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Halloweens Around the World

BOO! Halloween is a holiday on October 31st where costumes, tricks, and treats reign supreme. Originally a pagan holiday, Halloween is a time when children, and often times adults, dress up in silly and creative costumes; some go door to door asking for candy while others attend costumes parties and dance the night away. Though Halloween is normally about candy and fun, it is also associated with the weird, creepy, and sometimes supernatural situations ordinary people might find themselves in.

Below is a collection of stories about Halloween and Halloween-esque experiences worldwide, as told by American diplomats and their spouses. From Halloween photo shoots with baby Amy Carter to a haunted historic home to a runaway costume accessory, there is never a dull moment come Halloween overseas.

Ambassador Anne Cox Chambers was interviewed by Ann Miller Morin in October 1985; Victor D. Comras was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in April 1992; Rebecca Burrum Matlock was interviewed by Patricia Squire in 1990; Deborah A. Bolton was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in January 2010; Judith A. Smith was interviewed by Ruth Kahn in July 1990; Bessie Forbes Franklin Macdonald Turk’s memoir was published in 2013; David E. L’Heureux was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in April 1992; Dell Pendergrast was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in June 1999; Howard R. Simpson was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in January 1994; Vladimir Lehovich was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in March 1997; Faye G. Barnes was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in August 2010.

Want more creepy witch stories?  Read about FSOs’ encounters with witch doctors. Check out our feature on 4th of July receptions gone wrong.


Smile for the Camera, Amy Carter!

Ambassador Anne Cox Chambers

My house is right across from the [Governor of Georgia’s] mansion. When they [The Carters] moved in, he said, “There were funds either for a tennis court or a swimming pool.” And they couldn’t decide, because the family liked both things, and I said, “Why don’t you build a tennis court, because I have a pool.” And that’s what happened. So my family, who played tennis, went over there and, oh, it was quite an unusual scene: the policemen were stopping traffic and the governor would come across with Amy on his shoulders in their bathing suits. When they came, I rarely went down; I just left them by themselves….

I remember — Amy, you see, was about four — and one Halloween Rosalynn called and said, obviously she was too young to go trick or treating, but she had a witch’s costume, and what time was I going to be home? They thought if she did one or two houses that would — so we made a big fuss of having them come over. The photographer came and took her picture. But that’s how I started with Jimmy Carter.

Trick or Treat…with the Kennedys

Victor D. Comras

I guess I scored well enough and my grades were strong enough that Georgetown was interested in me….Georgetown was a fascinating place. I loved it there. What a great place to study and learn about the world and foreign affairs. I remember, that …I had had the pleasure of playing touch football with Robert Kennedy. He came to the campus from time to time during the election campaign. That was during my freshman year. I also went trick or treating on Halloween to the Kennedy House in Georgetown.

In fact, Jacqueline Kennedy came to the door, looked at us and said “You’re too old for this,” dropping candy into our mugs.

The Tardy Husband Crisis

Rebecca Burrum Matlock

A curtain came down when, after a year, he [husband Jack F. Matlock, later Ambassador to the USSR] went into the [U.S. Mission’s] Political Section [in the USSR]. In the Political Section then, as now, people worked very, very long hours. I remember we were preparing for a Halloween party at the dacha [seasonal second home] out of town. We all had our costumes. It was going to be a great party. And on the afternoon of the day the party was going to be, the husbands started calling in and saying that they couldn’t make it, including my husband.

And we, the wives, were getting more and more angry. We thought that they just didn’t want to get dressed in their silly costumes and drive out there. Well, it was the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Ho Chi Minh City Halloween Party Planner Confusion

Deborah A. Bolton

We got called to the office of the Ministry of Culture [in Vietnam]. You know, in Communist countries the office of the Ministry of Culture is serious stuff.  They’re the thought police, the ideological, the agitprop people….I thought, “What did we do?” …We do everything we can get away with, but I didn’t remember doing anything particularly bad.  Well, this was hilarious.

They wanted to talk about Halloween.  Okay, what do they want to know about Halloween?

I said, “Well, Halloween is sort of an old traditional holiday.  It’s not official, it’s mostly for kids, it’s like the Buddhist Fest of the Wandering Souls in principle.  It’s that type of a concept.” Yeah, and spirits wandering around that are not rest, but it’s all just superstitious and fun for the kids, and it’s an excuse to go get candy, and increasingly adults have parties, and you get to get dressed up….Eventually it comes out what the problem was….

The Bank of America had a nice party, someone else had a nice party, then we wound up at Apocalypse Now disco.…Keep in mind, I’m running around in a big pink flannel rabbit costume my mother had made me, a cap with big ears and it’s like pink with gloves and things and a tail.  I’m wondering, “What is his problem?”

Eventually it comes out what their problem was with Halloween.  There were parties all over the place.  The Vietnamese will have a party at the drop of a hat.  They don’t care, they’ll have a party.  They don’t care what country, they don’t care.  They’ll have a party.

Well, they were furious because I didn’t get a permit.  I said, “I didn’t get a permit for what?”  They thought I had organized Halloween throughout the southern part of the country if not the whole city.…  There were street parties.  People were out all over the place in costumes. Vietnamese!  The kids! They were all out having a great time!

They thought that since it was an American holiday or American festival day that somehow that the American consulate general had organized all these street parties and bar parties.  You should see St. Patrick’s Day in Ho Chi Minh City!  I guess it must have ripped up the Irish embassy in Hanoi for that one.

I was stunned.  I was totally stunned.  I should have said, “Believe me, I’ve got way too much work to do.  I had nothing to do with Halloween in this city.  I don’t know what the hotels were doing.  I don’t know what the bars were doing.  People had parties.  But I had nothing to do with it,” but they thought the American consulate general, which is a very transparent operation there I’m sure to the Vietnamese, had basically organized Halloween in Ho Chi Minh City.

Party City at the African Market

Judith A. Smith

I think all of us Foreign Service mothers have found it’s important to maintain American customs for our children and to make a special effort to have birthday parties, Halloween parties, Easter egg hunts, [like] they would in the United States. We want them to know our culture, to grow up as American children even though they are abroad…I remember a Halloween party that we had in Dakar. I thought, “Since we’re in this country, we should take advantage of all the opportunities we have here.” I decided that Jennifer [my daughter] should go as Mary had a little lamb, and that she should have a real lamb. I searched all over for a lamb to rent for the Halloween party, which was to be at our house. Jennifer wore her red and white checked pinafore, her tablier [apron] that they used in the jardin d’enfants [kindergarten]; and when I couldn’t find a lamb I figured a goat would be just as good.

So I rented a goat from a fellow in the market and brought it home. Jennifer, naturally, at age five, was scared to death of the goat. I insisted that for her costume to be complete she had to hold onto this goat. She was leading the animal around by a rope and of course she dropped the rope. (laughing heartily) The goat ran out of the yard and down the street. I knew that I had to get the goat back or I’d have to pay for it, so I went running after the goat myself. We finally captured it a block away and brought it back to this crying little girl, who really didn’t have a whole lot of interest in being Mary had a little lamb any more.

The next year at a Halloween party, I wanted Dane [my son], who was then I guess three, to be a caveman. I thought, “I’ll go down to the market again and get some kind of a skin, knowing of course I wouldn’t be able to find a leopard skin.” What I found was a long piece of goatskin — goats, as you’ve guessed, were very common in Senegal — and I took a magic marker and drew black spots over the goatskin, which I wrapped around Dane’s waist. I put a big safety pin on it and told him he couldn’t wear a shirt. I remember I had to glue some false hair under his arms and on his chest to make him look like a real caveman (she breaks up in laughter). We had all kinds of opportunities, you see, in the markets of Africa for our Halloween costumes.

The Ghost of Fall Hill

Bessie Forbes Franklin Macdonald Turk

My father, Lynn Franklin, was in the U.S. Foreign Service, a diplomat who was regularly sent to the world’s trouble spots to calm the winds of war. My mother, Butler Brayne Thornton Robinson Franklin, owned Fall Hill, a 3,000 acre estate in Fredericksburg, Virginia.…Construction of the big house at Fall Hill was probably completed around 1740….

As with many old historic homes, a ghost is said to roam the halls. An Indian maiden, her name is Katina. She was brought as a teenager to Fall Hill by Governor Spotswood after a skirmish with Indians and remained with the family for the rest of her life taking care of at least three generations of children. My mother saw her many times. She was slender with long black braided hair, patient and loving, a true caretaker, and visited my mother, my grandmother, my father and my uncle. I never saw her. My father saw her walking down the hall.  He turned to call thinking it was me, but I was in school. Recently, the new owner/caretaker of Fall Hill, Maureen Kefauver, was suffering from migraines and she talks of Katina coming in to gently stroke her brow. The migraines went away. There is a book in Fredericksburg on Katina for people who are interested in ghosts. Once, when a couple of “ghost busters” came to the house and offered their services, I politely informed them, “Gentlemen, you may leave. We love our ghost.”

“All I could see was blood all over the bed and brains hanging from the ceiling”

David E. L’Heureux

I like to talk about what I call my Halloween adventure. I was called in the middle of the night by the Marine at the Embassy saying that an American missionary had called up and said that there was a problem with an American citizen living with them, and would I contact them. I called the missionary couple. They said that they were having a problem with this American who had been rooming with them and could I please come out. I asked if they could send him in to me in the morning. They said that they needed to solve the problem that night. I said, “Well, look, we are in the middle of a tremendous rain storm and it is late at night.” They said, “You have got to come now.” They started to get a little panicky. I figured I had better get out there and see what was going on.

They gave me directions to the house. I can only describe it as what I would imagine to be a typical British countryside. A narrow lane with high hedges on both sides. The car just fit down the lane. There were gates at various points along the hedges. It was pitch black with flashing lightning, clapping thunder and I was using a flashlight to try to see numbers on the gates. I finally came to the right gate. There was no place to park so I had to leave the car in the lane. I got out and went through this very short front yard, and knocked on the door.

A man came to the door and introduced himself as “so and so”, an American missionary. I went in and he introduced me to his wife. They said they had been living in the house for several years. It was really eerie….I said, “Where is this person you are having problems with?” They said, “He is up in his room.” I said, “Well, would you ask him to come down?” “No, you need to go up and talk to him.” Well, there was a lot of back and forth and I was getting a little nervous. They finally convinced me to go upstairs. It was the first door on the left at the top of the stairs. I asked, “Are you are coming up with me?” “No, no, we can’t go up.”

I went up the stairs and knocked on the door. There was no answer. I tried the door knob and the door was unlocked. I opened it a little to look in and saw that there was no light in the room. I opened it just a little bit further and just as I did there was a flash of lightning that lit up the whole room. All I could see was blood all over the bed and brains hanging from the ceiling.

I reached over and found the light switch and turned it on. I could see that what had happened was that this guy sat on the edge of the bed, put a rifle up to the roof of his mouth and blew his brains into the ceiling. They knew this, but they knew that no one would come out or do anything if they told what had happened. So, they made it sound like the guy just had a problem and needed to be talked to. Of course, there was no air conditioning in the house. It was a typical Philippine type house. The windows were all open for ventilation and the rain had been beating in, etc.

I called the local police and the coroner and they came out and removed the remains, and did a cursory type of investigation. The next day I had to go out there and collect the property of this individual. The missionary couple asked me if I would clean up the room, etc. but I said, “I am sorry. I will take the property, but the rest is up to you.”

The Haunted Apartment

Dell Pendergrast

We [my wife and I] were fortunate to move immediately into housing there in the old Gornji Grad, the old town of Zagreb [the capital of Croatia] ….The apartment had been formerly occupied by Ivan Mestrovic, the famous Croatian émigré sculptor who had left after World War II and eventually died in the United States. He was a strong Croatian nationalist, and his spirit was very much felt in that apartment as well as right next door, which was the Mestrovic museum.…

There was a strong case to be made that the apartment, literally, was haunted by the ghost of Mestrovic’s past. He had — I’m not certain of the exact circumstances — either left or divorced his wife. But his wife, we were told, lived on in that apartment long after he had left. In fact, she refused to leave. According to legend, she still occupied that apartment, which after a while we were not prepared to challenge.

On at least several occasions that clearly could not be explained, the double doors to our bedroom slammed open in the middle of the night. We were jolted from our sleep and seeing no chance for wind or something else to cause the incident, we began to wonder if we were in fact the apartment’s only occupants. On a couple of other occasions, we also heard someone walking around the apartment on the creaking old wood floor. Maybe there was some natural explanation for it all, but because my wife and I both witnessed these things, it was not our imagination.

50 Bodies Without Heads

Howard R. Simpson

[In Nigeria] a friend of mine…, one of our officers, was driving cross-country quite a ways and I told him to check in with me. Because there were a lot of road accidents with trucks driving like crazy down the middle of those roads, check in with me before the evening. And he went through an area known for a lot of ritual murders. They’d found 50 bodies without heads. And so he calls in real late that night and he was practically out of breath and I ask him what’s the matter.

And he relates this story. He came to this place and there was this car parked. And his driver stopped driving and said ‘That’s a ghost car.’ He told him don’t be silly. All right just go, let’s just go to where we’re going. So they start out and he puts on the brake again and across the road there was a torso and intestines and what not, sort of spread across like that, an arm or whatever.

And so I said, “What did you do then?” And he said, “Oh I just got behind the wheel myself and drove like hell, drove out of there” and I said, “Well, you did the right thing.” And he said, “What do you think?” I said, “Who knows, but it sounds to me like a warning, like they don’t want someone in the area or something like that.” It certainly wasn’t an auto accident.

An Educational Trick or Treat

Vladimir Lehovich

The first few days of the class [course in Southeast Asian studies, community development, and some local language at the University of California at Berkeley] we were given twenty-five books and told that, while we might not have to read them, they would be the nucleus of our individual professional community development libraries. I did not read many of them and in fact, at Halloween, Dick [Holbrooke, American diplomat] and I gave many of them away to children who came trick or treating to our Berkeley apartment, to the astonishment of their parents, waiting nearby.

Trick or Treat at the Embassy

Faye G. Barnes

The first year I was in the [Community Liaison] Office, it was October because I remember getting a call from a mom who lived in one of the way out suburbs….Her kids had no place to go on Halloween because we didn’t have a Halloween party at the embassy. I thought this…[was]…ridiculous. So the next year much to the chagrin of the security officer who fought me tooth and nail on that but the management officer supported me, to have a Halloween event at the embassy.

Kids could come trick or treat at the embassy. We had certain hours. Offices could opt in or out. If they opted in, I put like a witch or something on their door….The FSNs [Foreign Service nationals] loved it. They got into it. They got all dressed up in costume. So it turned out the adults just absolutely loved this event. The kids would come around, trick or treat, and then there was a little party in the cafeteria afterwards….

Those offices, obviously high security offices aren’t going to participate, but the Secret Service were hilarious. They always participated, and one year they had like a robot that was going up and down the hall all dressed up and making noises. So it was a fun thing, kind of a highlight of the social year.