I am a late baby boomer, born at the tail end of that teeming generation. Growing up during the 60’s and 70’s, Halloween was always such a fun and safe holiday. That protective umbrella of childhood fostered an innocent enjoyment of ghosts and goblins. I remember going trick-or-treating in some store-bought costume. I remember spooky stories, I even wrote some. However, in 1973, the stories didn’t give me that thrilling fear I’d usually enjoy instead, the fear of real life crept into my waning childhood. My friend Vicky suggested a Halloween column that describes the real terror we faced that year in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Halloween was very scary in 1973. Life was scary. The war in Vietnam had finally come to an end; but, unfortunately, the warfare just moved to the hearing rooms in Washington. The storms created by Watergate would ultimately remove a sitting President, but there were terrors close enough to home to transform my Halloween experience from a childhood past time to a glimpse into the scary world of real life. The umbrella of childhood was closing.
On Halloween in 1973, the headline ink was still wet describing the random murders of what would be called the Zebra killings. I had to bus to school from Daly City and was frightened every time I went to the City. These events also reignited the chronic terror of the Zodiac killer. San Francisco was a scary place. The world was a scary place. The borders of my world were expanding, and the new territory was dark and frightful.
It was this Halloween that my sister found a razor blade in her Three Musketeers bar. It was this Halloween that I limited my trick-or-treating to just up and down the base of Skyline Drive. And it was this Halloween that would be my last. My childhood ended that year, I suppose that is about the time it does. Fourteen. No coincidence I was reading Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked Way This Way Comes that first semester at Mercy. Bradbury writes: “And that was the October week they grew up overnight, and were never so young any more…” For Will and Jim, on the eve of their fourteenth birthday, their experience with the traveling carnival changed their lives forever, and closed the door to their innocence and childhood.
So in the fall of 1973, the dark cloud of the world’s wickedness blew across our city so it seemed to me. The next year the Patty Hearst drama would begin. The decade would close with two traumatizing events: the death of Leo Ryan and the Jonestown massacre to be followed by the brutal assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk. I will never forget those events, never forget that our world is not a safe place.
Were times tougher then? No, we have our horrors now. And even as I put my feet into my parents’ shoes, they had their horrors. My mother watching the bombs dropping and the smoke rising from Pearl Harbor and my father watching his brother leave for Europe during that world-wide conflict. As I look back over the pages of history, times were always tough. But our childhoods, for the most part, certainly not for everyone, provided a little insulation from this cruel world. It’s nice to have had an innocent childhood, but if we’re to grow up, we must acknowledge that the world is a dark and stormy place.