soaping to hiding razor blades in candy apples. Something tells me that Satan probably has more success recruiting souls during rush hour on I-93 than on the jack-o-lantern-lit streets of suburban New Hampshire. I think the razor blade in the apple is just an urban myth, and I once took a bar of Palmolive out to soap windows and realized I didn’t have a clue what that involved. My night was rescued when I ran into some friends with some extra rolls of toilet paper.
Growing up, one of my favorite authors was (still is) Ray Bradbury and October was (probably still is) his favorite month. In his grand opus, “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Bradbury wrote: “And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.”
I remember that feeling well: that sense that the haunted corners of the neighborhood were just aching to reveal themselves to me through the sharp oval eyeholes of a plastic monster mask.
According to “Haunted New Hampshire,” by Thomas D’Agostino (Schiffer Publishing), there are at least 48 major locations in the state with hauntings worthy of note. In Renee Mallett’s book “Manchester Ghosts” (Schiffer Publishing) she relates 23 haunted spots in the Queen City alone. Now, if I believed in ghosts, which I don’t (I keep telling myself), then I might look at informal statistics like this and come to a conclusion: The whole darn state is haunted. But maybe that’s not so bad.
Legend has it that Halloween is the one night of the year when the veil between the world of matter and the world of spirit is thinnest, when it’s possible for creatures locked in time to squint and see right through to the other side — into eternity. Ghosts, then, are simply denizens of the past — or maybe the future — squinting back at us. New Hampshire in the fall is certainly about as timeless a place as you can find.
I can live with this idea. And I like the thought that our ghosts get to see us in many ways at our best. Ignore the silly or ghastly costumes for a moment and see what’s really going on. Children bravely, joyfully walking together in the streets at dusk, going up to strangers and receiving compliments and hospitality, whole neighborhoods dressing up for the occasion. If that’s a ghost-haunted event, we could use more of them.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
This article appears in the March 2010 issue of New Hampshire Magazine