Boomers Loved Candy Apples

It’s Halloween time once again and you know what that means: pumpkin spice everything has co-opted the season. This year, it seems like the pumpkin spice products emerged around Labor Day. It wasn’t always that way, of course. In boomer years, the fall-leading-into-Halloween time was marked by the annual appearance of caramel and candy apples. In fact, for some people, candy apples were the go-to choice for giving Halloween trick-or-treaters. However, Mister Boomer did not appreciate this offering that added weight to his pillow case of treats. He was not a fan of the hard-shelled sugar candy coating, but the color and sheen — that was another story.

Candy apples were first made by Newark, New Jersey candymaker William Kolb in 1908. He was looking for a way to showcase his red cinnamon candy, and experimented with dipping apples in it. Displayed in his shop window, the shiny red apples with a stick in each one drew in customers, eager to try his new concoction. They were a big hit! The idea spread quickly to local and regional fairs, but early in the twentieth century, they became a popular giveaway treat for Halloween.

After the War, the Baby Boom began. Optimism was high in the country, and national mood was expressed by a series of heavily saturated colors. One of those colors was a rendition of that shiny red, inspired by candy apples. By the 1950s, a candy red could color could be seen on women’s handbags, footwear, jewelry and accessories, as well as home appliances.

It wasn’t long before the West Coast custom car culture experimented with methods of reproducing the color and shine that was pulsing through the consumer market. Mel Pinoli, of Pinoli’s Body & Paint Shop in California, is credited with creating the first candy paint color for cars — but it wasn’t red, it was green!

A couple of years later, around 1956, car customizer Joe Bailon built on Pinoli’s process in an attempt to create the color he saw on a set of Ludwig drums. Bailon’s method applied a metallic coat of paint (silver or gold) to the car, followed by a translucent dye layer, which was then covered with a clear lacquer. Sanding and polishing brought out the blends of each layer with a shine that mimicked Kolb’s original red cinnamon candy apple. Mr. Bailon called the resulting color, candy apple red. Voila! he painted the first car a candy apple red!

Mister Boomer remembers being wowed by the visual depth and beauty of a candy apple red finish on custom cars he saw in car shows and occasionally, in neighborhood parking lots.

In 1963, Fender guitars offered a candy apple red option for their iconic Stratocaster model for the added price of $15. The company offered the color only until 1974.

What about caramel apples? Not to be confused with candy apples, caramel apples are what the name says: an apple with a stick in it dipped in melted caramel, often rolled in crushed walnuts. Unlike its candy apple cousin, caramel apples were a true boomer-era invention, arriving in 1948. Mister B recalls Kraft caramels having as recipe for caramel apples printed on the back of the bag.

Mister Boomer much preferred the caramel apple variety, but not for Halloween. No way. To him, that was as bad as receiving a popcorn ball, or a plain apple! Nonetheless, Mister B concedes that somebody somewhere used to enjoy getting caramel or candy apples for Halloween, back in a time when homemade treats were an acceptable part of trick-or-treating.

How about you, boomers? Candy or caramel apple fan? Loved or hated the color?

Boomers Witnessed “Politically Incorrect” Halloween Costumes

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since boomers donned costumes and ran door to door in pursuit of as much candy as they could possibly gather. It seemed a simpler time, yet whether kids made their own costumes or wore the manufactured masks and apron-like coverings that their parents bought, lurking beneath the costume practice was a fair measure of cultural insensitivity at best, bigotry at worst.

Costumes that did not on the surface seem objectionable then would not be acceptable now. The Boomer Generation appeared right after World War II, so boomer kids were not going to be wandering around the neighborhood dressed as Nazis, or in black face, either (at least in Mister B’s neck of the woods). Nonetheless, Japanese Geisha costumes, Mexican sombreros and mustaches, and most prevalent of all, “Indian” princess and hobo costumes, were fairly common.

Cartoons from the 1940s and earlier perpetuated cultural stereotypes, and boomers watched them on TV all the time. In movies and TV Westerns, Native Americans were portrayed as “the Indian problem,” and the villain. That is why, in Mister Boomer’s estimation, girls wore Native American costumes more than boys; the boys generally preferred to be the cowboy “good-guys.”

By the mid-1960s, though, hobo costumes were popular with both boys and girls, possibly because it was a fairly easy do-it-yourself project. Every house kept old clothes for rags, so ill-fitting, worn-out clothes were on hand. Old shoes and perhaps one of dad’s old hats were added to it. Grab a bandana or dishcloth to tie up “belongings” and slip the knot over a stick, and the costume — a direct interpretation from cartoons — was complete. In some case, moms would toast a cork over the stove flame and smudge it on the child’s cheeks to simulate dirt or a four-day beard.

The movies (like Charlie Chaplin’s “Little Tramp” vagrant) and cartoons, if anything, romanticized a life where men (almost exclusively) set campfires to warm cans of soup before hopping trains from town to town. In that stereotypical portrayal, the idea of a homeless person was lost.

Store-bought costumes held their own degree of cultural appropriation and insensitivity. Ben Cooper, Inc., was the largest manufacturer of kids’ costumes in the boomer years. The company was among the first to license cartoon and movie characters from their beginnings in the late 1930s. While the company, and others like Collegeville and Halco, produced TV character costumes that included Zorro, Donald Duck and Davy Crockett, they also made Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, and “squaw” costumes for little girls.

This year there is a continuing discussion concerning Disney’s Moana and Pocahontas costumes for little girls. While the girls want to picture themselves as Disney princesses, others see cultural disrespect and insensitivity to a distorted historical record. In fact, in 2016 Disney removed a costume based on the character Maui, from the Moana movie, from store shelves. The objections raised said the costume promoted “brown-facing.”

Recent events have produced dozens of stories of people in prominent positions who had more than a few skeletons in their Halloween closet, and the pictures to prove it. However, despite the record of insensitivity in the boomer years, Mister Boomer can’t help but notice that in this latest rash of revelations, the named offenders were not children at the time they made their costume choices, and were not of the Boomer Generation, but later generations. These revelations prove that we still have a ways to go to live up to boomer-era sentiments of, “C’mon people now/smile on your brother/everybody get together/try to love one another right now.”

How about it, boomers? Did you wear costumes 50 years ago that wouldn’t pass scrutiny today? How would you feel about your grandchildren wearing these types of costumes today?