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Runyon: A Stroll Through Halloweens Past


Most days I find myself driving down Hillcrest Avenue in Crescent Hill. It’s a handsome street, with many early 20th century homes.

At some point, residents there decided they would also become “Holiday Lane.” They celebrate by decorating their houses and yards. Halloween is the big one, and they begin preparing for it about the time the temperature mercifully drops below 90 degrees.

Skeletons, witches, zombies, pumpkins, ghosts, black cats, and Jack-o-lanterns line the Hillcrest blocks. The decorations are often extravagant. Visitors wander up and down all hours of the day or night. But it’s best as dusk falls, and the moon begins to rise.

What a magical time Halloween can be. It’s also a memory-making time for children, whose wonder at the carved pumpkins, costumes and candy knows no bounds.

The Halloweens of my childhood in the 1950s were simpler. Most families bought pumpkins at the grocery store. On the eve of Halloween, my family would gather in the kitchen to scoop and carve.

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Decorations were paper cutout witches, ghosts and skeletons. Woolworth’s, the neighborhood dime store, had a selection. The florist shops had the best display windows. In the days before Halloween, our family made a habit of driving past two near the entrance to Cave Hill Cemetery: Marret and Miller on one side and Schulz’s on the other. Plehn’s Bakery in St. Matthews also fixed up their windows — and they still do.

Most years my costumes came from the dime stores, too: W. T. Grant’s, Woolworth’s, the O&L. These weren’t zombie or vampire disguises. Instead, in the displays along most sidewalks in the 1950s, you saw legions of Snow Whites, Mickey Mouses, Supermen, Cinderellas, Howdy Doodies and Davy Crocketts.

Some years we also made a trip downtown to Caufield’s and to Kuprion’s, the leading costume shops in town. Kuprion’s, now long gone, was in a dusty second-floor space at Second and Market.

Caufield’s, on West Main Street, got its start as a photo studio. But in the 1920s it began to sell magic tricks and costumes. When he was a boy, Cassius Clay was an amateur magician and shopped at Caufield’s for tricks. I’m sure Muhammad Ali regrets leaving that behind for a boxing career.

No, Halloween isn’t what it used to be. But if you walk down Hillcrest Avenue at twilight, you’ll realize it’s still just as good as it always was.
Keith Runyon is a longtime Louisville journalist and former editorial page editor for The Courier-Journal. His commentaries run every Friday on 89.3 WFPL and wfpl.org.

(Featured photo via Wikimedia Commons)