It's nearly Halloween -- the holiday on which normally sane adults gather for parties dressed in topical, humorous and/or macabre costumes.

Meanwhile, the children of the community, similarly attired, go door to door seeking candy, threatening a "trick" if there is not a "treat."

All this is seen in a spirit of fun, and few children today have any idea what a trick might consist of if a treat is not forthcoming.

Not that long ago, children knew exactly what to do in those cases -- and they did it.

Halloween is short for All Hallows Eve, which is the night before All Saints Day on the calendar of the Christian church.

For several centuries, All Hallows Eve was considered to be the night when all sorts of not-so-nice creatures and other apparitions roamed the earth. By the time our country was brought into being in the late 1700s, most people were no longer fearful of ghosts and other hobgoblins and instead saw Halloween as a good time for a celebration.

Our picture today shows one way people have celebrated for centuries. It is 1917, and three boys have gathered to carve pumpkins for Halloween. We do not know who they are or even where they are -- but for today, we will bring them to Columbus and make them our own.

People have been carving faces into gourds and pumpkins for at least the last 10,000 years. Over the course of time, the art of carving blended with the myths of place and time, and the jack-o'-lantern was born.

In central Ohio, the carving of pumpkins became part of the culture of Halloween. But as is sometimes the case, the love of a good thing can lead to more-elaborate observances. In 1903, the mayor of Circleville -- population: about 6,000 -- decided to lay out a small display of pumpkins and other local produce.

The eventual result was the Circleville Pumpkin Show, whose three days of parades, awards and displays now attract more than 400,000 to a town with about 12,000 residents. If you've ever wanted to see a 1,500-pound pumpkin, this is the place.

But to return to Halloween in Columbus, in 1951, Carlos Shedd, a longtime resident, published his reminiscences about growing up and coming of age in the capital city in his "Tales of Old Columbus." In that account, he recalls growing up in a town where Halloween had repercussions with "tricks" for people who did not "treat." In late 1800s Columbus, the penalties ranged from stealing the gate from the front of a house and hanging it in a nearby tree to making a lot of noise as a neighbor was trying to sleep.

When we today consider that modern penalties for the withholding of treats include the soaping of windows and stringing a homeowner's shrubbery with toilet tissue, we are led to wonder if much has changed in 100 years.

In other ways, however, a lot has changed about Halloween in Columbus.

A century ago, people in Columbus generally lived in or near downtown. The area had many residents in homes, apartments or rooming houses. The nearby neighborhoods in every direction were well-populated, too, but on Halloween night, most of these folks came downtown. It was there that people in costume and not enjoyed a good time.

But in fall 1917, the frivolity of Halloween night was tempered by the simple fact that America was at war.

In April, President Woodrow Wilson, outraged at the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare and other transgressions, had asked the Congress for a declaration of war -- and he got it.

In the months that followed, large numbers of young men had enlisted and were being trained at large bases such as Camp Sherman in Lancaster. Local civic and service organizations were mobilizing as part of the war effort.

Halloween was celebrated in 1917, but it was subsumed into the patriotic fervor of the times.

In later years, the suburbanization of America impelled by the rise of the motorcar and the construction of interstate highways led to the dispersion of people and their celebrations from the downtown area.

Only recently has Columbus seen a return of people and commerce to its downtown. We have seen Halloween celebrations such as Highball Halloween in the Short North and ghost tours by Columbus Landmarks bring people back.

It's a trend worth encouraging.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.