Trick or Treat! A look back at vintage Halloween in Dayton

Halloween is a custom that originates from an ancient Celtic festival called Samhain, which marked the end of the harvest season. It was also the time of year when people stocked up on supplies and prepared for the winter months.

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The ancient Celts believed that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead grew thinner on Oct. 31. The dead might come back and cause trouble, such as damaging those just-harvested crops.

Immigrants to the United States introduced secular Halloween customs in the late 19th century, notably mischief-making by boys and young men.

The earliest reference to what we now refer to as trick-or-treating in North America came in a newspaper brief in 1911 from Kingston, Ontario. The newspaper reported children would go “street guising” (begging) for an hour on Halloween.

The tradition began to gather steam in the United States in the 1920s. Dressing in disguise at parties became popular and stores began selling pre-made costumes in the 1930s.

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Sugar rationing during World War II stalled trick-or-treating; but when the war ended and the growth of suburbs exploded, the trick-or-treating tradition took off.

Halloween in the Miami Valley keeps growing in popularity. On Saturday thousands of costumed revelers will attend Hauntfest on Fifth in Dayton’s Oregon District. Originally known as “Boo & Brew,” the event has taken place for more than three decades, the longest-running Halloween-themed block party in the area.

Along Main Street in downtown Fairborn, the six Halloween-themed Foy’s store have transformed the streetscape into a spooky playground. The original store was founded in 1929 as a five-and-dime store by current owner Michael Foy’s late grandfather, Albert. It was later operated by Foy’s father, Norman, until his death in 1987.

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Foy said that he has loved Halloween as long as he can remember. As a boy in the early 1970s, he attended toy fairs in New York City with his father to help make decisions about what they would purchase for the store. At those fairs the pair first noticed Halloween items were becoming a big thing. “We did Halloween before it was cool to do Halloween,” he said. That decade the family opened a year-round Halloween-themed store.

Foy believes Halloween continues to grow in popularity because “at Christmas time you buy something for someone else, but at Halloween you buy it for yourself.

“You can buy a costume and be someone you wanted to be and act a little crazy and have fun,” he said.

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HISTORY EXTRA is a weekly pictorial history feature showcasing the Miami Valley's rich heritage. If you have a unique set of historic photos found in your parents' or grandparents' attic that depicts the past in the Miami Valley, please contact Lisa Powell at 937-225-2229 or at

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