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Iowa History Daily: October 30 - The First "Beggars' Night"

Iowa History Daily: On October 30, 1938, the City of Des Moines Playground Commission instituted “Beggars’ Night,” a trick-or-treating event which went from a one-off solution to enduring tradition. The popular “soap or eats” greeting threatened a soaping of a home’s windows if treats weren’t offered.

During the 1930s, a high volume of mischief and vandalism on Halloween night led officials in Iowa’s capital city to consider trick-or-treating alternatives to provide a safer option for children. In 1938, there were over 550 calls to the Des Moines Police Department. By slating the Halloween fun a night earlier, police hoped to focus more on stopping petty crime and reducing vandalism on the 31st.

The rate of criminal mischief or vandalism on Halloween night dropped substantially, and Beggars’ Night lived on to become an annual tradition in Des Moines. Many enterprising children attempted to ring doorbells for treats on both October 30 and 31, leading officials in Des Moines to pass a resolution in 1940 encouraging local homeowners to not hand out candy on nights other than the officially sanctioned Beggars’ Night.

Other cities, including Mason City, Fort Madison, and Boone, followed Des Moines in instituting Beggars’ Night to curb vandalism issues with limited success. Although the other cities discontinued the tradition, Beggars’ Night continues to represent a locally significant tradition in Des Moines. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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