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Little-Known Hallowe'en History (and Why Is It Spelled That Way?)

October 31, 2011 Think THF

When it comes to Halloween history, Curator of Domestic Life Jeanine Head Miller and Greenfield Village Director Jim Johnson really know their stuff! Read on for lots of little-known facts about the origins of what has become one of America's most popular holidays.

Immigrants who came to America brought their folk traditions and religious beliefs with them to the New World. Folk superstitions of the British Isles, particularly the Celts, converged with observances of the Catholic Church and traditional American harvest celebrations into a "witches brew" of traditions that created the American holiday of Halloween.

By the 1890s, Halloween was increasingly celebrated in America, as articles in magazines and newspapers helped popularize and spread Halloween traditions to a national audience. While the origins of Halloween were rooted in superstition and fortune telling, the holiday had become a night of mystery and innocent fun.

The first Halloween gatherings were designed as matchmaking parties for young people, with games to “predict” matrimonial futures and ample opportunity for innocent flirtation. By the 1910s, other adults and children had joined in the fun of Halloween parties and the practice of donning Halloween costumes gained popularity.

Snapshot - Halloween Costumes, circa 1915 - from the collections of The Henry Ford

When postcards caught the public’s fancy during the early 1900s, people enjoyed sending colorful Halloween greetings to their family and friends. As the 20th century progressed, civic organizations increasingly promoted Halloween as an event for all. Many communities began to host public celebrations that included festivals, parties and costumed parades.

Hallowe'en postcards - from the collections of The Henry Ford

The Henry Ford is home to quite a collection of Halloween items, including several Dennison's Bogie Books, on which we have based our Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village artwork over the past several years; these were essentially advertising catalogs for the Denison Paper Company, which exists now as Avery Dennison (the label and office products company).

Dennison's Bogie Book - from the collections of The Henry Ford

The Denison Paper Company specialized in paper party goods, particularly crêpe paper, and their Bogie Books were developed as a vehicle to sell everything from Halloween costumes to decor.

The books were published from 1912-1926, except for 1918, when Halloween was essentially cancelled that year due to the severe and quite deadly flu pandemic - no one held parties or went trick-or-treating to avoid further spreading flu germs. Dennison's Bogie Books began at a cost of five cents in 1912 and were priced at ten cents by 1926; the next year, they changed formats and eventually stopped selling Halloween-only guides by the 1930s.

We also recently added a set of 1920s-era Halloween decorations to our collections, which were made by the Beistle Company in Pennsylvania and include invitations, lampshades, placecards, candle holders, party picks, nut cups and fortunes that were given to partygoers.

Halloween party fortunes from the 1920s - from the collections of The Henry Ford

Finally, you may have wondered: Why exactly do we spell Hallowe'en that way?

When the Christian church began to expand its influences, the focus of these old pagan rituals was re-associated with All Saints' or Hallows' Day. The night before this feast became known as All Hallows' Even, which was eventually abbreviated to Hallowe'en - and this spelling was common well into the 1930s.

20th century, 19th century, holidays, Halloween, events, by Jim Johnson, by Jeanine Head Miller

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