Looking Back: Pumpkin Roll!

Jefferson County Historical Society submitted the following article:

[Pictured above: Young girls in 1940 usually put their costumes together from found items for Halloween trick or treating. Ready-made costumes were rare in those days.(Courtesy Jefferson County History Center)]

Submitted by Carole Briggs:


Apparently, some folks don’t wait for Halloween to start those pumpkins rolling down Pickering Street. Recently, as I drove up Brookville’s most challenging hill, I noted a number of the smashed vegetables near the curb.

When was it that this custom of racing pumpkins down “Shanghai” began?

The collection of newspapers at the History Center is a great help when questions like these pop up. Early editions usually ran a “Home Happening” or “Personals” column each week where the editor inserted little bits of local information. Things like who was visiting whom, which family had a new arrival or illness, and which events had recently occurred.

We looked at some of those columns and learned that it often rained on Halloween!

“Tuesday evening of this week was Hallowe’en. The boys behaved very nicely, and we have heard of little mischief being done. The rain that was falling doubtless had something to do with this result, and there were several social gatherings in different parts of town for our young people, that had a tendency to divert their minds from mischief. And then several policemen were on the alert.”

Just like today, community organizations like the YMCA, the Chamber, and the Brookville Volunteer Fire Department provided entertainment and treats for the masqueraders. People organized parties, too, as indicated by this note from 1919, “Quite a number of our young folks enjoyed a dance in Pearsall Hall.”

More than 150 years ago, however, Hallowe’en took a different turn when the editor wrote “a portion of our inhabitants (they do not deserve the name of citizens) took it upon them-selves in accordance with an ancient practice, to tear up things generally. During the early part of the night, the younger class of vagabonds amused themselves in dragging old sleighs through dark and muddy alleys, tearing down board-piles, and such like performances; but towards morning, an older, more vindictive and reckless class commenced their destruction of property cutting down sign-posts, breaking trees, stealing wagon-wheels, etc.” And more!

More recently someone described collecting pumpkins in 1968, then rolling them down the Pickering Street hill, and claimed that it was “probably the first pumpkin roll!” The chief of police was not too happy!

Aren’t we glad organizations like the Brookville Volunteer Fire Department, the Chamber, and the YMCA have organized more positive ways to enjoy this ancient holiday?

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

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