Halloween Riot (1888)

Halloween Riot

On the night of October 31, 1888, students of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, tore down the old picket fence along the north side of the Dickinson campus, as acting college president Dr. Charles Francis Himes had suggested that morning, and piled up the wood in order to make a bonfire. The students claimed that Carlisle Chief of Police Zimmerman witnessed their efforts, and told them to “go ahead”. Zimmerman would later deny this allegation. Around eleven o'clock, the students set the pile ablaze.

Shortly thereafter, the town fire alarm went off, and Carlisle's fire department arrived at the scene. After physically removing Zimmerman, who was trying to stop them, the firemen entered the campus with a fire hose. The students, protecting their bonfire, drove the firemen out. Neither side agreed on the specifics of the ensuing struggle that erupted between firefighters and other town members and the students. Both sides received injuries from thrown rocks, and the students were soaked from the firemen's hose. Three quarters of an hour after the bonfire began, the firemen finally put it out after driving the students into a campus building.The Carlisle newspapers blamed the students for obstructing the firemen's duty to put out any open fire, as specified by the borough's ordinance. The students claimed that they did not know of the ordinance, nor was it valid, because there had been plenty of previous bonfires that the fire department had not extinguished. In addition, the students accused the firemen of being drunk after a political parade and that they came to the campus looking for trouble. The Carlisle papers acknowledged the firemen's open hostility to the College because of numerous late night false alarms and opined that the students got what they deserved. Still, press reports insisted that the firemen were asleep when the alarm went off, and they did not know the nature of the fire until they arrived. Understandably, the event was the talk of the town and College, and wildly distorted versions of the story spread to other cities.

You can read the full article about this event in the Dickinsonian's November 1888 issue.

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Dickinson College Archives
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