Leaves were falling and a cool wind scurried across a landscape punctuated by mud-gray skies. Mister Boomer and his classmates hurried home from school, skin tingling with the anticipation of the annual night of trick-or-treating. For Mister B and many of his classmates, trick-or-treat time would have to wait until after dinner with the family.
As twilight approached and his mother prepared dinner, Mister B set out his costume, readying it for the instant he could change and go. It was a chilly day, so long johns would be in order this year; anything was preferable to having to put a coat over a costume. “This will be the year,” he thought. This was going to be the Big One, when he filled a pillowcase with candy.
There would be no plastic pumpkin to carry for boomer boys. Those things were reserved for the young ones, whose trick-or-treating meant being walked through the neighborhood while holding the hand of a parent. For Mister Boomer and most others of the time, only a pillowcase from the family’s linen closet would do. They would dream bigger. It was the 1960s, after all.
It had been the goal of every trick-or-treater Mister Boomer knew for years. And every year they fell short. They were dealing with a timed event — starting at six, after dinner, and required to be back home by nine — the clock was not in their favor. Extrapolate the sheer distance needed to be covered to complete the task and the equation seemed impossible. The prime Halloween experience was itself limited by age; by the time Mister B was eight, he was allowed to trick or treat with his friends, but by fourteen, the days of heading door to door for treats was over.
The fact was, Mister Boomer never came close. Brother Boomer hit the three-quarter mark once, and Mister B was able to exceed the half-way point during his prime years. One neighborhood kid, though, reached the Holy Grail. Mister B was already nearing his home as nine o’clock approached when the boy, completely out of breath, held up his bounty with both hands for all to see. There, spilling to the edge of his pillowcase, were cellophanes of root beer barrels, Smarties and sleeves of Whoopers glimmering in the ambient porch lights of the neighborhood. He had it all: Mary Janes, Bazooka Bubble Gum, Good & Plentys, Fruit Stripes gum, Buttons, Snickers bars, Three Musketeers, Chuckles, Milky Way bars, Pay Days, Junior Mints, Necco Wafers, Butterfingers, Almond Joys, Boston Baked Beans, Atomic Fireballs, Turkish Taffy, Powerhouse bars, Clark bars, JuJubes, Dots, Lifesavers, Chiclets gum, SweeTarts, Bit-O-Honeys, Tootsie Pops, Tootsie Rolls, Pixie Sticks, Dum Dum suckers, Slo Pokes and Sugar Daddys on a stick, a couple of apples and dozens of those chewy peanut butter caramel kisses wrapped in black or orange waxed paper. And he had the admiration of every boomer boy on the block.
Halloween had always been a sprint rather than a marathon. This kid ran right out of the gate and never stopped running for three hours. If one’s goal was to accumulate as much as possible, there was no time for tricks or lollygagging at the homemade papier-mâché witch that was rigged by the neighbors to traverse a rope as children approached. He did violate the number one rule that every boomer mother laid down, though: he ran across lawns instead of using the walkway up to each porch.
The point of this Mister Boomer memory is that this kid, and all the boomers Mister B knew, got to keep whatever they collected. Some parents tried to control the intake of candy in each setting, but whatever was gathered in the pillowcase became theirs to control. In the case of Mister Boomer and his siblings, they had to sacrifice an occasional Junior Mints or Butterfingers to their father, and his mother liked to have Milky Ways straight from the freezer. It was all part of the game, like paying taxes on an annual basis.
The prompt for this memory was a recent chat Mister B had with some Gen X mothers who severely restrict their children’s Halloween treat collection, and make no apologies for it. After their initial candy inspection for nefarious anomalies, these mothers force their offspring to select a couple of handfuls of what they have collected, and the rest is given away, either to charities or, in this case, set out in their mothers’ workplace. While their intentions are good — presumably to cut sugar intake and reduce cavities — Mister B wonders about the wisdom of these actions.
While obesity among children is at an all-time high, studies indicate the problem isn’t with the consumption of candy. True, the average American consumes 22 pounds of candy each year, with nearly half of that being chocolate. That number has been relatively stable over the past decade or so, though up considerably from the time when boomers trick-or-treated. Halloween candy, though, only accounts for four percent of annual candy consumption. It turns out, adults are eating more candy than kids.
The major culprit that government and nutritionist studies point to are sugary drinks. The intake of these items has steadily risen since the early 1960s, when the first 12 ounce can of soda pop with a pull-tab was introduced. At the time, bottles were eight ounces or less, compared to the 20 ounce bottles that are commonplace today. Boomers, generally speaking, did not consume soda pop on a daily basis, and sugar-filled, so-called energy and sports drinks did not exist. Boomers got their dose of sugar the old-fashioned way — in our breakfast cereal.
So, Mister Boomer is coming down on the side of the kids on this one. Sure, parents have to watch what their kids eat. But let them be kids, too. Halloween is slowly but surely being co-opted by adults enamored with all things scary. Part of Mister B’s favorite memories include the candy that he received and ate on Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas and, especially, Halloween. What memories will today’s kids tell of their Halloween candy experiences? Or has candy become so much of an everyday item that the specialness of a candy-filled holiday has lost all meaning?
Did you get to keep and eat all the candy you collected on Halloween, boomers? Have a great evening with your grandchildren, and don’t fill up on those snack-size bars!
It’s Halloween week, an appropriate time to reminisce about the candy we collected when we were young enough to want as much as we could possibly carry. The Holy Grail in Mister Boomer’s neighborhood was to fill a standard pillowcase. It’s a feat only one boy came close to accomplishing, but along the way, we gathered mounds of Mounds, and plenty of Good ‘n Plenty.
Mister Boomer has always enjoyed getting more bang for the buck, and that held true for Halloween candy, too. After full-size candy bars (the ultimate prize), things that offered multiple items were among his favorites: Whoppers, Kits (m-m-m — banana flavor!), Dots, Junior Mints, Chuckles and Lifesavers, to name a few. And then there were the sugary wafers and tablets of Necco Wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts.
Predating the boomer era by two generations, Necco wafers were the product of a New England confectioner named Oliver Chase. He invented a lozenge cutter machine in 1847, which was the first candy-making machine in the United States. Oliver partnered with his brother, Silas Edwin Chase, and they began selling candy as Chase and Company, which later became the New England Confectionery Company (NECCO).
During the Civil War, soldiers carried some of the lozenge-shaped, Chase brothers candy. They called them “hub wafers.” The sugary concoction would not melt in a pocket and could last a long while. In 1911, the brothers began calling their candy Necco wafers. When World War II came along, Necco wafers were given to soldiers for the same reasons Civil War soldiers carried them. A great many who may not have been acquainted with the New England brand took a liking to it, so when they returned home, they continued to buy it. This helped the brand expand coast to coast. Once these former soldiers got married and started the post-war Baby Boom, they introduced their children to the brand, most notably, on Halloween.
The original flavors were lemon (yellow), lime (green), orange (orange), clove (purple), chocolate (brown), cinnamon (white), licorice (black) and wintergreen (pink). Mister B liked the licorice the best and the clove the least. All black packages of Necco were available in some stores.
The small, sweet-and-tart Smarties candies were among Mister Boomer’s favorite Halloween booty. Edward Dee and his family started CeDe Candy in 1949, perfectly positioning their product to take full advantage of the Baby Boom. They repurposed shell making machines from World War II to make their candy tablets.
Kids loved the sugary taste as much as the shape. In an era when medicine seemed to taste bad by its very nature, kids could pretend they were taking a Smarties pill and enjoy the experience. Made in pastel colors, the “pills” were fun. The original color/flavor line up was orange (orange), yellow (pineapple), pink (cherry), white (orange cream), green (strawberry) and purple (grape). When there was a shortage of sugar in the 1970s, the company switched to dextrose. The company name was changed to Smarties Candy Company in 2011 to reflect the importance of the product to the company’s bottom line. Now in his 90s, Edward Dee still runs the company.
A true boomer candy, SweeTarts were invented by John Fish Smith and introduced in 1963. The story goes that mothers were looking for a less messy version of the immensely popular Pixy Stix. You will recall Pixy Stix were a blast of colored and flavored sugar delivered as a powder inside a wax paper straw. Smith solved the powder mess by using the same basic recipe and same flavors of cherry, grape, lemon, lime and orange to form his SweeTarts candies.
The tart flavors were a big hit with Mister Boomer’s sister. Halloween night she would try to trade Mister B and Brother Boomer her collected Three Musketeers and PayDay bars for as many SweeTarts as the boys were willing to part with, which in Mister B’s case wasn’t much. He enjoyed the candy, too, just not to the extent of his sister. Mister B was willing to part with some of the smaller, Halloween-sized packages because he didn’t like the fact the tiny pouch only contained three candies. He’d keep the full-size packages for himself.
The candy is now owned by Nestle and branded with the Willy Wonka label.
Mister B, like most boomers, has fond memories of running house to house to collect as much sugary goodness as he could in the short trick or treat evening. While he still feels a day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine, these candies remind him that boomers did not live by chocolate alone.
Necco wafers, Smarties and SweeTarts: were they among your favorites, boomers?
Halloween is happening this week, so naturally it got Mister Boomer thinking about his boomer days of trick or treating. In an era when products proudly carried the label “sugar,” candy wasn’t seen as the great evil it is today. Back then, high fructose corn syrup wasn’t added to practically every product, though, so sugar consumption was undoubtedly lower per child. Candy wasn’t usually an everyday treat, either. The biggest complaint parents had against the onslaught of sugary Halloween treats was possible tooth decay.
In Mister Boomer’s neighborhood, trick or treating began immediately after dinner. For Mister B and his siblings, that meant around 6 pm. The younger children were accompanied by a parent or older sibling, but by the age of eight, most of the neighborhood kids were on their own. They usually traveled in packs of four or more, and the streets were filled with kids and adults all the way to 9 pm.
When it came to candy gathering, a small plastic pumpkin wasn’t going to do the trick. Only the little tykes carried those. For the rest of the kids, regular cotton pillow cases were the receptacle of choice. The goal was to fill the pillow case. It was a Herculean task that Mister B never accomplished. In fact, the closest he ever saw was a neighbor boy who literally ran from house to house for the three designated hours, and was able to fill three-quarters of his pillow case. Mister Boomer could count on filling half the case pretty regularly.
Mister B loved the whole idea of being able to walk up to a stranger’s front door and receive candy just for simply saying, “Trick or treat.” After a quick “thank you,” it was on to the next house. The whole gamut of 1950s treats found their way into Mister Boomer’s pillow case. There were very few kinds he didn’t like; however, he preferred candy to popcorn balls or apples, and definitely didn’t want pennies.
Naturally, though, Mister B had his favorites. Among the loot was Milky Way, Snickers, Three Musketeers, Baby Ruth and Payday candy bars, Good ‘n Plenty, Necco Wafers, Smarties, rolls of Lifesavers, Mary Janes, Squirrels, Junior Mints, Slo-Pokes, Turkish Taffy, Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Dots, Boston Baked Beans, assorted gums, including Bazooka bubble gum, Juicy Fruit, Fruit Stripe, Chiclets and Black Jack, malted milk balls, Dum Dum suckers and many more. Mister B leaned toward the chocolate candy bars as his favorites, but to this day, he asks the question of why anyone would want to limit themselves to just one favorite? His younger self could probably never answer the question, but yet there were certain kinds that were separated and hidden away from the grabbing hands of Brother Boomer.
Among the bounty that Mister B chose to isolate to savor at his leisure were Chunky bars (with raisins), other chocolate bars, Smarties and one hard candy — root beer barrels. Mister B was not a big fan of hard candies, but root beer barrels were the exception that made the cut to the favorites column. He had always been a fan of root beer, that tasty concoction that enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the boomer era. Mister Boomer even had a neighbor who brewed his own, and he shared some with the families whose children played with his boys. Stronger than store-bought root beer, it was extremely flavorful. By contrast, root beer barrel candies were a pale comparison, but the fact that the candy took a while to melt on your tongue meant a continuous bombardment of sweet, root beer-like flavor could be enjoyed.
The Internet is great for finding just about anything these days, but when it comes to the origin of root beer barrel candy, the info is stingy at best. It is generally conceded that Charles Hires is credited for introducing a bottled root beer at the 1878 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Root beer, like beer or liquor, was produced by farmers in small batches for years — probably decades — before Charles Hires delivered his first bottle. The drink is like beer or liquor in that there is no one recipe. Different regions might flavor their version with local plant and herb extracts, and individuals within any given region might add their own touches to perfect their flavor.
By the mid-1800s, the Industrial Revolution was underway and manufacturing of all types began in earnest. The completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. was completed in 1869, which meant goods could be transported to all parts of the country. Many industries where processes were accomplished by hand were revolutionized by the assist from newfangled machinery. The candy industry was among them. Mister Boomer, therefore, believes that since root beer was already a known flavor in most parts of the country, the first root beer barrel candy was probably produced in the late 1800s.
Root beer, the drink, has ridden the wave of popularity many times since then. It became popular during Prohibition as a substitute for beer and liquor. A lot of the flavors and foods that were enjoyed in the 1950s were carry-overs from before the War. Our parents had suffered though the Great Depression and the second World War, so any comforts they had from their childhood were brought into the post-War era so they could share them with their children. It is Mister Boomer’s supposition that root beer barrel candy was one such treat.
The world of the root beer barrel — and commercially-produced root beer — came to a temporary halt in 1960, when the Federal Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras oil and safrole from commercially-made products. They were key ingredients to making root beer, but had been labelled as possible carcinogens. The major brands of root beer — Hires, Dad’s and A & W (which was then sold only in their drive-in restaurants) — had to scramble to substitute for the banned ingredients. It wasn’t long before root beer — and Mister B believes, root beer barrel candies — were back on the market, but by then the public had moved their loyalties to colas.
Root beer barrel candies are still produced today under a variety of brand names. Almost all of them label it as a nostalgia item. How about it, boomers, do have a nostalgic memory of root beer barrel candies?
Now that another Halloween has come and gone, the differences between the trick or treating we did as boomer youngsters and the practices of today’s youth came into striking contrast for Mister Boomer this week.
Halloween for boomers was a fairly straightforward, simplistic affair. The very young were escorted door to door on Halloween night by one or both parents, while teens might either go to house parties or become the designated family candy distributors. The unwritten rule was, by the age of 13 or 14, your door to door trick or treating days were over. There were exceptions, as there are to every rule, but that is the way it usually transpired. There were the occasional adult costume parties on weekends before or after Halloween and some community costume contests, but not to the extent we see today.
Expenditures for Halloween have been growing exponentially in the U.S. The National Retail Federation reports that Americans spent nearly $7 billion on costumes for adults, children and pets, outdoor decorations, candy, indoor decorations and party supplies. Recent TV reports have indicated that the expansion of Halloween into what we celebrate today has been exported to other countries. Most notably, England now celebrates “American Halloween” in much the same way we do, with a special emphasis on costumes for adults.
Mister B has seen differences in four areas in a comparison of Halloween then and now, mainly, in house decorations, the times trick or treating takes place, costumes worn by kids and with the candy that is handed out.
The “holiday,” once a one-day, even one-evening event (two if you count Devil’s Night), now has been extended to a week or in many suburban locations, a month. People decorate their homes with multiple jack-o-lanterns that may be custom-carved, orange LED lights, cobwebs, animatronic figures, graveyard headstones, flying witches, accompanying spooky sounds and more. The vast majority of these items are store bought.
In our day if a home was decorated, chances are it was with homemade items. Kids’ art projects made of construction paper were often displayed on doors and windows, and a carved pumpkin — most often of the standard triangle eyes and nose, with the alternating toothy evil smile — sat in a window or on a porch. You wouldn’t see any decorations at all until at least the weekend before Halloween. Some people made frightening-looking scarecrows to sit in a chair on their porch, while others dressed up to look like a dummy, only to spring to life to scare a group of trick or treaters that approached. Others hung dummies in a noose from trees on their property or suspended witch dummies from branches. All in all, decorated homes were few and far between. By the next day, any outside decorations were gone.
Trick or treating times have changed. Now the very young — still accompanied by a parent — have finished their trick or treating before dark. Many families take their young ones to business districts (even driving there) to get treats from business owners in addition to neighborhood trick or treating. Pre-teens seem to start trick or treating the instant they get home from school. Costumes are often worn to school, so there is no lag time requiring a change when they arrive home, unless they have two costumes, which is a possibility. In Mister B’s current neighborhood, trick or treating is pretty much over by seven o’clock. Other areas may go on an hour or so longer.
In boomer times trick or treating didn’t start until after the family dinner time. In Mister Boomer’s area, that meant 6:00 or 6:30, at which point it was already dark. Mister B and his siblings quickly shoveled the food from their plates so they could get out. The time between arriving home after school and dinner time was spent on homework (if a teacher was unkind enough to assign some, which was not very often) or making final tweaks to a costume. The doorbell might ring a couple of times during dinner as early trick or treating began, but usually six o’clock marked the beginning. There were a lot of boomers out there of varying ages, so for most houses, a teen could stay home with one parent to pass out candy while a parent walked a younger one around. By the age of 7 or 8, we were walking around with other neighboring children or older siblings. Around eight o’clock, the crowds waned, with hardly a soul on the street by nine, except some teens and those bent on mischief.
While homemade costumes still exist, store-bought costumes by far outweigh the number of homemades. TV, movie and comic characters are popular, with zombies and vampires the current rage. Costumes are usually a head-to-toe proposition, with elaborate masks that can cover the entire head, or masks replaced by fancy makeup.
Store bought costumes existed in early boomer days, but they were rudimentary at best. Masks often consisted of a brittle, thin plastic faceplate with eyeholes that was held on the head by essentially a rubber band. Body pieces were often clunky one- or two-piece suits of thin, dark fabric, with whatever the costume theme was stenciled on the front, usually in white. So a skeleton costume could consist of a skull mask with bones silk-screened on the front of the suit. Perhaps that is why we made most of our costumes. It was also a fun activity that added to the excitement of the holiday.
Since most costumes were home made, they tended to fall into just a few categories. A white sheet (most sheets were plain white then) with eyeholes cut out could be an instant go-to costume. There were pirates and hobo costumes for boys, since both relied mainly on old clothes, while a sheet died black could serve as a Dracula cape with the addition of wax-candy fangs. Dyed red, it was a devil cape, with plastic horns worn on the head. There might be cowboys and Indians, or the occasional astronaut or fireman. Girls wanted to be princesses, ballet dancers or, with the right clothing available from their mothers, gypsies or witches, if mom made the hat.
To be sure, many of the brands we craved as boomer ghouls and goblins are still passed out today. Candy like Snickers, Baby Ruth, Payday, Chunky, Milky Way, Oh Henry, Butterfingers, Tootsie Rolls and Tootsie Pops remain on the scene, though cheaper brands abound for their more-bang-for-the buck appeal to homeowners. Like boomer times, candy bars are the most sought after. Houses that passed out full-size bars were and probably remain the most prized.
Mister B recalls several other types of candy that are either rarely seen now, or have vanished. Zagnuts and Clark bars are fewer, as are Mary Janes and Smarties, though they all still exist. Mister B hasn’t seen Squirrels in years, nor Dum Dum suckers, though generic suckers are everywhere. It seems people no longer want to give out gum like Bazooka Bubble Gum, Chiclets, Juicyfruit or Fruit Stripe. Sugar Daddy, Kits, Charleston Chews, Bun, Bit-O-Honey, root beer barrels and a host of others appear to be gone, available only on nostalgia Web sites.
Mister B remembers the three items he didn’t want to see dropped into his bag: apples, pennies and popcorn balls. He could get apples anytime, and much preferred candy. Pennies could purchase candy, so why not just give out candy? And popcorn balls didn’t seem all that tasty to Mister B. They were usually homemade, and probably a quite inexpensive way to provide treats for the givers. Popcorn dipped in corn syrup, wrapped in (usually) red cellophane was all there was to it.
Yes, Halloween has changed in the past 50 years. Hopefully today’s kids will have the great memories boomers have of running house to house, their goal of filling a pillow case with treats an annual goal, if not an impossible feat.
Do you have a favorite Halloween memory — or candy — boomers?
As spring ushers in another Easter in the Boomer Era, Mister Boomer is waxing nostalgic for the Easters of yore. In particular, he recalls that marshmallow peeps were OK and jelly beans were good (except for those light blue ones … what flavor was that supposed to be?), but the main candy event every Easter was the chocolate bunny.
Chocolate bunnies didn’t originate in the boomer years. In fact, people have been consuming milk chocolate Easter bunnies as far back as the 1890s, when the tradition was brought to the U.S. by German immigrants. The hollow chocolate bunny made its debut in the 1930s. As World War II rationing took hold in 1942, consumer chocolate production was halted and cacao was diverted to the War effort. Thus the chain of munching chocolate Easter bunnies that was gaining momentum with each passing year was broken.
After the War, a soldier returning home was searching for a business idea. In 1948, Richard Palmer, that former soldier, decided he’d open a candy business. To keep himself out of direct competition with Hershey’s, and to avoid confusion with the E.C. Palmer Candy Company, he defined his business model as seasonal and novelties, beginning with Easter. Among his first confections were hollow chocolate bunny “personalities” that were more like cartoon characters than the traditional standing or seated chocolate bunnies sold up to that point. He applied for and was awarded patents for his chocolate bunny molds.
This differentiation was a hit with new parents and their boomer kids from the start. Richard Palmer was in the right place at the right time, and as a result he is credited with reintroducing the chocolate Easter bunny to a whole new generation. Today, the R.M. Palmer Company is the largest maker of chocolate Easter bunnies in the U.S. as more than 90 million per year are produced. The company expanded to Christmas candies in the early 1960s as boomer families grew, and added year-round novelties in the past three decades.
As a general rule, consuming candy was not an everyday occurrence for most boomers. Rather, it was a measured treat reserved for holidays and special occasions. Mister B remembers his family’s candy traditions at Easter. Wicker Easter baskets had been purchased for each of the three children at an early age and were reused year to year. First, Easter grass would line the bottom. Next, a layer of jelly beans would be tossed into the grass, like sugary drops of dew on a spring lawn. A few foil-wrapped chocolate eggs followed. Occasionally, a snap-together plastic egg was placed into the basket, filled with more jelly beans and small chocolate eggs. Two yellow marshmallow peeps were next, set to the sides of the basket to frame the star of the show: the chocolate Easter bunny. Varying in size and shape each year, the bunnies came packed in rectangular cardboard boxes printed with colorful Easter colors, with a good portion of the front panel being made of cellophane to afford a grand view of the chocolate prize inside. The box was nestled into the center of the basket, an edible rabbit in a grass nest.
Come Easter morning, Mister Boomer’s family would search for Easter eggs the family had dyed the day before, but not Easter baskets. His parents preferred to just give Mister B and his siblings the Easter treats without any wrapping or fanfare. Since the children received the same basket each year, there was never a question of which belonged to whom. Brother Boomer, ever into instant gratification, would tear into his bunny box and with a single hand, grab the chocolate bunny by the throat and yanked it from its cardboard mooring. A second later, he had bitten a chunk off the ears. It appears Brother Boomer wasn’t the only person who chose to chomp his bunny ears first. In fact, today it is reported that 76% of people prefer to eat the ears first. As for Mister B, he preferred to savor the experience bit by bit. He may have allowed himself a nibble of ear at a time, but wouldn’t take the entire chocolate auditory system in a single act of carnage.
Like Halloween candy, the candy in an Easter basket was intended to last for while. Being home from school for spring break gave us the perfect schedule for dispatching the contents. Naturally, a watchful eye was always judicious when Brother Boomer’s basket was empty, lest he raid the remaining two baskets to satisfy his first-born cravings.
What memories of chocolate Easter bunnies are dancing through your heads today, boomers?