By the Light of the Halloween Moon
By the end of October, the leaves were pretty much gone from the trees on Aroma Hill, frost was a near nightly occurrence, and mist from the Delaware River greeted the sunrise. Halloween marked the halfway point between return to the Seminary around Labor Day and a trip home for Christmas around December 22. Every four years the end of October also featured a presidential election. And, in my freshman year , late October was marked by the Cuban Missile Crisis.
St. Joe’s was a poor vantage point to follow major news stories, with the strict regimentation of our daily existence. We were permitted to watch the CBS News with Walter Cronkite at 6:30, but our only paper was The New York Times; the Grey Lady was delivered by mail, and at times it was two days behind. Time and Newsweek were available in our library to a point. Our prudish friar librarian would take scissors to any picture he considered a danger to our virginity. In my first year at St. Joe’s a widely covered news story was the Profumo Scandal in which Mr. John Profumo, British Secretary of State, frequented the same prostitute, Christine Keeler, as a Russian attaché. Every time Ms. Keeler’s picture appeared in any publication, the librarian took his scissors to it, even if coverage of Vatican II was on the other side of the page.
Consequently, I do not recall a major sense of panic among the students when the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded over the last two weeks of October in 1962, at least among the younger students at my level. I am sure that the veterans in our college division understood the crisis better than we did. News from outside of St. Joe’s percolated the walls slowly. I do not recall any special announcements from the faculty, and certainly no atomic war drills. [It is possible that by 1962 most of the American public had already come to realize that in a true thermonuclear war those atomic drills of crawling under the desk and putting your head between your knees were pathetically inadequate; remember the T-shirts with printed atomic instructions, the last directive being “kiss your a-- good bye!” Father Rene Ouellette was the only faculty member who brought up the crisis in class, with a daily report of the progress of Russian ships racing toward the U.S. naval blockage of Cuba. Oddly, I cannot remember any Masses for peace or other devotionals, either, though I would welcome any corrections of that.
It was only when I returned home at Christmas and saw my family’s emergency food supplies in the basement that I began to appreciate how dangerous this confrontation had been; in 2000 the movie Thirteen Days would make a prayerful man out of the most hardnosed cynic. But the Cuban Missile Crisis was a one-time event, thankfully, and most of our October memories (I hope) are more benign. When I arrived in 1962 the custom of long standing—how long, I can’t say--was “The Maze,” held every Halloween Night. How would I describe it? Well, it was an evening when the authorities looked the other way and the fifth-year students [college freshmen] could haze freshmen. The Maze was one of those events with a long and threatening build-up; the event itself was unimaginative and lame, consisting of navigating a trail in the basement of the chapel and having your clothes stuffed with mud, sod, and cow manure, all of which were in more than sufficient supply on the new football field. Except for the inconvenience of laundering one’s Maze clothing, it left little impact on me.
In fact, I cannot remember the Maze after 1962. I do recall in third year  one of my classmates, Marty, asked me to help him find a mouthy freshman and explain respect to him. [If you watched “the Sopranos,” this was my Chris Moltisani moment, doing an “errand” with big boss Tony.] I went along and we ended up throwing him in the lake. Unfortunately, the kid caught my leg and pulled me in with him; who says there is no such thing as Karma? I thought I would die of hypothermia. But that regrettable stunt was an “independent operation” unrelated to any class activity. Marty was disengaged from the seminary about two weeks later, though I doubt it had anything to do with our little caper. That night stands out in my memory because later in the evening we had the best movie shown in my six years at St. Joe’s, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” [Callicoon movies are another future post in the queue.]
This morning I received several Facebook posts about the Maze. The event never crossed my radar again; I don’t believe my class hosted one in our college freshman year, October of 1966. But some form of the ritual continued that I am unaware of. One of our best Callicoon historians with a pen and a camera, Terry M., recalls three distinct memories of the Maze.
“Three memories…one year, people getting thrown into the pond…another year the cry “Heruska hubs [sic] the Maze”…and a post-Maze Halloween party/show in the auditorium where [J.F.] hooked up an electric chair and a first year guy [name uncertain] sat in it, got zapped, stood up, and in a voice that could be heard up on Crucifix Hill screamed out [the “s” word or the “f” word] or something along these lines.”
Another student in the year behind me [the 1963 Maze] posted “Remembering Hell Night” at St. Joe’s on Halloween. “That night is probably responsible for most of my psychological problems.” That has been a point of discussion among us old hands who remember the 1962 Maze and have talked about it. There was a palpable sense of intimidation to the event that by today’s lights might be seen as harassment or hazing; one wonders about several of the collegian enthusiasts who seemed to be working out their own anger on students some years younger.
Halloween was the entre to the “Bowl Season” where every class played the other five for the school championship throughout the month. In my first year the championship tourney [though no one called it that] was played over Thanksgiving Weekend, with 5th year playing 6th year on Thanksgiving Day, 4th year against 3rd year on Friday, and the “Pigeon Bowl” on Saturday with the freshmen versus the sophomores. Later, when we started going home for Thanksgiving, the bowl championships were played a little earlier in November. The fall of 1963 was the first year on the new football field, which became my class’s house of horrors for opponents. In our sophomore year [1963-1964] the class pulled together nicely, and we began an undefeated streak that ran till early November 1967, when we were tied by the college freshmen behind us. This was the last college game ever played on Aroma Hill, as the college division was closed in the summer of 1968.
In my junior year [1964-1965] a presidential election was in full swing, and around Halloween, a few nights before the election, the entire student body was given the night off from study hall to engage in a political rally on campus. While the Republican candidate Senator Barry Goldwater had a few fans, most of the student body—if enthusiasm was any measure—sided with Lyndon B. Johnson, who won the national election in a landslide. There were a few floats, but most of us improvised shirts and just made a lot of noise. My class was gone by the tumultuous election of 1968, but we were still in Callicoon for the primaries to that election. I contacted Time Magazine to enroll our college in Choice ’68, a national poll taken in April 1968. The voting age in 1968 was 21, and there was considerable interest then in lowering the voting age.
We had the lobby of Scotus Hall filled with voting desks, and I threw the election open to the entire student body. Regrettably, I have lost the exact results, but in writing a summary for Cord and Cowl, I recall observing my surprise at how well Richard Nixon had polled at St. Joe’s. He was second to Robert Kennedy by about ten votes. I believe the entire enrollment at St. Joe’s was about 150 at most. Nationally, Eugene McCarthy won among collegians. Sadly, about a week after my class’s graduation from St. Joe’s in late May, Robert Kennedy was shot in Los Angeles after declaring victory in the California primary.
Time to go to the printers if we want a true Halloween post, but Tom Devlin, one of our regular readers, just posted this Halloween memory…and it is funny.
“P.H. and I snuck out at night and went trick or treating [in the village of Callicoon.] We stopped by the Franciscan Sisters Convent at the bottom of the Hill and guess who were in there: [Father] Ronald Stark and [Brother] Bill Mann. Busted, two weeks grounded.”
Remember, the cheaper the Halloween candy, the worse the heartburn. Be safe and have a merry night of memories tonight.
The Boys of Aroma Hill