October Surprise

To see the roots of Halloween, we must reach far back 2,000 years to the ancient Celtic festival known as Samhain. The Celts, led by their priests known as druids, celebrated the new year on November 1. This celebration marked the end of the harvest and began winter. Winter was often associated with death, and the Celts believed that on the night before the new year, the borders between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and ghosts were able to return to the earth for that day. In order to confuse ghosts so that they could not recognize people, they wear masks when they left their homes after dark, hoping that the ghosts would think they were simply other ghosts! In order to keep them away from their houses, people would place bowls of food outside their homes to appease the ghosts and prevent them from attempting to enter.

800 years or so later, Pope Boniface IV declared November 1 to be All Saints Day, a day for Catholics to honor martyrs and saints. He called that day of observation "All-hallows," and so it was natural for the day before, Samhain, to be commonly called "All-hallows Eve" which was eventually morphed into the current "Halloween." We celebrate Halloween on October 31.

October 1 is World Vegetarian Day. It was first celebrated in 1977, "to promote the joy, compassion and life-enhancing possibilities of vegetarianism." Over and over, studies have shown that a diet filled with fruits and vegetables is good for our health. While some vegetarians have embarked upon the vegetarian path for their health, others do so due to their moral or ethical conviction that they should not eat animals.

By definition, a vegetarian does not eat meat. There are varying forms of vegetarianism. Vegans, for example, subscribe to a lifestyle that excludes the use of animals for food or clothing, or any animal byproduct, including beeswax, leather, honey, wool, or silk. Many vegetarians are animal rights advocates. Semi-vegetarians, on the other hand, eat mostly vegetarian foods, but they may also eat fish and poultry, as well as milk and eggs.

October 13 is International Skeptics Day. To be honest, it is also celebrated by some on January 13. And still others celebrate it on the first Friday the 13th of the year. There is enough to be skeptical about that you could celebrate all of those dates! Just for starters, there's Thomas, who doubted that Jesus Christ had risen from the tomb. Then there's the whole moon landing bruhaha, and there are those who doubt creationism while on the other side of the coin, those who doubt evolution. And last, but certainly not least, is the ever-growing cadre of skeptics about global warming.

The Wall Street Crash of 1929 occurred in a series of black days in October. Black Thursday, October 24, was the day the crash actually occurred, but Black Monday and Black Tuesday (the 28th and 29th) were the days when panic took hold, and began the domino reaction which plunged the Street into lower and lower chaos for a month, and led to the Great Depression. Many people, when they think of the Crash, have visual images of people jumping out of windows as a result of losing their fortunes. That apparently was not the case. The suicide rate for the end of October 1929 was actually lower than much of the rest of the year.

October 1, 1903 was the first day of the first game of the first modern World Series. The Boston Americans (who later became the Red Sox) played the Pittsburgh Pirates with Boston winning 5 games to 3. On the same day in 1961, Roger Maris slammed his sixty-first home run of the season into the stands, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 60 home runs in a single season. That record, at the center of a decades-long dispute, was finally broken in 1998 by leap-frogging Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, within days of one another in September 1998. In 2001, Barry Bonds broke McGwire's record by hitting seventy-three homers.

October 17, 1989, was the third day of that year's World Series. Dubbed "Bay Ball" by the press, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, from across the San Francisco Bay, were scheduled to play at Candlestick Park.

The Loma Prieta earthquake, however, changed all that and caused a 10-day delay between game 2 and game 3 of the Series. The quake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, struck the area at 5:04 pm, just as many people were leaving work. Because of the fact that the cameras were set up to film the baseball game, this was the first time a major earthquake in the U.S. was broadcast by live TV. Sixty-three people were killed and 3,757 people were injured, and about 12,000 were homeless following the shaker. The eventual winners of the World Series, the Oakland A's, did not celebrate their win with champagne out of respect for the quake victims.

People who died in the month of October in years past include Janis Joplin, Bette Davis, Edgar Allen Poe, Orson Wells, Robert E. Lee, Gene Roddenberry, and Harry Houdini.

Additional resources for the month of October:

  • Halloween.com - On the web since 1994, this site covers everything Halloween, including its history, safety, haunted house finder, a Christian perspective on the celebration, and Halloween surveys.
  • Spartacus: Wall Street Crash - An in-depth look at the days and events leading up to the crash, the crash itself, and its consequences on the economy into the next decade.
  • US Geological Society: October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake - Provides information, ground motion simulations, maps, professional papers on the topic, and links to other pertinent sites.
  • MLB.com: World Series History - Contains an overview and history of this annual event, and statistics from every Series since 1903.