Throwback Thursday: A history of ghost-busting donkeys and one-way blockades

Lan Le

Ghosts, donkeys and one-way blockades are just snippets of the scenes a night-time reveler might have stumbled across on Halloweens of the recent and distant past. 

While Halloween in Austin has become synonymous with a night out on Sixth Street for many college students, exactly 101 years ago, a group of students decided the best way to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve was to do a little haunting of their own. 

In an article printed on Nov. 2, 1912, the Saturday following that year’s Halloween, The Daily Texan reported the appearance of “three tall, white ghosts” who claimed the corner of 24th and Guadalupe streets as their haunt. 

Instead of fighting through the all-too-familiar crowds of downtown Austin, these moaning specters spent their night doing what ghosts do best — scaring “unsuspecting pedestrians.” 

According to the article, the “invincible ghosts” continued “intimidating all forms of humanity” until a sudden loud braying was heard down the street, which “heralded the approach of the sacred beast of the Democrats.”  

In the midst of a discussion on how to deal with their unexpected guest who had appeared from the unknown, the beast “burst in full force upon the field, putting the ghosts to an inglorious flight, much to the delight of their former victims.” With nowhere else to turn, the pale figures rushed into the nearby University Methodist Church, “where their screams blended with those of the choir then practicing.” 

News of Halloween ghosts and donkeys rarely ever make it in the Texan anymore, but Halloween is still popular today and celebrations have grown wilder than those which took place more than 100 years ago. 

Unlike the ghostly college students of 1912, many Longhorns today will be donning costumes a little more on the unconventional side, ranging from mild monsters to giant man-babies with diapers. And instead of roaming Guadalupe Street and scaring passersby, many will find themselves downtown, enjoying the music and freedom of a blocked-off, car-free Sixth Street. 

But 27 years ago, Halloween celebrants did not have the luxury of freely wandering down Sixth Street, a thought possibly more terrifying than murmuring specters on a street corner. 

According to an article published in the Texan on Halloween of 1986, the blocked off streets of downtown had an unusual feature: They were all one-way — for pedestrians. 

In an attempt to allow accessibility for emergency vehicles, police officers rounded up partygoers “between Brazos and Red River streets and move[d] them out counterclockwise, circling street barricades, not allowing [the revelers] to stop or sit” for any reason, to the chagrin of many.  

“You have to walk all the way around before you can get to a place if you miss it,” UT student Laura Rodriguez said in the 1986 article. “And if you see a friend, there is no way to stop.” 

While many students realized the barricades were necessary, the one-way restrictions seemed more appropriate for animals than students.

“I don’t see how you could get around very well otherwise,” UT student Al Walzem said in the article. “But you were herded around like animals.” 

As Halloween celebrations continue in 2013, partygoers will not have to fear the one-way restrictions of Sixth Street, but they may want to keep an eye out for one ghost-busting donkey.