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Boo! Halloween Traditions of Old, New

Looking back at a Halloween of more than a century ago compared to today's festivities

“Policemen, tramps, farmers and hoboes” were the common costumes of more than 100 years ago, according to the Nov. 4 1908 issue of the Red Bank Register. It has a kinda catchy cadence to it, doesn’t it?

Think about that one for a second. Has all that much changed in more than a century? OK. Instead of the general costuming of generic characters, we now see pop and reality stars emulated, kids running from cops after curfew rather than dressing as one, McMansion residents replacing farmers (because real farms have been replaced by developments) and people who have fallen on bad economic times made fun of by those who haven’t in "hobo" costumes.

Listening to some news and morning talk shows, I’m hearing that now, in 2011, girls are being sent home from school today for dressing too scantily. Hmmm.

Time to go back to the days of playing the bride of Frankenstein, gals. Now there’s a sexy, scary Halloween-appropriate lady to be for the day. And that hair … Snooky’s got nothing on her.

Really. What ever happened to being a good ol’ ghoul for Halloween? Seems that cute was more “in” both now and then more than giving people the good, healthy trick and treat of a seasonal scare.

Why is that? And why is it that rather than playing a generic role for the day and dressing in different, fun costumes has become a contest of who can look or be more like a fallen or undeserving “celebrity,” political figure or cutesy crud that has nothing to do with the real “spirit” of Halloween.

Then again, we have made some progress, thank the ghouls above, in some areas of Halloween costume foolery.

In 1908, at a party reported on by the Register, “Hallowe’en (get how they spelled Halloween) games were played and everybody who took part wore masquerade costumes. A prize for the best costume went to a little girl who is visiting Miss Mildred Rosevelt of Front street (stet). She was dressed to represent a colored girl.”

Good God! First prize?? And with great pride ... so much so that it made the paper. So, there you have it. Being racist in those days was worthy of a prize?? Wow. We really have come a long way, but we do have a few more miles to go. What’s really downright Halloween spooky about this in itself is that it was a child whose parents felt it was most appropriate and prize-worthy to “dress-up” the kid like this. The kid was probably flanked with all sorts of accolades for the “apt” generically insulting impersonation.

The story went on to say that “among other noticeable costumes were those of Miss Mary Tilton, who represented a college student; Miss Amy Chambers, who wore a fancy white costume; Miss Florence Fountain, who represented a pumpkin; and Frank Merritt, who wore a woman’s costume.”

Ya gotta love those names, first of all. They sound like ... nevermind. Florence Fountain? Amy Chambers? I guess it was an anomaly to find a college student anywhere around in those days, so that was something to gawk at. Now it seems that there's a scary number of them and their endless parties. The oddity nowadays is to find someone between the ages of 18 and 22 who isn't a student. You're more apt to find them dressing as a drop-out.

And the décor of the party started off sounding exciting, but went downhill from there:  “Thursday night was very stormy, but the party was fairly well attended, about thirty persons being present. The room was decorated with flags, bunting and jack-o’-lanterns.”

What happened to the dry ice, spooky music, spider webs and rickety old mansion setting? Oh, that’s right, we got those ideas from mimicking the homes of the very people who had those parties 100 years ago.

Oh, and one party was had by only boys in a secret society, where special security goons guarded the doors, as to not let intruders in.

“The officers wear regalia at the meetings of the association and the boys have a number of secret ceremonies, which are kept from the public by doorkeepers. Upon being sworn into office, the doorkeepers are required to take oaths that they will protect the secrets of the association with their lives if necessary,” the Register story about the same party said.

Now that’s scary! Though we still have those unofficial secret societies that are more about class warfare than gender.

Anyway, who needs the trained doorkeeper in special regalia? Lurch from the Adams Family would have done just fine. Sounds just like him. Though, I think Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch, had far more personality. All people would need to hear is that bellowing  “You rang?” from that toast of all creepily handsome monsters and no one would enter. 

OK. I would. Hey, he was a real looker and a “handy” guy, too. Here’s a bit of trivia: Ted Cassidy, Lurch, also played Thing, the hand. John Astin, Gomez himself, told me, I swear! Now there’s another ghoulish guy I love. 

Here’s some other news that happened around Halloween time in 1908:

Trick or treat?

An icehouse belonging to John H. Pattterson “situated” on the Middletown side of the Navesink River was torched. Crazy thing is that “There was no ice in the building. It is not known what started the fire.”

Really? And there was a fire? Now that must have been a real crack reporter. Let me hazard a guess that the fire melted that ice.

Mrs. Harry Ingalls “stepped on a cat last week while she was walking downstairs and she got a bad fall.” And the cat? I’m trying to picture this one. Poor Mrs. Ingalls. Poor cat. Maybe the cat would have been better off holed up in the icehouse. It probably would’ve had a better chance escaping the fire than Mrs. Ingalls’ nimble feet. Meeee…ouch!

The story reported that Mrs. Ingalls’ “spine was so badly injured that she will be laid up several days.” I still wanna know what happened to that cat.

Party hearty

“A number of Navesink young folks gave Miss Florence Sickles of that place a Hallowe’en surprise visit Saturday night. The evening was spent in playing Hallowe’en games, and refreshments were served. During the evening, Miss Sickles got a bad bump over the eye while playing in one of the games.”

Now what kind of “game” exactly was Miss Sickles playing that caused her to get a bump over her eye?

“There was a large crowd present at a Hallowe’en masquerade sociable given by the Belford Methodists in the M.P. Yard’s hall at that place Saturday night. An admission of twenty cents was charged and additional five cents was charged those who were unmasked.”

First of all, 20 cents?? Now that’s a cheap date! You can’t even get a glass of water at a Halloween party at a tavern nowadays. I do love the part that there was a five-cent penalty for not coming in costume.

Hey, they made $30, according to the story. That’s about three cocktails’ worth today.

So, the moral of the Halloween story of now and then should go something like this: Trick or treat. Don’t cheat. Get a Lurch of your own to scare people away from your private party. One lump on the head is all it takes to have a good Halloween party time. Keep an extra five cents around if you can’t scare up a costume tonight. Ya never know. And, finally don’t step on a cat and break your back for a trick. Karma’s a witch and cruelty to animals is not cool (What happened to that cat??). Oh, and Happy Halloweeeeeen!

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