Interview with Shirley Bowman, Courthouse Neighborhood Resident
With Halloween quickly approaching, the staff at the Center for Local History want to share a segment of a particularly interesting story about Halloween in what is now the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington.
In this clip, taken from a larger interview with narrators Tally and Shirley Bowman, Shirley shares an anecdote about an unnamed neighbor who showed trick-or-treaters silent films from the Women’s Christian Temperance Union - a group that supported, among other things, the prohibition of alcohol.
Only after slightly bribing her son, another neighbor found out that these films about drunkenness and its dangers were being shown to the neighborhood children each Halloween. When Shirley confronted this neighbor, the films stopped.
Additionally, Shirley fondly recalls other neighborhood Halloween traditions, including taking pictures of trick-or-treaters in their costumes.
NARRATOR 1: Tally Bowman
NARRATOR 2: Shirley Bowman (speaking in this clip)
INTERVIEWER: Kate O'Connor
DATE: September 20, 1988
SB: Williams was the not the first people that lived in the house on the other side of Clements. They bought it from an old woman, older woman that was WCTU, do you remember, Women's Christian Temperance Union. Oh, Lord, I haven't said that word.
She used to give Halloween parties to all the children in the neighborhood and show them these movies on people drunk, they were almost like, well they were silent movies was what they were. And these men would get their paychecks and go to a saloon, you know, and then go out and our kids had never seen anything like that and here this was trying to teach them not to do this sort of thing, I guess. I guess that's what it was for.
And it was a couple of Halloweens before we found out, in fact, we didn't know, yeah, they'd gone over there…. You know, the children, she showed them, you know, kids, you don't get too much out of them. You know, she showed some movies. But she had lots of cookies and lots of punch, that's the only thing they would talk about until one day, Jenny Bond came over from Barton Street. She said, "Shirley, Halloween's coming up. Do you know what kind of movies she shows those kids?" And I said, "No. I really don't. But gee whiz, I thought they would be nice movies coming from over there, WCTU, you know, Women's Christian Temperance Union." And she said, "Well you know what happened at our house last night?"
Bill, her oldest boy about seven years old, her husband was late coming home. He was a lawyer in the government and he had a real high job over there. She said, "Well, I wonder what happened to Daddy?" And he said, "Well, maybe he stopped by the saloon and got some beers." And she said, "Where did you get that from?" So on questioning him and
feeding him some ice cream and cake, she found out that he found it over there at the Halloween party. So maybe he stopped by a saloon and was getting a couple of beers.
Well, that put a stop to that. I went over there and talked to her about that. I said, "You know, these families around here are not that type of family."
KO: How did she respond? Did she say why?
SB: Oh, she thought it was great. She had to quit having these parties because she wouldn't stop showing the movies. Everybody laughed. Frances's three daughters used to go down there, you know. I mean, it was funny. But it was something you didn't care anything about, having year after year.
KO: What about Halloween?
SB: Oh, everybody had their lights on. Everybody invited the children into the house. And my mother used to sit right there, she loved Halloween. She had the baskets of goodies and she would give out all the . . . and I would take pictures of the kids and we had a lot of strays too, but we never, not for years, I mean the first years we didn't, it was just neighborhood kids. And then friends away would always bring their children.
You can find Tally and Shirly Bowman's interview in its entirety in the Center for Local History - VA 975.5295 A7243oh ser.3 no.9a.
The goal of the Arlington Voices project is to showcase the Center for Local History’s oral history collection in a publicly accessible and shareable way.
What is the oral history collection?
Oral history is a popular method of research used for understanding historical events, actors, and movements from the point of view of people’s personal experiences.
The Arlington Public Library began collecting oral histories of long-time residents in the 1970s, and since then the scope of the collection has expanded to capture the diverse voices of Arlington’s community. In 2016, staff members and volunteers recorded many additional hours of interviews, building the collection to 575 catalogued oral histories.
To browse our list of narrators indexed by interview subject, check out our community archive. To read a full transcript of an interview, visit the Center for Local History located at Central Library.