It is the time of the year when -- in the memorable words of American poet James Whitcomb Riley -- "the frost is on the punkin' and the fodder's in the shock."

It is the time of the year when -- in the memorable words of American poet James Whitcomb Riley -- "the frost is on the punkin' and the fodder's in the shock."

And it was just those words that were posted on the bulletin board at what was then called the Columbus Public Library in the late weeks of October 1908. Along with pumpkins and shocks of corn in the corners, the staff put a picture of a witch above the library clock.

It was a reminder that Halloween would soon be here.

Late October 1908, was a busy time in Columbus. The town of 150,000 had suffered with the rest of the country through economic hard times in 1907, but the financial panic of that year had passed and the economy had recovered nicely. Most people were working and had some money to patronize the stores in downtown Columbus.

In 1908, as it had been for most of the history of the capital city, downtown was the place to be. It was here that one might find the best theatres and restaurants and the best stores. And on any given night, one might find one's best friends as well.

Downtown was particularly busy in late October 1908. Theodore Roosevelt had decided not seek another term as president of the United States. The young, assertive, popular president had decided to follow tradition and not seek a third term.

He would later change his mind and return to the political fray in 1912 after returning from a trip to Africa, where he had shot at least one of every major animal on the continent.

But in 1908, William Howard Taft was seeking the presidency. Roosevelt's hand-picked successor was from Ohio and his autumn appearances in the state had drawn large crowds. So, too, had the rallies for his opponent. William Jennings Bryan had unsuccessfully sought to become president twice before and had been defeated by William McKinley of Ohio. Now he was trying one more time to defeat one more Ohioan. Bryan was no longer the young, handsome "barefoot boy from the Platte" who had challenged McKinley. But he was still an energetic and tireless campaigner. Ultimately, Taft would win the race.

But Halloween would come first.

Halloween was a different sort of holiday 100 years ago. Celebrated for hundreds of years as All Hallows Eve or the night before All Saints Day, Halloween was reputed to be the time of ghosts, hobgoblins and people looking for a good time.

Unlike the carefully regulated and monitored "beggars night" of our era, Halloween a century ago lasted for several nights -- at least among the younger set.

Thursday, Oct. 29, was "doorbell night." Young pranksters would ring neighborhood doorbells and hide nearby. When the door was closed again, the doorbell would be rung again until the homeowner was suitably exasperated and then a new door would be found. Friday, Oct. 30, was "gate night." Most homes in Columbus had fences of one sort or another around at least the front of the house to keep wandering horses and other animals away. "Gate Night" consisted of taking the front gate from a neighborhood house and hanging it in a nearby tree. Sheds, privies and any other structures not thoroughly secured to the ground might be tipped over as well. And Saturday, Oct. 31, was Halloween itself, when any number of younger people in suitable costumes would wander through their neighborhoods, seeking "treats" in lieu of further "tricks."

While all of this was going on, many people were holding Halloween parties at their homes. In this, they were joined by most of the major state institutions in the city. Both the Blind School and the Deaf School held costume parties and the State Hospital had a Halloween party with a professional entertainer.

But the biggest gathering was in the heart of downtown Columbus. Shortly after dark, a large crowd of mostly young men had begun to gather along High Street between Broad and Gay streets. In less than an hour, more than 2,000 people had congregated at Gay and High. Among them were several young men who called themselves "Jack the Kisser." The method of these young men was to approach a likely young woman and ask for a Halloween kiss. On more than a few occasions, they got one.

Local police generally let these activities proceed unless they got out of hand -- as they usually and eventually did.

In this case, a "Jack the Kisser" named Edward Bell became more than a little annoying. Near the intersection of Broad and High, Bell began to skip the proprieties and grab young women as they walked by.

Hugging them tightly, he gave them each a kiss, whether they wanted one or not. Patrolman Sliney of the Columbus Police arrested Bell. But Bell's friends came to his aid and in the words of a local paper the next day, "Patrolman Sliney was badly handled. His helmet was caved in, his clothes were torn and he was badly bruised."

Police reinforcements arrived and rescued Sliney and his prisoner. Bell and another man named Pearl Herzold, who had been cursing the police, were arrested and taken to the police station at Town and Front streets.

The large crowd continued to celebrate until well into the night but was generally orderly. No further arrests were made.

Although the crowd at Broad and High was quite large, most people celebrated Halloween at home, as they did the other major holidays of the year. Once the young people returned from "trick or treat," candy and other foodstuffs would be inspected and sampled. And in many families, further festivities might include "bobbing" for apples -- an activity in which an apple is taken from a tub of water without using the hands. Other families might entertain themselves with ghost stories or with traditional forms of fortune-telling.

One of those methods was to take a candle into a darkened room and look into a mirror while eating an apple -- perhaps the one recently obtained by bobbing. As one gazed into the mirror, the face of a future life companion supposedly appeared in the mirror, as if looking over one's shoulder. Some versions of this story say that a person must comb their hair as well while looking in the mirror.

How one is to do this while eating an apple and holding a candle has never been adequately explained. Perhaps it is a knack one acquires with practice.

Happy Halloween!

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

Ed

Lentz