When World War Two ended in 1945 the generation of young adults who had grown up during the war was eager to leave behind the deprivations and hardships of those years. Most especially the young men who returned from war service wanted to marry and settle into civilian life. The post-war “boom” in the number of newlyweds soon resulted in a soaring birth rate known as the Baby Boom which lasted from 1946 to 1964.
In the post-war period the Wedgwood neighborhood in northeast Seattle became very much characterized by young couples, and many of the 1950s activities of the Wedgwood Community Club were geared to families with children.
The custom of children’s trick or treat at Halloween had been going on in the United States before the 1940s, but after World War Two such child-oriented activities became even more prevalent. In the Wedgwood neighborhood in addition to trick-or-treating, in the 1950s the community club helped support a new tradition: a painting contest using the store windows of the business district on 35th Ave NE at the intersection of NE 85th Street.
On Halloween evening in 1952 Grant McVicar was still at work in his hardware store at 8507 35th Ave NE when some boys mischievously began soaping the store windows. Mr. McVicar’s store sold a wide range of goods and he had craft supplies such as poster paint, so he gave the lads some paint and brushes and encouraged them to paint Halloween scenes on the store windows.
The window-painting episode gave Mr. McVicar an idea for a Halloween activity and store promotion for the next year. At Halloween in 1953 he painted white squares on his store windows and offered prizes for the best paintings in different age groups. The response was overwhelming: so many children came that customers in the store were asked to help with handing out paint palettes and ice cream cones.
More store windows were needed, so the next year many more stores were recruited for participation with volunteers of the Wedgwood Community Club organizing the event. In the event announcement of October 1957, George Gunn of the Community Club said,
“What started out several years ago as a defensive measure for weary merchants has turned into an exciting contest, eagerly anticipated by kids all over the area. Last year about 500 kids signed up and we expect more this year.” (Wedgwood Echo, October 1957, page 3.)
In his follow-up report in the November 1957 Wedgwood Echo newsletter, George Gunn counted that year as the Fifth Annual Halloween Window Painting Contest. He said that seventy adults had assisted in organizing the event, including ten men who marked off 18 by 18-inch squares on store windows.
Six judges for the window-painting contest included several local schoolteachers. After the window-painting there was a clean-up crew and there were some volunteers whose job it was to phone the winners and award prizes.
George Gunn wrote that “When the judges had completed their job at eight o’ clock, phones in the lucky winner’s homes rang loud and clear. At eight-ten, bedlam broke loose in McVicar’s Hardware Store – the winners had arrived to claim their prizes.”
In 1960 the registrants for the Eighth Annual Halloween Window Painting Contest numbered more than 600. Here is a list of the participating merchants of 1960, all clustered around the NE 85th Street intersection on both sides of 35th Ave NE. Let’s see how many of them you can recall!
A & M Cleaners
Adams Insurance AgencyDon’s Wedgwood Barber Shop Evans Thriftway Fantasy Beauty Salon Fuller Paint Store M & M Mobil Service McVicar Hardware Pay-N-Save Russell’s Barber Shop Samuel Spilk Realty Tradewell Wedgewood Pharmacy Wedgwood Café Wedgwood Cleaners Wedgwood Laundromat Wedgwood Texaco
In his summary report in the November 1960 edition of the Wedgwood Echo newsletter, event chairman Hal Roe wrote,
“What with wind and rain and twice running out of paint plus a record number of registrants the hardy band of volunteers somehow accomplished their appointed tasks before slumping exhausted with a handful of tranquilizers.
Only after the multitude had departed and the judges were pondering their decisions was the fact apparent that children ages 5 through 13 had performed a wonderful transformation on the windows of Wedgwood’s stores. Rocket-powered witches, ghost-filled pumpkin patches, and even one non-partisan type goblin threatening, “Vote on Nov. 8 or I’ll get you,” was the order of the day.
Judging Committee Chairwoman Dorothy Williams had just cause to complain that the number of excellent paintings exceeded the number of prizes. Despite the difficulty in selecting the winners the judges were able to have the talented group assembled at the Wedgewood Pharmacy by 8:30 PM to receive their prizes from Mr. McVicar representing the merchants, and to have their pictures taken.”
Each November’s Wedgwood Echo newsletter of the 1950s announced the results of that year’s Halloween event as well as announcing the next event: the annual Christmas Trails Contest and Santa Wagon. The Christmas Trails Contest awarded prizes to homeowners for the best outdoor decorations in the following categories: Windows; Best Outdoor Tree; Door or Entry; Yard and House; Two or More Coordinated Property Owners’ Display.
The Wedgwood Community Club commissioned a wagon to drive around for a December evening of decoration-judging and, somewhat like a winter version of the ice cream truck, the Santa Wagon would give out candy to children on each street. These were some of the neighborhood events in the 1950s years of child-oriented activities in Wedgwood.
Today, Wedgwood community volunteers serve as Halloween crossing guards for each year’s well-attended trick-or-treat event in the business district along 35th Ave NE.