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It's Always Spooky Season

Hello everyone, and welcome to LukeLore. A quick deep dive into a folklore topic, where I share some of the stories from around the world that have piqued my interest. Thank you everyone for bearing with me on this one, I managed to get ill just in time for spooky season and had to delay this episode. But spooky season is, and ever shall be, the best season so let’s turn this into a win and have a bit of bonus Halloween! Let’s start with some more treats, followed by a closer look at seasonal tricks, as we keep the good times rolling on our way to Yule. SECTION BREAK – Traditional Treats to Eat As anyone nursing a bad candy overload bellyache around now can attest, food is a vitally important part of the Halloween holiday. This predates even the All Hallow’s Eve Soul Cakes that led to modern day trick or treating, with Samhein being a festival for the final harvest of the year. Our many apple related celebrations now have sneaked their way under the Puritanical radar into the modern day with pleasantly pagan origins. The food traditions of this time of year make themselves felt across Europe, the shared climate leading to some similar ideas about the dying days and what your last chances to gather food for the winter meant for the emergent tribes. These older ideas became entangled with the All Hallow’s Catholic celebrations as Christianity spread across the continent, but some regional identity managed to hang on in there under the theocratic astroturfing. In Austria this became a small household ritual across an All Saints week, although it looks like it is now a one night Halloween tradition in at least some places these modern nights. Wherever the family meals are eaten, should this be a dedicated dining room, a kitchen, or an all in one communal room – depending on how rich or poor the household is; three things will be lain out at night. Water, bread, and a lit lantern to welcome in the dead to whom this offering is given. Returning family members stopping by to check on their surviving descendants are left this food and drink to enjoy some small part of mortality again, this time of year when the dead can visit. Apparently the bread offering gets taken to feed ducks at the end of the All Saints week, or simply Halloween night now. Ducks at least do well out of the offerings ahead of harder winter times. Germany has a similar week long All Saints tradition. Not so much food related, but more down to the utensils. Alongside a week of church visits to remember the Saints as well as trips to see family graves, you’re supposed to hide household knives this time of the year from the 31st of October through to the 8th of November as visiting spirits may hurt themselves on any blades left out. Italy has some more food related traditions for this All Hallows time of the calendar, primarily with fave dei morti cookies. Traditionally made from fava beans, now more likely to be almond based, these are an All Saint’s Day treat whereas Soul Cakes are more for All Hallow’s Eve. The remembrance of death can also be something of a celebration of life, the 1st of November is a popular time to pop the question of marriage, sometimes by sending a gift box of fave dei morti cookies that contains an engagement ring. Some parts of Italy will give children sweets that they are told are gifts from the dead, and it isn’t unheard of for offerings to be left on the graves of relatives. Ireland has a great bit of foodie folklore for us, being the homelands of Samhein. There’s a special kind of cake made for the ending of October, and the final end of Summer as it gives way to the dark days. This is the Barmbrack, a fruitcake that can tell your future. The exact ingredients beyond “a fruitcake” seem to vary by family, let alone region, but it’ll be final harvest themed in some way. The last wheats, plus any Summer preserves along with freshly gathered Autumn fruits, baked into something stodgy that’ll help see you through the winter to come through sheer carb loading. Only it’s baked with some extras other than just the impressive amount of harvest sugars. A variety of items will be wrapped in muslin cloth, and which should you find one in the slice you take gives you a side serving of divination. Five items were traditionally added to the Barmbrack. A ring and a coin for good fortune, but to make things a little more interesting three items were added to predict misfortune; a pea, a stick, and a rag. If you open up a coin it means fortune for the year ahead, starting with the coin you just got. The coin had a direct opposite in the rag, which predicted a tough year ahead. If you open up the ring, it predicts marriage to come. The opposite here is a dried pea, which predicts you won’t get married in the near future. The final, and arguably meanest even moreso than the rag, is the stick. The stick predicts a troubled marriage, either in the winter coming or in your future. Modern Barmbracks tend to leave out the three heralds of misfortune, and sometimes even the ring, them becoming more of a fun game to see who gets a coin. If grandma is taking no prisoners this year however, all five are going in and good luck to you if you open up a cloth parcel from your Samhein fruitcake. Samhein being a very pagan tradition, there are certain others who partake. Other, here, with a capital “O”. The Aos Sidhe fairy creatures are very much afoot on this hallowed evening, with everywhere across the British Isles having slightly different traditions. If you aren’t sure of the specifics? You can’t go wrong with some form of liquid offering. Alcohol always goes down a treat, as does honey or milk. The mischievous Pucah who I talked about on the ‘How to have a Happy (but not Headless) Samhein’ episode will bring good luck and bountiful harvests next year to anyone who leaves offerings out in their fields, surely worth a few apples from the final harvest to have a fertile future. Here’s one that will definitely get my partner in trouble given half a chance… Come Samhein in Scotland, where I believe it is pronounced more “Sav-en”, you have offerings left out Halloween time for the country’s fairy cats. The Cait Sith (what looks like it should be pronounced Cat Sif), have the appearance of large black cats but come with all the mischief and mayhem of the fae. Definitely a good shout for a saucer of milk on the back step! I cannot emphasise enough, please do not try to pet the otherworldy cats. You’re in for a whole lot of trouble if you do. Yes, that means You, You know who you are. Should you not be sure which otherworldy creature requires what offering where you live, this is where guising backs you up. Stay in costume on Halloween, and plonk some jack-o’-lanterns about the place for good measure. What we do for fun now, was to hide from a nasty encounter back in the old days, and it can’t hurt to get into the Halloween spirit of things. But no petting the Cait Sith! SECTION BREAK – Mischief Night Ah, Mischief Night… Hopefully NOT a tradition where you are, because it is around my way and it’s a pain in the arse. Mischief Night, or in the local parlance “Mizzy Night”, falls on the 30th of October. While you may get the odd trick if you don’t cough up some treats on Halloween night, Mischief Night is downright vicious. All trick, no treat mayhem unleashed as groups of teens and adults who should know better go full on feral. It’s kind of The Purge: Light where all kinds of cruel pranks and petty vandalism pop off, excused as a part of the festivities by participants who probably deserve a slap more than they do holiday leniency. Mischief Night in Merseyside is recorded going back as far as the 1830s, which probably meant it went back even further before people got angry enough to rant about it in formal writing. The traditional pranks tended to be swapping signs around and chucking cabbage stalks at people, it’s gotten a little rougher two centuries on. Something which is in part an issue of technology. This feels even weirder local to me, as the trick or treaters are incredibly polite this end of England. If there’s no pumpkin out, or else some Halloween decorations, no one knocks. The night BEFORE Halloween, however? Total carnage is on the cards. It’s when you or your house is most likely to receive an egging, plus the good old knock-and-run is rampant. But it gets a little worse when you consider how Mischief Night has met a rise in the early sales of fireworks. So, story time from Tue Brook in Liverpool! I got to spend this year sick, this year being 2023 if you’re listening from The Future, which wasn’t ideal but it did spare me some unfun Mizzy Night madness. Most Monday’s I will be socialising, off in a quieter pub with friends playing a vampire themed card game – big ol’ horror nerd that I am. Sulking in bed with a fever, I miss this Monday before Halloween, and I fortunately miss something else. With the friends who live near me we usually get the buses back, only they didn’t this year. They got stuck needing an Uber. Because this was Mizzy Night, and some entrepreneurial types have opened up a seasonal store on West Derby Road that sells nothing but fireworks. Discount Fireworks Sold Here it’s called. Every type of borderline legal, and maybe some not quite so legal, explosive the impressionable young mind can blag they’re of age to buy. One of any four bus routes go up that road from the city centre, and every single one got cancelled from about 7pm that night, because kids were lobbing fireworks at them as they passed by. Little sods gave it their best go trying blow up public transport, and so for passenger safety anything going up this road was stopped. Reading up on it in the aftermath, it seems that it wasn’t just Tue Brook at it. There were parts of The Wirral involved, which is a peninsula that is its own thing just next to Liverpool that is still a part of wider Merseyside. 11 bus services in total got diverted or shut down early. It got so bad, the police set up Dispersal Zones, leading to stop and searches confiscating large numbers of fireworks and eggs. More than 150 stop and searches went on official record, with a 16% rise in emergency calls compared to Mizzy Night 2022. A fair few arrests too, although some of them seem to be unrelated to the planned mischief, only incidentally catching other crimes in the crackdown. So… Well done making a worse Mizzy Night than usual I guess, local scallies? Oh, “scally” may need explaining. It’s a local weirdly adorable insult aimed at tearaway kids, a slang derivative of “scallywags”. It’s not just errant scousers going Maximum Goblin Mode the night before Halloween though, I was pleasantly surprised to find Mischief Night is big somewhere else. Well, more horrified I guess, but it’s nice it’s not just us. Over in the US Detroit, Michigan has a pretty big Mischief Night tradition. They even used to go a bit further than the kids round my way, which is fairly worrying. While the Merseyside scallies have been steadily escalating their war on public transport, Detroit has had them very handily beat for years with Devil’s Night. SECTION BREAK – Devil’s Night Devil’s Night started relatively innocent for Detroit in the 1910s. College students began a bizarre tradition of lighting huge bonfires on the 30th of October, then waiting by them for the Fire Brigade to turn up at which point the handed out cigars to the firefighters. That level of gift giving mischief I can get behind, and this is about as bad as it got for most of the 20th century, but as we approach the 80s things had gotten incredibly tough for Detroit. The automotive industry that was the backbone of the city had moved to cheaper overseas locations, and the government couldn’t be bothered stepping in to help the city adapt, a terrible time for the people of Detroit on the back of which Devil’s Night evolved into something much more sinister. Everywhere across the declining city there are these big abandoned industrial buildings, and as people fled to better prospects a growing amount of empty domestic houses joined them. Not to mention every sized store in between the two, no money for people means no money spent in businesses. Imaginary lines going up at stock markets aren’t the economy, PEOPLE are the economy, and the people of Detroit had very little. But do you know what angry teens stuck in this urban desolation did happen to have? A holiday tradition based on setting fires, and a whole lot of empty city to be angry at. Devil’s Night took a turn towards the hell on Earth, at the very least the fire part of the netherworld. The bonfires grew bigger, and they stopped being a gift giving prank. They started to be a growing trend of arson. We’re not talking a little bit of celebration getting out of hand, Devil’s Night would become something its namesake would have revelled in. On October the 30th, empty buildings began to burn. A lot of empty buildings, plus no small number of cars and dumpsters. The city clearly had plenty of empty buildings to spare, and it wasn’t all the angry youths to blame. A knock on tradition became the exhausted firefighters sharing stories on Halloween day as they settled down to breakfast for their supper, and as well as talking about their worst jobs of the Devil’s Night before they would happily speculate on when the fire was no acting out – instead being an insurance scam under the cover of the chaos caused by pyromaniacal celebrants. It began impressive enough, but escalated drastically. Once the idea caught on, 50 or 60 fires were getting reported the night before Halloween. Empty buildings and cars, there didn’t appear to be any intent to harm people, but this is the kind of thing that spreads and could easily get out of control, jumping to inhabited buildings. Something that became a much bigger risk as Devil’s Night firestarting reached its peak. In 1983, 553 fires got reported across three days from the traditional night through to Halloween and the 1st of November beyond. The following year? Devil’s Night reached 810 fires. The entire skyline would light up in flames in some places, truly looking like hell had come to Detroit. Feel free to give it a Google, this was well recorded as well as a fair bit fascinating to see. This level of escalation wasn’t just down to locals working through some fiery catharsis. Once the phenomenon reached international press, it began to attract an assortment of tourists interested in the event. Some just wanted to watch the fires, and others almost certainly wanted to join in. Others still were on record as being more interested in the firefighting than the flames themselves, including off duty firefighters from New York coming to watch the night unfold. Camera crews from began to come over from Japan, documentary crews led by a Nobi Shigemoto visited on consecutive years for Asashi TV. Viewers back home couldn’t believe that this was happening as an annual tradition, making for sensational reporting even outside of the US. After the incredible peak of 1983 into a record breaking 1984, the Mayor of Detroit at the time took action. Come 1985 there was a combined force of 8,000 police, firefighters, and additional support across a variety of city worker positions all backed up by clean over 10,000 volunteers proactively patrolling the streets of the city. This, combined with an after dark curfew on under 17s, got the fires down to a little under half of the previous year: A still awe inspiring inferno of 370 incidents of arson. The immediate positive impact helped rally more of the community to join in as a part of the solution. Volunteer numbers rose in their thousands, and neighbourhood watches implemented such initiatives as an “Adopt a House” program where the community divided up empty houses to hold vigil over. In 1988 Devil’s Night was down to only 104 fires reported, which is still a lot anywhere else but it is at least relatively a much happier number that was definitely trending in the right direction towards City Not On Fire. On top of the emergency responses covering the city streets, a lot of subtler approaches got taken. In the press the exciting term Devil’s Night was avoided, and local news stations stopped showing the fires as they began to take hold. This was to avoid sensationalising the situation and promoting copycat behaviour, it being realised that diving on the events for ratings was in effect advertising how great Devil’s Night could be to the disaffected youth of a city in decline. There was also a deliberate rebranding of Angel’s Night, where events aimed at making October the 30th more community focused and family friendly displaced the conflagration vibes. There’s also some pretty fair speculation that as time turned towards the 2000’s, a rise in the internet and electronic entertainment led to kids being a lot less bored, and therefore a lot less matchstick happy. In 2017 there were only six teens detained on the 30th of October for public disorder, a drastic improvement from Dan Rather reporting the arrest of “two hundred young people” and counting on CBS Evening News. The city officially ended funding for its Angels Night program that year, and Devil’s Night in all its blazing infernal glory is now a historical footnote. Absolutely a history worth looking up, as it was astonishing how Detroit looked during its peak, but for the sake and safety of all people and animals of the city it’s thankfully over and done with these days. SECTION BREAK – The Greatest Mischief Night Prank Okay, I’ve got a great one to end the episode. This really is without question the greatest Mischief Night Prank ever pulled. Full on one for the history books! It was 1938, and the CBS Radio Network had an audiodrama show called ‘The Mercury Theatre on the Air’. Some upstart 23 year old who fancied himself a Director, Producer, and Actor called Orson Welles had an idea for a horror show to welcome in Halloween. This was the War of the Worlds radio drama, and it would legendarily cause an incredible panic that the United States was being invaded. This was a time before picking your podcast on demand, along with having the Internet for a quick reference if you wanted to check what was on. If you didn’t have a physical guidebook handy, which you had to seek out and buy yourself, you get what you’re given as you tune into it. The show also made a creative choice that exasperated the chances of confusing a listener… The adverts got pushed back for most of the runtime to give the news report style section an unbroken run. There’s a pivot point after the first break finally rolls that then switches to a completely different style, and includes the reminder this is all fiction. But that gave the most effective part of the horror show a clean, uninterrupted run at convincing listeners they were hearing a news report of the unthinkable. It really is well crafted, and well worth a listen even now! I have a CD of it somewhere in storage I’m pretty happy to own. Here’s the trick of this opening section… Welles wanted to craft an authentic “breaking news” style experience. Leaning into his background as a cast member in newscast format dramatisations for a variety of radio shows, plus some inspiration from a radio hoax about the invasion of Australia by the BBC in 1926 called ‘Broadcasting the Barricades’. For the majority of the run time the show was presented as breaking news interrupting dance music programs, that alarmingly escalate to on the scene military reports as New York falls to the invading Martians. Cast members studied the on the scene reports from the Hindenburg disaster as rehearsal prep, getting ready to make it as authentic as possible. They really did do a great job, too. Very arguably too good of a job. While the reaction people had while listening to the performance is somewhat mythologised now, it absolutely did have an impact upon its listeners of the time. The broadcast began at 8pm Eastern Time with its first of four reminders it was a piece of fiction. The second reminder was fourty minutes in, primarily due to that creative decision to let the simulated live broadcast run uninterrupted. Possibly also due to what happened at 8:32 pm. Executive Producer for CBS, Davidson Taylor, had to step out to take an urgent telephone call. He comes back less than five minutes later looking, and I quote from Producer John Houseman here, “pale as death”. They had been ordered, in no uncertain terms, to stop screwing around and play the damn break that has the second and third reminders this is a work of fiction. Immediately. They stall it out though, since the 40 minute mark was scheduled to be that break, and it was near enough there by the time the rattled Executive Producer returned from his royal bollocking by CBS higher ups. There was a good reason why things were getting so heated up. This was a wonderfully crafted, highly effective piece of audio horror and the creative choice to delay commercials to give a long uninterrupted run of simulated news reports succeeded at its seasonal trick a little too well. Not only were people calling CBS in a panic, they were calling the police. The actor who played the role of a field artillery observer, Stefan Schnabel, later shared what happened when his part had wrapped and he went out to the studio anteroom for a break. A few policemen had entered the building, being stalled by some staff as they began to demand answers about calls they had been receiving. Then more police began to arrive, beginning to fill up the studio entrance, and demanding the show gets shut down. Page boys and CBS executives stalled law enforcement until the show was over, followed by the unfolding chaos bursting in to where the performers had done their work. Everyone got dragged out to a back office on another floor of the building where they were locked in. Before the impromptu lockdown, as the sign-off theme for ‘The Mercury Theatre on the Air’ was playing, the phone rang and Producer John Houseman answered a call from a Mayor of a Midwestern town yelling about having a mob taking to the streets. With a growing pack of ravenous press following up the police presence, the cast was allowed to escape via a back entrance. The station was overloaded with phone calls from coast to coast across the country, and radio announcements continued to be aired for the rest of the night on the network to reassure listeners everything was fine. The announcement went: "For those listeners who tuned in to Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast from 8 to 9 pm Eastern Standard Time tonight and did not realize that the program was merely a modernized adaptation of H. G. Wells' famous novel War of the Worlds, we are repeating the fact which was made clear four times on the program, that, while the names of some American cities were used, as in all novels and dramatizations, the entire story and all of its incidents were fictitious." I can’t help but feel that was more about legally distancing themselves ahead of impending fallout, more than it was a helpful reminder. Back to the performance itself… Once the tension was finally released with that ad break bookended with reminders that this is only a show, teased out to the choking death of a panicked reporter in New York killed with Martian War Machine black smoke; followed by a lone Ham radio operator asking if anyone is left alive, the play finished up in a more conventional way. It shifted to a traditional narrated dialogue to end the story, which I presume was planned, followed by Orson Welles making an announcement about the seasonal trick they had all played on everyone – something I suspect may have been more improvised. With this closing statement, faced with a growing horde of irate police attempting to force their way in to shut the show down, Welles took the chance to reassure listeners this was all a holiday offering, the equivalent of Mercury Theater jumping out in a sheet to yell “BOO”, ending on the line: "If your doorbell rings and there's nobody there, that was no Martian; it's Halloween." Most of the controversy that’s pop culture knowledge now comes from deliberately stoked media controversy. Now, that’s not to say that there wasn’t factors to consider where catching some of the play out of context could lead to panic. This was in the lead up to World War II, and it’s easy to believe that someone missing the crucial Martians part of the reports of New York falling to a gas attack could have sent heart’s racing. But all of that was absolutely blown out of proportion by newspapers in the aftermath, with at least 12,500 articles being published across a three week period. In addition to this being a nice, juicy bit of drama to boost sales, there was an ulterior motive at play. Radio and traditional print were in direct conflict as news sources, and this opportunity was greedily seized to discredit radio ahead of growing tensions in the wider world. The hysterical reports of rioting in the streets, and terrified people killing themselves in droves, was a bad faith attack on a rival medium that had been drawing away advertisers. The chance was taken to try and discredit radio as a news source, returning lost revenue to the print industry. Orson Welles originally thought he was ruined, which after the police had burst in and a national apology was needed the next morning probably felt very possible, but he would later go on to embrace the exaggerated story of the impact of the show. It went a long way towards boosting his profile, lending him an aura of mystique and cultural sway that he went on to happily play along with. Being an infamous trickster and notoriously innovative storyteller turned out to instead be a great career starter. I highly recommend giving this show a listen. Even if you’ve heard it before, go give it another go! It’s a horror classic with a massive cultural impact, and really is the all time greatest Mischief Night prank. SECTION BREAK I hope everyone enjoyed some bonus spooky content. Halloween is always worth talking about, managing to contain extra tricks and treats every time I dig into another year’s Samhein research. Please do let me know if your neck of the woods also suffers from Mischief Night, it’ll be interesting to draw up a danger map of the world for the 30th of October. Best of luck in your slice of the Barmbrack! And don’t think the spooky times are over just yet… Yule is coming, and all the wonderful Yule monsters lurking just out of sight of the sanitised Christmas traditions that come with it. Plus, that’s a few weeks off. Don’t let Mariah Carey blasting on repeat get you down, the dark days remain spooky season clean through to Spring! LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production.

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