Olentangy Valley News

History today

Halloween pranksters once ruled Powell

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A photo from the World War II era shows a sign hung on a Powell outhouse as a prank.
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Stories of local Halloween pranks seem appropriate for this month.

Some time ago, lifelong Liberty Township resident John Schuette provided the Powell-Liberty Historical Society with a written recollection of a Halloween story passed down through his family on his mother's side. John's great-grandfather, Henry Clay Maddox, owned a sizable tract of land along the Scioto River, north of Powell Road. After he died, his five children established residences in this area. John's grandfather was John Winfred Maddox, called J.W.

Schuette writes: "It seems that in the 1920s some of the boys from Powell made it a Halloween tradition to come over to J.W. Maddox's barnyard and tow, by hand, his high-wheeled wagon north on what is now state Route 257 to the Home Road bridge and abandon it there. Having had enough of this activity, the Maddox clan planned their strategy. This particular Halloween, J.W. Maddox left his wagon in the barnyard as usual, except he concealed himself with his legendary Parker double-barreled shotgun under a pile of straw in the bed of the wagon. Old J.W. just lay there and let the boys tow the wagon up to the Home Road bridge.

"Just as the boys started to walk away laughing, old J.W. stood up in the moonlight, leveled his shotgun and calmly said 'All right, boys, you towed me up here -- now you can tow me home.'

"It is said that the boys didn't enjoy the return trip nearly as much as they did the earlier trip."

There is more to the family story.

"As the weary boys finally got the wagon back to the barnyard, old J.W. said, 'Now, get out of here!' As the boys ran, he let loose with his old shotgun and that really sent them into high gear."

The pranksters headed south, and the three other brothers opened fire with their shotguns as the boys passed their homes.

John said no one ever knew who the boys were, but there sure was not another Halloween prank played on the Maddox clan.

Don Bell, who spent his school years in Powell when his mother operated the corner grocery store, has often spoken of tipping outhouses, among other pranks. At least one outhouse appeared in the middle of town at the Four Corners. His brother, Vic, gave us the photo that shows the Mayor's Office sign hanging on an unidentified outhouse. Unfortunately, Vic is deceased, and it's a mystery how the photo came into his possession, because neither Don nor Vic was in the area when the photo shown here was taken.

Bell has just shared some of his memories from the 1940s, indicating there were many outhouses in Powell, especially during World War II, when plumbing and bathroom fixtures were unavailable. He recalls a woman who "requested that we wait until she was out before we did the deed." And then there was the outhouse at the Powell Farmer's Exchange that they regularly were unsuccessful at tipping because it was bolted to a concrete slab.

One of Bell's favorite pranks involved hooking a pair of wires to homes with after-market doorbells. The boys could ring a homeowner's bell from across the street. On some occasions, "to make it even more interesting," Don writes, they would tie short pieces of rope together around the main door knob and the screen door knob whereby "you could essentially keep those in the house prisoners while their doorbell rang."

There was another trick, not only dedicated to Halloween. Bell reports: "We had an old beat-up hubcap, and not wanting anything to go to waste, we came up with the idea of tossing it alongside a car that was passing slowly through the Four Corners of Powell." The driver could see a hubcap rolling down the road from the rearview mirror. The boys took turns "being a good Samaritan" and would retrieve the hubcap for the driver. "Just as he would reach for the hubcap, the good-deed doer would take off running." There were a variety of reactions, Bell says, but "the majority would laugh and accept it as a good practical joke."

Reflecting on the traditional side of Halloween, homemade costumes and treats, such as cookies and cupcakes, are part of Don Bell's memories.

"When one was through calling on all the village homes, he could pass the 'Powell Unincorporated' signs and head into areas where houses were few and far between but one was always welcomed with more homemade treats. The treater would invite you into their home and try to guess your identity. Everyone knew everyone, so it really wasn't much of a guessing game -- just lots of laughter and an occasional glass of cider and maybe a doughnut (they were 25 cents a dozen)," he recalls, adding, "There is nothing in Powell today that even closely resembles Powell of old. Think of all the things that you missed."

Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society.


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