Growing up in Red Wing, Minnesota, the night before Halloween was both a rite of passage and a tradition. It was enough to cause shrieks of revelry from The Youngs, paranoia from The Olds, and furious fist-shaking + threats of death from the elderly. It ’twas…
Never heard of it? That’s okay; you’re not alone! In fact, there’s even a number of people from Red Wing whom have blissfully lived under the impression that Corn Night was something that Red Wing just kind of made up. “Yeah but, I talked to my cousin in Michigan and she’s never even heard of Corn Night,” I remember a classmate declaring during a class discussion of Corn Night in the 10th grade.
(This is also the moment that began my life-long fascination with the “If neither I nor an arbitrary acquaintance of mine have not heard of it, it must not exist” phenomenon)
However, I knew better, mainly because I happened to be that special type of nerd who actually liked to read the Encylopedia Britannica.
For, you know, leisure time.
When I was in the third grade and had some time to kill in between getting bullied by neighborhood kids and being as obnoxious as possible during classroom instruction, I slid out the “C” edition of Mrs. Bloome’s Encyclopedia set for some light reading. This was when I discovered the origins of Corn Night, which began as a pagan ritual: The night before All Hallow’s Eve, villiagers would throw corn on their neighbor’s doors to protect them from the evil spirits that were sure to roam the countryside the next night, surveying homes for both souls to devour and opinions on why Downton Abby is so incredibly boring and yet so beloved by all.
(And, thanks to the amazing information-sharing portal known as The Internets, I’ve also since gathered proof that Corn Night isn’t just a Red Wing thing – there was also a Corn Night tradition in St. Peter, MN (and special thanks to the author for referencing this blog!), as well as similar traditions in other regions, the most popular and wide-spread usually known as “Mischief Night”.)
Anyway, SO! When I was growing up, Corn Night was that one night in our privileged, white-bread, sheltered young lives when we and all our friends could band together and rove the (well lit, pleasantly clean, and typically safe) streets in delightful mutiny and engage in renegade acts of pointless destruction and vandalism. Which, as pointless destruction and vandalism often proves to be, was super freaking fun. Common activities included smashing pumpkins, overturning garbage cans, throwing corn and eggs at neighbor’s houses, TP’ing trees and lawn ornaments, and writing incredibly hilarious and creative things (like “penis” or “boobs”) in soap on people’s car windows. According us, The Youngs, Corn Night? Was awesome.
However, according to The Olds in Red Wing, Corn Night was not awesome. In Red Wing – more specifically in the town paper, The Red Wing Republican Eagle – we had this thing called “People’s Platform”…it was kind of like the old Bulletin Board in the Pioneer Press, where people could call in and share stories or insight with their community. People’s Platform, however, was a little bit more civic-directed: It was used primarily for adults to have a platform (get it?) to bitch about stuff they didn’t like. Or, if they felt particularly constructive that day, they could offer advice or opinions on how to turn everything into stuff they would like. While the People’s Platform was incredibly useful in coming to the crucial outcome of the long and heated debate over what our school colors should be (they had been purple and white for decades, but some Negative Nancy started complaining that since our town was called Red Wing, red should be part of our school colors. After months of everyone and their mom giving their two cents on the subject and a school-wide vote, the dispute was resolved with the new school colors being purple and red with white as an accent color. And the world was suddenly right again), the bulk of the comments came from senior citizens calling to complain that their trash cans were blown down by the wind again (“Something needs to be done about this!”) and that people were driving their cars too fast with their radios turned up too loud.
So as you can imagine, in the weeks leading up to Corn Night and for days after it, People’s Platform was overwhelmed with calls from adults, complaining about Corn Night and calling for it to be abolished (and no, it never occurred to them that since it wasn’t exactly a town sanctioned activity, “abolishment” of Corn Night would have been futile). And always, always, at least one token parent would call in to wonder aloud about where Corn Night had even come from, since she had never even heard of it until she came to Red Wing! The best was when, one year, some guy replied to one of these “Where did Corn Night come from” comments and suggested that it was actually invented by gangs from the cities who were using it as a cover to start gang activity in Red Wing. “I mean…think about it!”
This last theory was most hilarious because it totally fed into the favorite town hall topic of the decade – Gangs are coming to Red Wing!– and further illustrated the divide between The Youngs and The Olds. The Olds thought that spotting a kid sporting a red bandana or seeing some poorly drawn graffiti on the train bridge was a sure sign that gangs were setting up shop in our pretty little river town. The Youngs knew that no one in their right minds would come down from the Twin Cities to live in Red Wing, and that a red bandana and some spray paint on public property probably just meant that Adam Meffert had watched Dangerous Minds again.
But and so, the war on Corn Night began. Police ordered a 10:00 pm curfew on Corn Night for all those under 18. You were also not allowed to buy more than one carton of eggs at a time in the week leading up to Corn Night, and there were no egg sales allowed the day of unless you were an adult or were accompanied by a parent. Neighborhoods put together a patrol team to walk the streets in search of kids causing mayhem, and schools sent home notes to parents, warning them to keep a close eye on their kid’s activities that night.
It was a lot of cracking down, on this thing called Corn Night. A lot of cracking down, indeed. However, what The Olds never realize or tend to forget, cracking down on stuff like Corn Night? Just serves to make it that much more fun.
See, smart kids knew enough to A) steadily and stealthily stockpile eggs in advance (also, what kid goes out and buys eggs or TP when they can just take some from their parents’ supply? C’mon, Olds – use yer brainz) B) Not pass along that “WARNING: CORN NIGHT IS APPROACHING” note to our parents (seriously, administrators…we barely managed to pass on good notes about field trips to Valley Fair and the like…and you trusted us to give our parents a note that would basically remind them to ground us on one of the most fun nights of the year? How did you even get jobs?) and C) plan slumber parties with our friends on Corn Night. (Thinking back, I don’t know whether my parents even realized what Corn Night was or if they just didn’t care…but they always let me have slumber parties that night…and then they let us go out? So maybe…my parents were just really cool and I didn’t know it, or just kind of clueless and I didn’t take enough advantage of it. Mysteries abound.)
Anyway, the fact that we knew other adults – including the police – were going to be watching for us added a certain element of danger, and thus, excitement. We were on the run! Hiding from the law! Renegades, running through the streets! Bad kids from the wrong side of the tracks, sticking it to the Richy-Riches! Normal, well-adjusted kids who lived in a small town and never really got into any real trouble or had anything all that exciting happen to them outside of one night of potentially-criminal activity! Sneaking through yards, dashing for the nearest cover, smashing eggs as quietly as possible against the window of the boy who didn’t ask to slow-dance with us at the last school bash (a.k.a., CJ Gunderson and Robbie Mossefin. YOU’RE WELCOME); finding an unlocked car and filling it with leaves; playing ding-dong-ditch with the old man who always yelled at neighborhood kids to stop riding their ten-speeds too fast; taking a neighbor’s Jack-O-Lantern and adding it to the collection on your own steps, esp. if it was a really cool one (however, I would like to go on record and state that the house of my neighbors, the Kerns’, was always under my protection on Corn Night…I babysat for their kids Carrie and Josh, and Josh was one of my baby brother’s favorite people, so their pumpkins were not allowed to be touched or the perp risked a swift kick to the shins. That is, until I had to go in for curfew).
I’m trying to remember who might have been a part of the crew I went out with on Corn Night…I seem to remember a slumber party with Joy Wilgrubs (I distinctly remember it was her idea to fill an unlocked car with leaves, and the rest of us were all, like, whoa, that might be too far, but as soon as she started doing it, we all jumped in and basically proved to ourselves that we could easily be initiated into a life of hard crime with just a “C’mon guys, don’t be losers.” from the right person), Britney Witzke, and possibly Sara Coddington, but I can’t seem to remember who else might have been there? If you remember coming to a slumber party at my house for Corn Night, feel free to remind me in the comment section (this is probably the only time in my life when I wish I had kept more pictures from middle school).
The Red Wing Adult Contingent kept up their Corn Night crusade throughout my time in high school, and the last time I checked, it sounded like kids weren’t really doing it anymore. Actually, what the person I asked about it said, “I don’t know of anyone who does Corn Night.”
So you know what that means…
Written & published October 29th, 2004, revised January 16th, 2013
This post is featured in THINGS THAT HAPPENED: 10 YEARS OF AN AMBER COLORED LIFE, VOL. 2, available for purchase until 11:59 PM Nov. 1st. Read more about it here, see who’s in it here, or order here.