It has taken a while, but Halloween is coming into its own once again. This should not be all that surprising because the "celebration," such as it is, has had its ups and downs over the past several hundred years.

It has taken a while, but Halloween is coming into its own once again. This should not be all that surprising because the "celebration," such as it is, has had its ups and downs over the past several hundred years.

The gathering together of people to celebrate the end of the harvest season has probably been taking place as long as people have been living together and producing crops and livestock -- by most accounts for several thousand years. These celebrations varied as to time and place and often combined the last tasks of the autumn harvest with a well-deserved celebration.

Across much of Europe, these large gatherings also were opportunities for religious observances of one sort or another.

The problem faced by the early Christian church as it wended its way across Europe seeking converts in the first few centuries of the modern era was that many of the old gods simply did not fade away.

Adopting many of the old "holy days" of the previous religious observances, the Christian churches made them into Christian "holidays" of their own. But even with this change, many of the beliefs and characters associated with earlier practice continued to linger. In time the old deities were relegated to a day of their own and the night before All Saints Day became All Hallows Eve or Halloween -- a night when all sorts of nasty and not very nice characters, natural and supernatural, were said to be out and about.

Rather than fearing these unworldly folks, many of the common people, to the disdain of the church, actually began to use them as an excuse for yet another party. And Halloween in its modern form was born.

While many of our Puritan forebears looked with some distaste on Halloween -- or most other partying, for that matter -- the traditions of the day survived. And by the late 1800s most American towns saw Halloween as a time when families and friends might gather to have a pleasurable evening and wait for the community's children, in appropriate disguise, to come by seeking "treats" in lieu of a "trick" or two.

In rural America in an earlier era, those tricks included stealing front gates and hanging them in trees, painting a message on a local barn or generally making noise and keeping people up.

As Halloween moved to the cities, the types of tricks that might be played were only limited by the imagination of the people playing them. Soaping windows, decorating mailboxes and -- a Midwestern favorite -- hanging festoons of toilet tissue from trees all became Halloween pastimes.

In the years between World War I and World War II, most American cities were still reasonably small in land area and most people did most of their shopping and socializing in the downtown. It was not unusual in those years to see a Halloween parade in a downtown when local stores and restaurants would stay open, knowing that children seeking treats often brought their parents along with them.

That sort of celebration ended in most cities as America moved to the suburbs in the last few decades and "trick or treat" became primarily a children's event, well regulated as to time and place by local authorities.

And in many places it is still just that. But in recent years in Columbus, and many other cities, activities for older people have become popular as well. Haunted houses staged and staffed by local charitable groups can be found in many locations across the metropolitan area. Tours of houses or whole neighborhoods reputed to be haunted in one form or another have become popular as well.

And in a nod to an earlier day, the Short North will be staging a Halloween "processional" of sorts by blocking off a section of High Street and judging the costumed people who care to compete for prizes.

It is not really a parade, but it is close enough.

As the happy paraders make their way down the street, they might be interested to know that they might be in the presence of Columbus' third mayor. John Kerr was one of the four founders of Columbus and gave the city its first cemetery. When the Old North Graveyard closed, many of the people in it were moved to other cemeteries and the North Market was constructed on its site.

Many, but not all.

The grave of John Kerr was never found and it is said by some that he still walks the Short North seeking someone or something important to him.

Should you meet him, send him my best. I am usually not nearby on that particular night.

Happy Halloween.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.