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  • Writer's pictureJ. Basil Dannebohm

A Halloween "hello" from simpler times

By J. Basil Dannebohm

A few weeks ago, while perusing the shelves of a bookstore in northern California home, I noticed a collection of macabre literature brought out just in time for All Hallows Eve. It was then, by happenstance, that I was reminded of my home on the range.

I came across a book called "Haunted Heartland” and the first page I opened to was a story entitled, “The Ellinwood Capers,” a ghost story documenting an experience that happened in my hometown, Ellinwood. While I can’t say that I’ve heard many ghost stories taking place in Ellinwood, I do recall an account of a bride who is said to haunt an old train depot-turned-winery. Personally, however, I never had a ghostly encounter throughout my childhood on the Kansas prairie.

Perhaps my stumbling upon the Ellinwood Capers was in a sense a ghostly reminder?

Perhaps it was the spirits of my childhood memories saying hello from a simpler time and place?

Oh the memories that book stirred up.

When I was young, the school children would wear their costumes to school and take part in a sort of makeshift parade down Main Street, stopping in Boger’s, Gannaway’s and the People’s State Bank and always receiving a treat and a smile. Later in the evening, the porch lights and the eyes of the young and young at heart were ablaze as everyone made their way around town gathering goodies.

Like in most small towns, it was common knowledge which neighborhoods the kids liked to hit first. Mary Rollins always had a great treat basket, it went without saying that Dr. Law would be a pleasant stop, every child who stopped at Genie Steffan’s house was bound to get a delicious homemade popcorn ball, and if there wasn’t three feet of snow on the ground, we would make our way out to the north side of town for a visit to the home of one of Ellinwood’s most cheerful residents, Evelyn Stegman. (I’m told that just down the street from Mrs. Stegman, my grandparents always offered great treats, but to show impartiality I will forego making any such mention.)

For the older kids, there was the Haunted House, sponsored by the Jaycees in the Menges Fireworks Warehouse. For the adults, who either had no kids or sent the kids out with the other parent, there was a cold beer and a warm heater at one of the many watering holes. There was some- thing for all ages on All Hallows Eve in Ellinwood.

They say that next to Christmas, Halloween is truly the most exciting holiday for children. There’s something to be said of walking up the stairs to a decorated front porch and a warm, albeit spooky welcome. While we often had to wear winter coats over costumes and trudge through snow, the experience of knocking and declaring, “trick or treat” should be something every child experiences.

My home on the range provided an All Hallows Eve that one would be hard pressed to find anyplace else. I’m glad I found that book that stirred up memories of a simpler time. Without it, these treasured memories would have remained hidden away in the far recesses of my mind.

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