Modified from an October, 30, 2009 post.
Today is "Mischief Night," and, appropriately enough, friends say, my birthday. While October 30 is a fearful Devils' Night of arson in Detroit, Michigan, the evening was the more mild Corn Night of teen pranks when I was growing up in the St. Peter area in the 1960s and early 1970s.
While the tradition has a longer lineage than any of us knew according to Wikipedia, we understood St. Peter's Corn Night as a time when older youth could go out and pull pranks on neighbors and friends.
Throwing shelled corn was more or less officially condoned, and I remember walking down corn-littered sidewalks in the pleasant college town when I was still trick-or-treating age. As an older kid, I learned that t-ping a home involved little more risk, as did soaping car windows, but mostly the police turned a blind eye on all but the most destructive behavior.
And of course, our parents discouraged the use of the notorious go-bang-go bag as friends who grew up in New Jersey and Philadelphia called them.
If an old high school friend with teenagers of his own now living in St. Peter is correct, Corn Night is forgotten. He received blank looks from his teenage sons, and there's no Internet chatter anywhere about the old custom.
One blogger who grew up in Red Wing, where the tradition lives on, tells about her escapades here, as well as providing more background on its origins:
Once, when I was in the third grade and had time to kill, I picked up Mrs. Blomme's Encyclopedias for some light reading. For some reason, I happened upon a section that explained the origins of not only Halloween, but Corn Night. Corn Night's original intent was for residents to roam their villages and throw corn at people's houses as a sign of protection from the spirits that would come a'visitin' on Halloween.
Corn Night's original intent in Red Wing was to give kids one night in their young lives to band together in mutiny and stick it to The Man by smashing pumpkins, overturning garbage cans, chucking various objects at people and their houses (preferably eggs if we didn't like you) and T-P'ing people's trees and lawn ornaments. It was awesome, especially if you had watched "Children Of The Corn" right before you traipsed out to join your neighborhood buddies.
Others write about how teens set the bluffs on fire for uncontrolled burns, so some activities are not so benign.
My correspondent Joel speculated that the police are no longer as tolerant as the officers in the St. Peter of our childhood, but didn't know how or when St. Peter's Corn Night vanished into the past.
Perhaps Corn Night prepared my for an adult appreciation of tricksters and pranks. Or perhaps I learned the difference between harmless tomfoolery ad destructive behavior. Whatever the case, here's hoping for safe trick-or-treating for the kiddies, and civility and civil rights in the coming Tuesday.