Saturday, October 31, 2009

One strange Arkansas Halloween

Editor's note: This is the second version of this blog post. I had to make a few changes after consulting a calendar... MK

Happy Halloween, everybody!

The holiday for me always brings back a memory of a strange occurrence from my journalism career.

In 2004 I was the editor of the weekly newspaper in Wynne, Arkansas, a backwards little town on the Mississippi River delta in the eastern portion of the state, about an hour west of Memphis. For those of you who equate the State of Arkansas with the Ozarks, wipe that from your thoughts... eastern Arkansas is the flattest country I've ever seen. They grow rice there in flooded fields. Think Kansas is flat? Take a drive from Cherry Valley to Forrest City sometime. And yes, Forrest City, a few miles away from Wynne, is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was a Civil War general and went on to become the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I guess nobody ever considered changing the name of the town, although if I lived in Germany and my city was called Hitlerville, I think I'd want something different. On that same note, the city of Wynne, just like most of the towns down there, is literally divided by a set of railroad tracks. The white people live on one side of the tracks, and the African Americans live on the other side. No exceptions. No questions asked. No kidding.

The name of the town is pronounced "Win" by me and every Northerner I know, but down there "Wynne" has two syllables: "Wee-uhn." The football team's cheerleaders loved to yell "GOOOO WEEE-UHNNNN!!!" on the sidelines.

So one day in mid-October I was sitting in my office and a County Judge walked through the doors. County Judges are the equivalent of county commissioners in the civilized world, except in Arkansas there are about fifteen judges in each county, compared to three commissioners in most places. The County Judge strode into my office and said, "I jis' wanna remind you that we'll be celebratin' Halloween on Saturday this year."

Now, October 31st was on Sunday. I asked the judge, "Who's we?"

"Ever'body," he said.

"Why in the world," I asked, "would everybody be celebrating Halloween on the 30th instead of the 31st?"

"Well, hell," he replied. "We cain't have Halloween on a Sunday. That's a church night."

Now, I'd heard of a school night before. But I'd never heard of a church night. I'm not sure if it's because they didn't want the kids to miss Sunday night church activities or if they didn't want their children dressed up as vampires and goblins and demons on the day of the Lord. I asked a few of my co-workers, who were natives of this strange land, and they confirmed it. That's how it always happened when Halloween fell on a Sunday.

My wife and I were living in a duplex down there, so we stocked up on candy. And sure enough, on Saturday night, October 30, we had hundreds of Trick or Treaters. We gave away so much candy, I had to make a late night run to the store for more. And I bought extra, too, because I was certain we'd have more tykes at our doorstep on the real Halloween.

"Surely we'll have at least a few Trick-or-Treaters tomorrow night," I told Jamie.


Not a single one. They all abided by the "church night" rule.

We didn't stay in Wynne very long after that. The Halloween incident was not a factor. The backward-ness of the town? Well, yeah, I guess you could say it contributed to to our departure. By late November I had taken an editor's job back in Missouri, up north in Maryville to be exact.

Which also happens to be a backwards town...

But at least they celebrate Halloween on the right night.

PS: After I wrote the above post I spoke to some of my more aged friends and family, and they told me the "No Halloween on Sunday" custom was standard even in this part of the country back when they were children, but it's fallen by the wayside in recent decades. Interesting that some Southern towns still cling to it.

--Matt Kelsey

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