Ready for a spooky look back at the history of Halloween in America? Read on, if you dare!
The origins of the holiday we now call Halloween can be traced back to the , when folks would light bonfires and dress up in costumes on All Hallows' Eve, to ward off spirits the night before All Saints' Day on November 1. It wasn't until the early 20th century that it became the spooky affair that we know and love today in America, celebrated with parties, parades, treats, and costumes. Pictured here are rare Halloween collectibles from the early 20th century, such as noisemakers, novelty candy containers, toys, and costumes that date from 1905, which can range upward in value to $4,000 today.
Prior to the late 1940s, Halloween costumes, like this circa 1917 frock, were homemade. These days, the market prices can start at $75 for basic vintage costumes in mint condition and go as high as $1,500 for ones based on cartoon characters, television stars, or political subjects.
Because they were typically tossed after use, invitations and placecards are among the most rare (read: sought-after!) Halloween collectibles from the early 20th century. A complete set of World War I-era die-cut invites by a paper purveyor like Dennison of Massachusetts can cost $200 to $300 if never addressed.
In 1919, the cover of The Country Gentleman featured a young man bobbing for apples as a ploy to impress a young lady. In fact, the game of bobbing for apples has a long association with marriage and fertility. One involved women secretly marking the apples before throwing them in the tub for men to "bob" for; future matches were foretold depending on the apple each lad chose.
In 1920, Pennsylvania-based company Beistle Company introduced a hair-raising line of party goods that helped popularize Halloween decorating in America.
During the 1920s, Halloween parties enjoyed unprecedented popularity, a trend that reached its peak in the '30s. Preparation for these elaborate Halloween fetes would began as early as the summer before, usually in August. The table pictured here is set with early-20th-century noisemakers and 1930s Bakelite flatware.
"From 1909 through the '30s, the Dennison Manufacturing Company published Halloween-themed craft and party idea books called Bogie Books," says Halloween antique expert Bruce Elsass, pictured here wearing a reproduction of a Halloween costume that would have been popular for men in the 1920s. "This costume is based on one of those designs." The antique pumpkin parade stick in his hand is from 1903 and was originally lit by a candle and carried by children while trick-or-treating.
By the '20s, Halloween had became a holiday of mischief—an excuse for young people to break windows and damage other property. In effort to curb vandalism in 1923, the police commissioner of Omaha, Nebraska, as junior police officers and relied on them to report criminal behavior on Oct. 31.
Communities remained proactive about preventing petty crimes on Halloween night. An announcement in the , for example, explained that a party would be held at the Chicago Boys' Club so youths could "enjoy themselves without destroying property or playing pranks on their neighbors."
At Halloween parties in the 1920s, games like this pumpkin ring-toss, were popular forms of old-fashioned entertainment.
By the late 1920s, homemade costumes—particularly clowns—were still a popular choice. Pictured here is a homemade clown costume with sheer netting ruffle and original fabric.
The first known printed reference to "trick-or-treat" appeared in the Alberta Canada Herald on Nov. 4, 1927, according to .
From 1928 to 1931, the Pennsylvania-based company Beistle crafted cardboard fortune-telling games as Halloween party entertainment. With questions including "Will I soon be engaged?" and "Does my employer like me?" early Beistle games like a 1930s Mystery Answer Board Game—valued at $300—were marketed to adults. Another 1930s favorite, the Flaming Fortune Game, which also served as a table centerpiece, is a fairly common find but remains very popular with collectors.
Prone to damage—it's very rare to find an example with an intact arch—this 1929 honeycomb witch and cauldron from Beistle originally came in three different sizes. This—the middle-sized version—stirs up an impressive value of $350.
Commonly placed on front doors or in coat closets, this wiggly, 55-inch-long fellow was introduced by Beistle in the 1930s and, depending on condition, can wrangle up to $75. When complete with original envelope packaging (not pictured), the price increases by more than a few bones to $150. Made of tissue paper and cardstock, the 1930s mini lanterns sitting on the side table are valued at $45 each.
Beistle Company also created an array of hats and masks for revelers. With little wear and intact paper fringe, these 1930s orange crepe-paper hats—part of a set of six—garner around $15 each.
This , converted to HD in 2013, depicts students of Hamlin Park School in Buffalo, New York, dressed in costume for Halloween 1932. In it, we see girls in Dutch and Colonial era dress; boys suited up like sailors, pirates, and cowboys; and both genders masquerading as clowns.
The '30s are considered to be the Golden Age of monster movies, with Dracula and Frankenstein appearing in cinemas in 1931, and King Kong and The Invisible Man in 1933. The horror classic The Bride of Frankenstein debuted in 1935.
Mickey Mouse, who made his official debut in the 1928 animated short Steamboat Willie, became a popular character costume in the 1930s. This image appeared in the Halloween 1934 edition of the once-popular .
The — the first set to survive more than a week—were born in May 1934 in Ontario, Canada, and instantly became a worldwide sensation. Fearing their impoverished parents wouldn't be able to protect them from exploitation, the government placed the baby girls in a special hospital; their mother, Oliva, fought for nine years to regain custody. Here, actress Lucille Ball (front and center) and a group of friends dressed as the quintuplets for a 1935 Halloween party.
Louis Armstrong led a Halloween-themed band in the 1936 film Pennies from Heaven.
As trick-or-treating became popular in the 1930s, companies like A.S. Fishbach and Ben Cooper began mass-producing Halloween costumes. Whereas previous decades saw children dressing as supernatural creatures like witches, ghosts, and goblins, costumes based on professions and characters in mass media became the norm. Here, a boy dressed as a police officer directs "traffic" while his dog plays the role of a driver.
On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles' radio broadcast of the H.G. Wells novel War of the Worlds caused mass panic among listeners who believed Earth really had been invaded by Martians.
Bobbing for apples and were popular pastimes of children's Halloween parties in the late '30s.
According to , the American tradition of trick-or-treating as we know it today may have started with kids trading songs for treats in the early 20th century, but it really gained popularity in the '30s and '40s, when children were offered everything from homemade treats to coins, toys, and fruit. It wasn't until the 1950s that candy companies began specifically promoting their products for Halloween. (Pictured here is a collection of vintage candy boxes.)
In the 1940s and '50s, classic costumes like witches, ghosts, mummies, pirates, and pumpkins were still popular. This witch costume, with a muslin mask and finished cotton garment and cape, is from the early 1940s.
This jazzy quartet features light embossing—a sure sign of their age—these cool cats bring in about $100 each. Reproductions of this 1940s design, which the company continues to make today, can be identified by their double-sided printing and a lack of embossing.
After the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Halloween parties offered a much-needed distraction from so-called "war strain." Community celebrations such as offered war bonds and stamps as prizes. Pictured here, a U.S. soldier and his girlfriend dance at a Halloween party in London.
In the '40s, novelty stores like the one pictured here sold a variety of paper decorations in different shapes: skeletons, jack-o'-lanterns, black cats, owls, and more.
As fashion began to evolve and leg-baring became apropo, so did Halloween costumes. Here, three actresses dressed as "girls on the farm" bob for apples.