A long time ago before anyone picked pumpkins or filled them with lights; a different tradition took place across the Midwest. Children, often full from candied apples or some other treat, absconded into the night for mischief. They broke windows or vandalized buildings in the fashion before costumes and trick or treat became widely known. Others pulled pranks, preying on the weak and helpless. But, as most were keen to later forget, young adolescents also killed and stuffed gnomes with candlesticks.
Gnomes had grown in the remnants of cornfields for as long as early settlers could remember. Adults were quick to disregard their childlike appearance and move on, but children, often foraging, took to decorating them in red hats. Gnomes being active and spritely, easily cast these aside, requiring the more resourceful children to use nails. Eventually, those that survived were hunted for sport near the end of October.
Young adults and primarily children made games of rounding them up. The older children would stand near the edges of cornfields and wait for younger children to scare them out of hiding. Once caught, a well-placed machete gutted their insides. It was not thought anymore barbaric than the acts of violence or arson that usually preceded it on Halloween.
After older members of the group finished gutting, candles were placed inside the gnomes’ small hollow bodies. It was a tradition for everyone to hold the lanterns and give thanks. Most did and the ceremony took place for several generations. It was not until the late 18th Century that anything began to change.
There were those that blamed witchcraft; others swore the inequities of immigration or the British were responsible. One thing however was certain: young adults and children who ventured into cornfields were soon lost forever. The morning after Halloween in 1769 struck panic into families whose sons and daughters could not be found. Villages across Ohio, Indiana, and the rest of the Midwest searched frantically and soon discovered mutilated bodies. The same candles which before had lit the hollow shells of gnomes now glowed dimly inside children.
Their organs had vanished with machetes and the whereabouts of gnomes. Parents however could not believe small creatures capable of such atrocities. They set dogs out nonetheless to find culprits and destroy gnomes in the process. Their teeth tore through them viciously and farmers shot the rest.
It was several days before two young boys found sleeping in a cornfield were blamed for a series of grisly murders. They claimed the bloody machetes found in their possession had helped them escape from gnomes, but few were willing to believe. The two were hanged shortly after and buried in unmarked graves.
Many wished to forget the atrocities, and parents gave little credibility to children who claimed they saw gnomes on Halloween. Most pointed to their absence as proof they never existed in the first place. Children however remained fearful and devised wards against danger: jagged smiles carved on pumpkins and a candle lit inside for fallen friends. It became believed children without these were vulnerable and stories told of shadows gutting those who failed to follow through.