CITY BEAT: REMEMBER WHEN OUTHOUSES WERE TARGETS ON HALLOWEEN?
It doesn’t seem possible that Halloween is coming up on Sunday (Oct. 31). Halloween has a long, and somewhat destructive, history in Decatur and Central Illinois. Tom Emery writes about some prank-filled Hallo-weens from many years ago on page 5 of this week’s print and online editions of the Decatur Tribune.
I remember, when I was a kid, and many houses had outhouses (outside toilets), Halloween was the one time of the year when several of them got pushed over — which created problems for the owners because they had nowhere to answer nature’s call until the outhouse was set upright! (Of course, they improvised until the outhouse was operational again.)
One of our neighbors (when I was a kid) decided to sit inside his outhouse with his shotgun on Halloween night to scare off any outhouse tippers! Unfortunately, he fell asleep while waiting for the culprits to show up and they tipped the outhouse over with him inside! As I’ve written before in this column, another outhouse owner went to even greater lengths to catch outhouse tippers. He had his outhouse moved off of the “human waste catching area” and sat it next to the pit. His plan was that, when the outhouse tippers arrived in the dark they wouldn’t realize there was an open pit of “human waste” next to the outhouse, instead of under it, and they would “fall into the pit”. I later heard via the town gossip that two teenagers who arrived to tip over the outhouse had fallen into the pit and, once they climbed out, they were a smelly mess when they went home!
Fortunately, today very few houses in our city have outhouses to tip, thanks to the miracle of indoor plumbing — so the tradition of outhouse tipping has disappeared over the years.
• IT’S hard for me to think of Halloween without thinking of the two girls, 12-year-old Sherry Gordon and her 9-year-old cousin, Theresa Hall, who were sexually assaulted and strangled to death in Decatur’s Longview Housing area on Oct. 31, 1984. I not only covered the story for this newspaper, but for the “Newsline TV program that I produced and appeared on daily over WFHL-TV in Decatur. Their violent deaths stayed on my mind for a long time and Halloween, to this very day, reminds me every year of those girls and the terror they must have experienced on that night. A quarter of a century later, DNA, determined the guilty person — Melvin Johnson — who had already died of stomach cancer in Texas in October 2003, several years before he was identified as the monster of Halloween in Decatur in 1984.
• VIOLENCE in communities across the nation, including our own, makes this Halloween much scarier than usual. Since last Halloween we’ve had a series of shootings and senseless violence in our community where innocent people have suffered injuries — and worse. Halloween enjoyment, for those who get a kick out of it, is much more structured today, not only because of the pandemic, but because of concerns for safety. I don’t need to point out that it is especially an important time to keep your children and each other safe and use caution and common sense in what you have planned.
• I’M seeing more and more shortages in our community these days, from bags of potato chips at take-out restaurants, to take-out food containers and sacks plus bare sections in supermarkets. A lot of that is due to lack of truck drivers to deliver goods to stores. Some businesses aren’t able to get anyone to work for them and are limiting hours, or shuting their doors for a day or two because they have no help!
• LONGTIME friends, who care about everyone’s eyes, Ophthalmologist Dr. John C. Lee and Lorrie J. Durbin of Midwest Sight Foundation, NFP, brought to the office my annual gift of pears that were just harvested by Dr. Lee — and it’s always nice to see and chat with them. Dr. Lee’s office is at 1714 S Blaine Lane in Decatur and my dad, myself and one of my sons have been and are among their patients.
Thanks to devoted Tribune subscribers Dana L. Burmann and Jill Hinden for stopping by the office and bringing me a 6-pack of V8 (low sodium) juice. Dana, who is from out-of-state, was here visiting her sister, Jill. Thanks to everyone who supports this newspaper in a variety of ways.
• I JOIN Brian Byers on WSOY’s Byers & Co. every Thursday morning at 7:00 and always enjoy our conversation on the “City Hall Insider” half-hour.