The origins of our Halloween traditions

Back in the day: Area residents remember


October 25, 2023

Every year, we have a public Halloween festival – where kids parade through town in their outfits and go from shopfront to shopfront to get their candy loot. Sure, some families keep sweets at home in case anyone shows up in the evening, but trick-or-treating isn’t really a custom here. Newcomers are baffled by this. A lot of old-time residents just accept it as one of La Conner’s many quirks. Why do we have a public party instead of trick-or-treating? Only a few know the true origin story. Here it is: My grandfather and his friends got it banned, and they swore a sacred oath to never bring it back.

In the late 1930s, the “trick” element of trick-or-treating was more pronounced. Teenagers at the time – now beloved great-grandparents who insist that they were all very well-behaved – used to pull elaborate pranks on the townsfolk every year. Names like Austin Swanson and Red Reynolds float around when talking about The Great Ban, but we know for a fact that brothers Louie and Clarence Nelson were among those calling the shots. This mysterious group of young men pulled the prank that ended all pranks.

In the dark of the night, they descended upon La Conner and stole every outhouse in town (as indoor plumbing was still a rarity). When families woke up in the morning, they left their homes and realized they had nowhere to empty their full bladders. Some of the outhouses were found far beyond the city limits. Others were found – inexplicably – on the rooftops of downtown businesses. A few were in the middle of farm fields. Other teens had spent the night soaping windows and banging on walls, resulting in an old woman pulling a shotgun on two teenage girls. The resulting mess of trying put everything back in order forced La Conner’s leaders to enter formal negotiations with the local youths.

The town offered to host some form of public Halloween festival, and in exchange, the teenagers would have to give up trick-or-treating forever. They all agreed and took a solemn oath, which my grandparents upheld to their dying days. The truth was eventually lost to time, and a public Halloween party became an innocent La Conner tradition.

Jessica Brady is the granddaughter of Roberta and Louie Nelson, both lifelong residents of the community, and is the caretaker of their family’s many stories.

First published Oct. 25, 2017.


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