Tuesday, October 25, 2022

HGB Halloween Special 2022

Many of us Halloween enthusiasts have a kinship for vintage items with Halloween decorations. They evoke a time in the past that for many of us reminds us of our childhood. On this Halloween Special, we'll share a bit about the history of the things we have loved since childhood - carving pumpkins, wearing costumes, trick or treating - and then talk about the history of vintage decor. 

Carving Pumpkins

Originally, this time of year that we call Halloween was named Samhain and the Gaelics believed that the veil between life and the afterlife got really thin at this time. This gave them the ability to commune with deceased relatives and they would put candles in their windows to help light the way home. When villagers would go from house to house, they would also carry makeshift lanterns with them. They would hollow out gourds and then place candles inside. Turnips and potatoes were mostly used in Europe. There is some folklore connected to how these carved gourds came to be known as Jack-o'Lantern. The Irish shared the Legend of Stingy Jack. Jack got his Stingy nickname because he was just that, stingy. Once, he got stingy with the wrong person, that person being the Devil. Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him, but when it came time to pay, Jack wasn't interested in paying. He came up with an idea. He suggested that the Devil turn himself into a coin and then Jack would pay for the drinks with the coin. The Devil turned into a coin, but instead of paying for the drinks, Jack put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross he kept there and the Devil was trapped. Eventually, Jack agreed to free him if the Devil promised not to come after his soul for a year. When the year was up, Jack trapped the Devil in a tree by carving a cross on the trunk and Jack agreed to help him down if he promised to leave him alone for 10 years. Jack then died shortly thereafter, but he wasn't allowed into Heaven. The Devil also couldn't take Jack with him because of his promise, so he sent Jack off into the dark. He gave him a piece of coal to light his way and Jack put it inside a carved out turnip. Jack has roamed the Earth ever since. The Irish called him Jack of the Lantern. 

When Europeans came over to America, they continued this custom and the indigenous people introduced them to a much better gourd to use and this was the pumpkin. Putting scary faces on the pumpkins started with young people wanting to do pranks. In Europe, they would take some of these lanterns with faces and walk them around in the dark as though they were floating and claim that this was Stingy Jack. This got even more refined in America where pumpkins looked even more like a disembodied head. By the end of the 19th century, the jack-o'lanterns became a part of Halloween decor. The wife of the Mayor of Atlanta hosted a party in 1892 and she put several carved pumpkins around as decorations, particularly on the porch. The carved pumpkins gained in popularity with vintage Halloween decor and movies like The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, which depicted the Headless Horseman with a flaming pumpkin for a head. And now today, it has become a tradition across the world to carve pumpkins and place them on our front porches or in our windows on Halloween night.

Costumes and Trick-or-Treating

Wearing costumes at Samhain began for the Celts. the purpose of wearing the costumes was to ward off spirits who would be traversing into our world since the Veil between this world and the afterlife was thin. Later, people put on costumes so they could impersonate the dead as they went from house-to-house to get treats in exchange for recitations of poetry or the singing of songs, also known as mumming. In parts of Western Europe, this act of visiting houses was to collect offerings for the dead or to say prayers for them. It would be North America that would turn these traditions into what Halloween is today with parades, costumes and trick-or-treating. This started in the 19th century. Obviously, earlier costumes were designed to be terrifying since they were meant to scare spirits away. And anyone who has seen photos of early costumes knows this to be true. These costumes are truly the things of nightmares.

For many of us, our early costumes were homemade and some of the more popular outfits were not politically correct. There were gypsy costumes and hobos. We've all seen pictures of the costumes worn back when film was in black and white and some of those costumes are the creepiest things we've ever seen. The ones that really bring back an air of nostalgia for those of us in the Crew up in the 1970s and 1980s are the Ben Cooper costumes. Ben Cooper, Inc. was one of the three largest Halloween costume manufacturers in the U.S. between the 1950s and the mid-1980s. The company produced very inexpensive costumes with masks made from plastic and smocks made from vinyl. They were definitely cheap cause we think we nearly ripped all of them at some point while walking in them. Ben cooper was born in New York City in 1906 and started out as an accountant, but jumped over to designing costumes for the theater in 1927. Talk about a career change! Cooper changed his focus to Halloween costumes in the the 1930s as the Great Depression shuttered theaters. He bought A.S. Fishbach, Inc., which was licensed to use Walt Disney characters, and founded Ben Cooper, Inc. in 1942. Cooper got his costumes into Sears and J.C. Penney and Woolworth's. In the 1980s, the company suffered a variety of financial issues, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy twice and eventually was bought out by Rubie's Costume Co. in 1992.

Trick-or-treating in medieval Europe had a Christian twist to it as the church had adopted All Saints Day on November 1st to take the Pagan traditions out of Samhain. The night before became All Hallows Eve, which we now call Halloween. The act of going door-to-door to sing and to gather treats or spiced cakes called soul cakes for the dead was called souling. One of the traditional songs goes this way, "A soul! a soul! a soul-cake! Please good Missis, a soul-cake! An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry. One for Peter, two for Paul, three for Him who made us all." No one is sure what the original soul cakes were made of, but more modern versions contain flour, butter, egg yolks, fine sugar, milk, vinegar (sometimes), dried fruit, and spices. They are usually decorated with a cross across the top.

Vintage Halloween

We love vintage Halloween! For collectors, the heyday of Vintage Halloween collectibles covers the period from the 1920s to the 1960s. But the vintage look has really undergone a renaissance and has been popping up in various stores over the last couple of years. This is new stuff, but with a nostalgic look. The original vintage came in a variety of styles, from noisemakers to postcards to paper mache lanterns to party decorations to books to candy bowls to home decor to costumes. In the early 1900s, children carried parade sticks as they trick-or-treated. These had various carved designs, like pumpkins, and were lit by a candle. Halloween parties have always been popular, but they had an unprecedented popularity in the 1920s and this continued through the 1930s. Preparations would start in August. Noisemakers were a popular party favor. 

The Dennison Manufacturing Company published Halloween-themed craft and party idea books called Bogie Books from 1909 through the 1930s. A Bogie Book from 1920 says of Halloween that it is the one time "of all the year when an opportunity is supposed to be given for looking into the future and having one's fate settled for the coming twelve months. Why not invite your friends to a Hallowe'en party and join in the fun of trying some of the time-honored ways of finding out what the future holds in store?" The book is full of tips on making that perfect spooky zone and ideas for party games, mostly involving blindfolds and choosing future loves. The books also had ghost stories. Another reads, "The night when mystic spirits are supposed to be abroad and supernatural events take place. What a night for a party! The hostess who entertains on Hallowe'en has a wealth of superstitions and traditions that can supply the ideas, not only for the games and stunts, but also for the decorations. With the Bogie Book to picture decorations, favors and costumes for Hallowe'en harvest time and Thanksgiving, it is very easy to plan and give an unusually delightful party."

Probably the most famous producer of Vintage Halloween is The Beistle (Buy-stul) Company. This company was founded in 1900 by Martin Luther Beistle. Beistle was born in 1875 in Pennsylvania. he married Anna Mary and they had three children. One of his interests was coins and he had a large collection numbering 8,200 of United States half dollars dating from 1794 to 1929. He invented and marketed the "Unique Coin Holder," which was an acetate slide covered cardboard holder used to store coins from 1927-1970. But by far his greatest contribution when it came to paper products was starting The Beistle Company. Before founding the company in his Pittsburgh home's basement, he worked as a salesperson for the Pittsburgh Art Calendar Company. One of the places he tried to sell the calendars was in hotels and he made a keen observation while in the lobby of hotels. All the live plants were dead because nobody would bother to water them. Beistle got the idea to create paper plants and he improved on his design after a trip to Heidelberg, Germany, where he learned a honeycombing technique that could be used to make tissue paper decorations and products. The Beistle company grew and was able to incorporate in 1907.

Eventually Beistle moved the company to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania and it was incredibly successful, surviving the Great Depression and both World Wars. When Beistle died 1935 at just the age of 59, his son-in-law Henry E. Luhrs took over the company and it continues to be run by descendants to this day. The company has made party decorations and novelties for all holidays, but is probably most famous for its Halloween designs. As a matter of fact, the first seasonal decorations decorations added to the catalog were Halloween. This started in 1921 and has continued for over 100 years with over 1000 different designs and decorations. These designs include witches, black cats, bats, owls, spiders and jack o'lanterns. There were also cardboard fortune-telling games that served as Halloween party entertainment. With questions including "Will I soon be engaged?" and "Does my employer like me?" The Halloween designs were so popular, we probably have Beistle to thank for making Halloween so popular. With the popularity of vintage decor, The Beistle Company started Vintage Beistle, with some of the products dating back to the 1920’s with designs over 80 years old. One of the more popular items that has survived through the years and that most of the listeners more than likely know is the 55-inch-long jointed skeleton introduced by Beistle in the 1930s. In mint condition, an original can fetch up to $75 and in the packaging it goes for $150. Black cats were the next popular image to be launched by the company in the 1930s. In the 1950s, Beistle started embracing more fun, kid-friendly designs that featured a ghost and a large owl.

One of the companies to embrace these old Beistle designs is Creepy Co. Kellie Taylor is the founder and creative director of Creepy Co., which got its start on Instagram and has gotten huge from there. Creepy Co. got the license to Beistle and each year since 2016, Creepy Co. has worked with the Beistle Company to produce officially licensed vintage Halloween goodies in the form of pins, shirts and sweaters, patches and throws with the designs. If you aren't signed up for their newsletter, you should rectify that!

We have several listener experiences to share. First, we wanted to start with our neighbors who shared their experiences with us at a Fall Festival our neighborhood hosted.

One of our neighbors had moved here from Beaufort, South Carolina where he had lived in a trailer. One morning he woke up, unable to move and feeling as though something were watching him and holding him down. It was a classic case of sleep paralysis and he was completely terrified.

Another neighbor told us an experience her sister had while visiting Gettysburg. She had stayed at the Farnsworth House and the room they slept in had a picture of General Lee on the wall. The picture fell off the wall and they could not figure out how it picked itself up off the nail. The fireplace also turned on by itself and the door unlocked itself.

Another neighbor had worked at an old theater in Boston. This was your standard historic theater that had hosted plays and then vaudeville acts and finally into the movie era. While he worked there, it had converted back to a community theater. They had a ghost light like all theaters do and this one always acted weird. It would blink all on its own and no matter how many times they changed out the bulb and checked the wiring, it continued to do its own thing, turning off and on by itself as well. Anyone who was left to do the nightly checks before leaving, felt uneasy, especially when having to check that the ghost light was on. They started playing the song "Walk of Life" while doing checks to make themselves fell better.

One of our other neighbors had a lot of stories to share. She feels as though she is sensitive to the other side. The house where they had lived previously was in Indiana and the house was haunted. The sliding glass door opened on its own. They would see a depression in the bed as though something unseen was lying down. The lights in the bathroom would turn off and something had messed with some of the wires in the house. 

Jannae shared an experience, "Hello fearless leaders! My friends and I just got back from a girls weekend down to Mammoth Cave & Lost River Cave in Kentucky. I had two experiences I wanted to share with you. The first was inside Mammoth Cave. As we’ve discussed, I talk to dead people but I try to stay grounded about the whole thing and get validation as much as possible, because it can be surreal.  I get why people are skeptical about this stuff. All of the tours at Mammoth were booked except the self guided tour which is what we did. When we got into the cave, I saw in my head (I’m a Clairvoyant medium so I see them with my minds eye) a shadow figure of a young man walking backwards in front of me like a tour guide. I got the sense that he was late teens / early 20s and I kept hearing the name Steven. (I’m also Clairaudient) He popped up a couple times and I felt like he really knew the caves, but it was a short tour full of other people so I had a hard time concentrating on just him. He seemed to stick around for a while in case I had any questions. After the tour my friends and I went hiking and we found the Old Guides Cemetery. There is a sign posted out front of the cemetery and it briefly discussed the grave of the guide Stephen Bishop.  Well, hello Stephen!

Flash forward to today, I went back through and listened to the HGB episode of Kentucky Caves. Diane discusses the guide Stephen Bishop, who started working in the caves when he was 17, was said to be one of the ghosts there. I believe he was my shadow guide. While at the cemetery I felt a very strong pull off to the left and wandered away from my friends. I put both hands firmly on the black iron fence that surrounds the cemetery and waited. After a couple seconds I felt a hand wrap around my left wrist. It felt very warm. Slowly I looked up and saw a larger man with a broad face and black eyes standing there in front of me. Again, this was in my minds eye. At the same moment I looked up I got a super sharp headache from the top of my right eye down to the side of my nose. Before I saw him I knew he would have an injury to match the pain and he did. It looked almost like an axe wound or something like that. It looked painful and I kept hearing the word “murder.” I tried to ask him if he was murdered but he was frantic and I couldn’t get much more out of him. The headache was becoming too much so I had to ask him to let go and remind him he was not allowed to follow me. The headache dissolved as soon as I was out of sight from the cemetery. I have no idea who the second guy was, but he apparently met an unfortunate end on the grounds somewhere."

And Adrienne shared these.

Finally, we have this interesting thought from John Michaels about the shape of houses.

We hope you all have a great Halloween! Be safe!

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