Throughout Gonzaga University’s history, Halloween has always been quite the ghoulish night on campus. Whether that meant throwing big Halloween monster-mashes and bashes or volunteering, the night has played a big role in campus culture.
From the Foley Library archives dating all the way back to 1912, GU has had an interesting Halloween come-up from its transition from an all-male university to the integrated and proud place that it currently stands.
To understand the importance of Halloween at GU and Halloween within the religious context of the Catholic Church, research from The Gonzaga Bulletin and the Office of Mission and Ministry compares where the holiday once was to today’s celebrations.
An annual Halloween celebration put on by Gonzaga Athletic Club (GAC), — an equivalent to today’s Gonzaga Student Body Association (GSBA) established in 1896 — featuring festivities that included racing, singing and other games of skill and endurance, as well as a beauty contest that “brought out such a number of good looking fellows that the judges were at a loss how to decide,” according to a 1912 edition of The Gonzaga Bulletin, called simply “Gonzaga” at the time.
In the 1920s there was a 12-year period without any Halloween related activities, but they were resumed in 1932 with the submission of Halloween poetry by students.
“A lot of students [used to] write a lot of poetry and various literature,” said Kelly Rovegno, Foley Library processing archivist. “This was fitting with what they were writing at the time.”
In 1935, the parties returned to campus with a social frolic held by The Kennel Club at the Masonic Temple in Spokane. The event had an estimated attendance of 35 couples who stayed dancing until 12:30 a.m. This dance tradition stuck and in 1937, GU held a harvest-Halloween-themed ball.
In the 1940s, GU held its very own parade featuring a then-never-before-seen-on-campus convertible Cadillac. The theme of the parade was supposed to portray a college-aged man in search of a date. Sadly, it rained throughout the parade and then-GU President James McCarthy canceled the spectacle due to weather.
The college-aged men of GU finally got their dates in 1947, when the Academic Committee for Long Time Planning proposed and approved the admittance of female students at GU. The women arrived in the fall of 1948, according to “Campus Pioneers: The First 25 Years of Women at Gonzaga, 1948-1973: Case 1.”
When the women arrived in 1948, the first coed Halloween bash had prizes worth upward of $100 for the annual costume contest. It featured a prize for couples: an evening out, complete with a dinner, show, corsage and all the trimmings. Students were also able to drink refreshments of cider in the “Coke room,” a former College Hall hot spot.
The 1950s were rather “nifty” when women were officially allowed to live on campus, originally in Crimont Hall, which was previously an infirmary but was converted to first women’s only on-campus housing, according to “Campus Pioneers: The First 25 Years of Women at Gonzaga, 1948-1973: Case 5.”
To celebrate their new recreation room, in 1951 the women’s dormitory, Crimont, held a big Halloween party in the Knotty Pine Rumpus room. It is unclear where this is today.
Students that same year were also invited to a Zag Bar social event that inaugurated a new type of social program where a movie was shown after a dance. The event’s admission calling for 25 cents a head but “anyone with two heads would be admitted for half price.” This tradition is equivalent to a bar crawl in Spokane.
GU also made sure to hold a Halloween party for community members, inviting orphans to an on-campus party and entertaining them with prizes and magic. At the same time, GU students had their own party.
Planned by the men and decorated by the women, this party required a strict costume dress code. Couples were supposed to dress as commoners (wearing togas and kilts), though the women were still asked to be pedal pushers and the men tried to grow beards, “everything from loggers growths to blonde peach fuzz,” said a 1951 edition of the Bulletin.
The ’50s continued with school-sponsored Halloween hay rides, and spooky skeleton themed dances held in the COG.
The ’60s did not disappoint, with the 1961 “Miss Witch” contest, a Halloween inspired beauty contest held in the student union building and a Medieval themed masquerade ball held in the COG, titled “A knight in Castle COG,” said a 1961 edition of the Bulletin.
During the ’70s Halloween took an interesting turn with a fire in Alliance House due to a cigarette smoldering a sofa in the dormitory’s recreation room, causing $15,000 worth of damage (equivalent to $95,000 worth of damages today).
The ’70s were also not as fond of traditional GU Halloween costume contests, because a majority of GU students felt “that they were forced to watch,” according to a 1979 edition of the Bulletin.
The ’80s, on the other hand, did not mind the costume contest, as it returned in 1980 with gift cards prizes for pizza.
“One costume I remember was the Statue of Liberty,” said Fr. Ken Krall in an email. Krall has been a Jesuit at GU since 1985. “Another was a shower curtain on a circular curtain rod and a person inside, supposedly taking a shower.”
During the ’80s students in Florence also had a good time dressing up as a bumblebee, pink panthers and other makeshift costumes that were a shock for Italian natives who don’t celebrate Halloween.
Florence drinking tradition was around back then, as these students still found an “inevitable drink or two satisfied our craving for some type of ‘trick-or-treat’,” according to a 1980 edition of the Bulletin.
Drinking was no longer all-that-cool on campus in 1984, as the legal age for buying and possessing alcohol was raised to 21 years old in every state with the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This prevented students from traveling to nearby Idaho to buy alcohol, where the drinking age use to be 19.
This did not prevent Associate Students of Gonzaga (ASGU), an equivalent to today’s GSBA, who went in direct contradiction to university policy and United States law. As the policy was instituted that last spring to be in accordance with Washington State law which stated that it’s illegal to serve alcohol to anyone under 21.
Junior class senator and resident director of Roncalli Hall, Ed Merrick had helped ASGU and the junior class to drink by buying several kegs for an off-campus Halloween party. It was later discussed if ASGU could provide alcohol or have funding for alcohol, as well as what role campus security had, as they did not feel “it is their job to act as alcohol patrol,” as said in a 1983 edition of The Bulletin.
With the lack of alcohol, the parties held on campus changed to events like the one 1994 held in the “haunted” Russell Theatre that was put on by the drama students. In 1995, when asked about what the students were doing for Halloween night, students said “I’m not going to my literature class,” and “dressing up and being stupid,” as reported in a 1995 edition of The Bulletin.
The 2000s were filled with controversial suggestions of dressing up as Kim Jong II. On a lighter note, in 2007, the Residence Hall Association began hosting trick-or-treating for children from the Logan Neighborhood, pumpkin carving outside of Duff’s Bistro and La Raza Latina holding a Dia de los Muertos festival.
“Residence halls decided to have a hall decorating contest and to invite kids from the surrounding neighborhoods to trick-or-treat in the decorated halls ... it proved to be popular. Faculty and staff members brought their kids over to participate. It was a fairly safe alternative way to trick-or-treat,” Krall said.
In recent memory, GU’s Halloweens have included a rise in Halloween security in 2013 and 2016 clown-encounters in the courtyard between DeSmet and Welch Halls.
As of 2019, the Halloween craze is surrounding the costume contest, keeping up with GU costume contest tradition. Held in the Rotunda of Hemmingson Center, Gonzaga University Event Service Team (GUEST) will host faculty and staff who will show off their costumes for students who will be allowed to vote on Thursday at noon.
“This is the fifth year, every year since Hemmingson has been open. Something that’s cool about it is that it’s pretty much always done by the [GUEST] interns,” said Tanner Chick, GUEST organizational management intern.
GUEST has a current Halloweentown movie display in the Rotunda today they will be playing Halloweentown in Hemmingson from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Halloween is prevalent in every office at GU, including the Office of Mission and Ministry. There has been an understanding between the Catholic Church and Halloween, as long as the holiday respects traditions of afterlife and resurrection.
“There’s nothing wrong with Halloween since it’s popular culture, part of the ghost culture, the scary culture,” said Father Dan Mai, S.J. “We don’t condemn that. If there is worship of satanism, that’s what we condemn.”
Although many of the same GU traditions have held up, GU really has not changed the tradition of Halloween. There will always be parties, costume contests and candy treats.
“The inevitable candy bowls in all the offices [is] a great way to put on lots of fat for the long winter months ahead,” Krall said.