The return of the Halloween Countdown means that I get to dust off one of my favorite spooky-themed article series, Old Halloween Newspaper Ads.
It’s a deep dive into aspects of the season you’ve probably forgotten, all thanks to clippings from ancient newspapers. Get set to bask in the glories of Lionel Kiddie City and giant bottles of Coke.
Taco Bell’s Black Jack Taco!
Ten years later, and I’m still ticked that I heard about this promotion a day too late. On Halloween night in 2009, Taco Bell gave free “Black Jack Tacos” to anyone who dared to go trick-or-treating there. Unbelievable!
The taco innards were standard fare, but the crunchy shells were dyed jet black. It’d only rate as a cool gimmick in 2019, but back then, many news outlets treated it like the weirdest thing imaginable, practically daring people to suffer through it. (Generally speaking, the further back you go, the more histrionic the fast food coverage becomes.)
Even in 2009, word traveled across the internet far slower than it does today. If Black Jack Tacos debuted this year, they’d be trending on every social media platform, and 85% of the people I communicate with would be yapping about them nonstop.
Coca-Cola’s Thirst Buster!
I couldn’t resist posting this, as I seem to be one of the few who remembers when Coke’s three-liter bottles were vaguely tied to Ghostbusters. (Hell, most people don’t even remember that Coke had three-liter bottles. The caps were large enough to double as water bowls for lap dogs.)
At the time, Coca-Cola owned Columbia Pictures, which of course was the studio behind Ghostbusters. In fact, when these “Thirst Buster” bottles arrived, Coke even got Ray Parker Jr. to record a soda-themed version of the movie’s theme song. I was a little kid at the time, and as you might suspect, linking Coke to Venkman was a surefire way to make me like it more than Pepsi.
Coke’s three-liters outlived their tie to the movie, but even years later, I could never look at those giant bottles without thinking of Slimer and Tony Scoleri.
Halloween at Lionel Kiddie City!
(October 1988 & 1991)
I’ve mentioned it in other articles, but if you never experienced Lionel Kiddie City, MAN did you miss out. The average store was as big as a Toys “R” Us, but had the sensibilities of a Kay Bee.
Kiddie City never removed old stock from its shelves, instead preferring to continually mark stuff down until kids like me were snagging Sectaurs and C.O.P.S. figures for a buck apiece even five years after they were a thing.
Naturally, Kiddie City spent October pitching itself as Halloween headquarters. Whether you wanted to be the Rocketeer or a California Raisin, they had you covered.
PS: Take a look at that top ad, from 1988. One of my favorite things about toy stores in October was how they repositioned their existing stock of weird/gross toys as Halloween items. (Nothing will make you hate inflation faster than remembering when you could buy a freakin’ PAIR of Madballs for less than a dollar.)
Hi-C Ecto Cooler!
One of the neat aspects of Ecto-Cooler’s original run was how its ties to Ghostbusters became almost incidental. That was the big draw at first, obviously, but Ecto-Cooler lasted for so many years that even with Slimer’s big green ass on the boxes, you kinda had to remind yourself that it was a Ghostbusters thing.
I might get some pushback on that. Look, all I’m saying is that Slimer became such a part of the Hi-C universe that we accepted him as an outright citizen rather than a guest.
I’ve written enough about Ecto-Cooler for three lifetimes, so let’s instead pay tribute to the other flavors shown above. Hula Punch was a ballsy assault on Hawaiian Punch, while Double Fruit Cooler was Hi-C’s roundabout admission that “Apple & Grape” wasn’t at all marketable under that name.
(October 1988 & 1992)
Perhaps my earliest distinct Halloween memory is of dressing as Dracula in kindergarten. Pretty much every boy in my class did, just for the chance to mess with blood capsules.
That year, my school had a Halloween “party” in late October — in quotes because it mostly amounted to us standing in the crammed lunchroom while our parents mingled in the same space. There had to be at least eight of us Draculas in a big circle, chomping on blood capsules and letting the mix of spit and red dye dribble down our chins.
It was pretty great.
If you’ve never used a blood capsule, the old school ones tasted like battery acid mixed with kale. Nobody chewed them for the flavor, but if you wanted it to look like some bigger kid punched you in the face, they were must-haves.
Thanks for reading! There will be at least one more edition of Old Halloween Newspaper Ads before the Countdown ends. While you wait, why not dive back into the previous editions?