City of Trees once went wild on October 31

Claremont is a pretty lively place on Halloween nights. You have families roving through the Village, trick-or-treating and taking in sights like the Howl-O’Ween Dog Costume Contest. You also have extra police cruisers on the prowl, looking for anyone who may have taken the wheel after having a few too many.

Occasionally, an incident takes place, usually involving an adult who has imbibed a surfeit of spirits. Such was the case in a rather amusing incident that took place on Halloween night in 2014, as recorded in the COURIER police blotter.

A Claremont police officer returned to his squad car at about 2 a.m. after making an arrest. After hearing heavy breathing, he found a woman dressed in a black cat costume passed out in the back seat. Police speculated that, in her disoriented state, she may have thought the vehicle was a taxi. The 25-year-old, who hailed from northern California, was arrested for being drunk and disorderly and released on $250 bail.

But despite the rare Halloween misadventure, it’s nothing like the old days, when Claremont was infamous for its All Hallows’ Eve hijinks.

A story in the November 4, 1949 edition of the COURIER, “Halloween Score Tells Extent of Damages in City,” evokes the climate at the time, when local ne’er-do wells chose to carpe noctem, seize the night, in a reign of mischief. 

The article related the following tally: “Six palms burned in five fires; 12 fireplugs opened; eight minor fires in streets; six streetlights broken; six windows smashed or shot at; and seven or eight fences knocked down or damaged, among other incidents.”

Amazingly, the list was actually a sign of growing civil obedience. “The record appeared better than last year, following published appeals against water waste and vandalism, but was still far from spotless,” it was reported. 

A look at the headline of the aforementioned warning, printed on the front page of the October 29, 1949 COURIER, shows that the city was facing familiar concerns: “Gushing Fireplugs to be Serious Offense on Halloween Due to Water Shortage.”

“Gushing fire hydrants and flaming palm trees are OUT this Halloween because of the critical water shortage affecting Claremont and other parts of Pomona valley after a five-year drought,” the newspaper noted.

If too much water was wasted via open hydrants or was used to quench “mischief fires,” the article warned, the city might find itself short of water needed to fight a major fire.

Then Police Chief Paul Gordon expressed dismay at the way the holiday seemed to transform residents into Claremonsters: “There have been few good pranks or jokes observed here in recent years, and far too many leading to vandalism.”

The previous year must have been particularly disheartening for Chief Gordon and his crew. The article recalled the vandalism toll of Halloween 1948, which included no less than 37 fire-plug gushers, 11 torched palms and six other minor fires.

Local firefighters were right to be vigilant about the water supply. Much like today, Claremont was facing unusually high temperatures, as recorded in the November 4, 1948 edition of the COURIER. The front page included a weather update titled “20-Year November Heat Record Set.” November 1 and 2 had highs of 90 and 93, respectively. It had been 90 degrees on Halloween.

Heated Halloween mayhem continued apace for the next several years. A 1954 post-mortem on the holiday’s toll, “Halloween Pranks Do Small Damage Over 4-Day Period,” gave a nod to the city’s growing reputation for ghoulish games.

“All Saint’s Eve was a reasonably quiet one for Claremont, but the pace picked up in the following few days as belated celebrants got in their licks.”

Two small rugs were stolen off a Ms. Norma Wood’s porch, depriving her Cocker Spaniel “Blackout” of his usual napping spot. A palm tree was set ablaze in Oak Park Cemetery, and two residents reported rowdy revelers emptying trash cans full of garbage on their property.

Perhaps most outraged was a west Baseline resident who informed police that “a gang of hoodlums” had pelted her house with eggs.

It’s been some time since the police’s crackdown on widespread Halloween hoodlumism warranted front-page coverage. But update the police chief’s name to Paul Cooper and the warning stands. Keep it safe, sane and water-wise this Halloween. And leave those palm trees alone!

—Sarah Torribio


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