This post was written by Marybeth Kavanagh, Reference Librarian for the Department of Prints, Photographs and Architectural Collections.
Looking for inspiration to get into the spirit of the season, I found a small, sweet volume in our Printed Collections called Games For Halloween. In less than 60 pages, author Mary E. Blain lays out a plan that Martha Stewart would envy for the perfect Halloween party circa 1912. Her imaginative, precise instructions cover everything from proper invitations:
“Witches and Choice Spirits of Darkness will hold High Carnival at my house,
October 31st at 8 o’clock. Come prepared to test your fate.”
to festive decorations:
” The room… should be decorated as grotesquely as possible with Jack-o’-lanterns made from apples, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins”
“Jack-o’-lanterns for the gas jets may be made of pasteboard boxes…cut a hole in the bottom of the box just large enough to fit over the gas jet, turning the gas low enough not to burn the box.”
“An idea for a centerpiece is a large pumpkin, the top cut in large points with small chocolate mice in the notches and scampering down the sides (held in place by long pins or a little glue) and over the table.”
Also included are suggestions for games and amusements, many of which are divination games meant to predict future happiness, prosperity, and most especially romantic partners. According to Blain, “[Halloween] is the night when all sorts of charms and spells are invoked for prying into the future.” To “furnish entertainment” at the party, Blain suggests “[t]he following games and tests of fate and fortune”:
Halloween Souvenir Game: “Suspend apples by means of strings in a doorway or from ceiling at proper height to be caught between the teeth. First successful player receives prize. Prizes should be Halloween souvenirs, such as emery cushions of silk representing tomatoes, radishes, apples, pears or pickles; or pen-wipers representing brooms, bat, cats, witches, etc.”
For the more daring party-goers, Blain suggests a riskier version of this game, called Candle and Apple: “At one end of a stick fasten an apple; at the other end, a short piece of lighted candle. Suspend stick from ceiling…so that stick will balance horizontally; while stick revolves, players try to catch the apple with their teeth.”
Ducking for Apples: “Into one tub half filled with water are placed apples to the stems of which are tied bits of paper containing the names of boys at the party, while across the room is a similar tub in which the names of girls are placed…[players] endeavor to extricate the apples with their teeth, and it is alleged that the name appearing upon the slip fastened to the apple is the patronymic of the future helpmeet of the one securing the fruit from the receptacle.”
Combing Hair before Mirror: “Stand alone before a mirror, and by light of a candle comb your hair; the face of your future partner will appear, peeping over your shoulder.”
Why not try these yourself this Halloween? As Blain points out, “Of course, prying into the future with these tests at any other time, they may not prove infallible, but on the Eve of All Saint’s Day, when all the elves, goblins and hobgoblins are at large playing pranks and teasing and pleasing, why should they not ‘come true’ ?”
Have a Jolly, Merry Halloween!