Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin Carving”, Benjamin Franklin Reinhart, 1872 

Now that we have had a general look at the development of Halloween and of children´s fancy dress in the 19th century, let´s get back to our American Girls.

There is not a great deal of reference to Halloween in the United States, prior to 1860 but reference to the celebration or activities do occur.  The earliest mention of Halloween in popular periodicals occurred in the April, 1836 issue of Godey’s but the subject of Halloween did not reappear there until October, 1864.

Clara Lawson - Halloween source

Robert Burns´ poem Halloween was occasionally printed and commented on.

Kirsten, 1853


In 19th century Sweden, where Kirsten is from, Halloween was not known. Kirsten´s family would have celebrated Alla helgons dag (All Saints Day).

Alla helgons dag in Sweden is a solemn day of remembrance when lighted candles and flowers are placed in cemeteries to remember friends and loved ones who have passed away.

images8P0H1N6R Source

Kirsten would, however, have known a celebration similar to Halloween, however: Valborg, the Walpurgis Night, celebrated on April 30th.

This festival goes back to Viking celebrations. It is a feast to ward of winter and evil spirits, welcome spring and fertility. Valborg (also known as Walpurga) was a saint who lived in the late 8th century and at the time there was already a tradition to placate the spirits of the dead, which were thought to be especially close to earth. As Valborg´s holy day eventually fell on the same day, her name became associated with the celebrations and as they spread throughout Europe, the two dates became mixed together and created the Walpurgis Night celebration. At least from the mid 1700’s, bonfires were lit, the practical purpose if which was to scare away predators before cows, goats and sheep were led to their summer pastures. In the 1800’s the “Maying” took over. Young people would go around with leafy twigs and sing in the villages, and would receive eggs – a fertility symbol – as thanks.

Source  Spring songs would be sung,and there would be dancing.

Kirsten would not have worn a costume, or gone trick-or-treating at either Alla Helgons Dag or Valborg. While today, it is a tradition to eat herring on Valborg, there are no special dishes to be made just for the occasion; just regular seasonal food. Kirsten´s family would have decorated for fall or harvest time.

Cecile and Marie-Grace, 1853


The tradition of All Hallows (All Saints) is a strong one, but it’s still secondary in New Orleans. Faithful Catholics rise and go to Mass on November 1, then they head out to the cemeteries, to clean up and prepare their family tombs for November 2, the “Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed,” also known as the Feast of All Souls., a day to pray for a “reduction in sentence”  for loved ones that were in Purgatory.

Cleaning up the family plot is often a bit more complicated in New Orleans than other parts of the United States, because people are often buried above-ground. This had was something that came over to New Orleans from France. Also, the shifting mud and high water table made burial unsuitable, as early settlers discovered when the buried caskets popped up to the surface following heavy rainstorms.

The Creole citizens of New Orleans came to be infatuated with tales of open graves, gruesome deaths, and skeletons or ghosts who led independent lives along the avenues of the cities of the dead. They stopped digging holes for burials below the fluid surface and began to erect tombs above the ground. Burial or benevolent societies based on ethnicity or other shared social histories built massive communal tombs for their members; they guaranteed the living a place of death with their own kind.

Social stratifications became permanent after death, and sometimes an elegant crypt was “the most valuable property the inhabitants of the city owned”. At the very least, the cities of the dead, as they came to be called, were built on some of the highest land in the city. These cities are beautiful, architectural masterpieces, frequently visited by tourists and family members alike. New Orleans is a city that reveres, cherishes, and honors its dead, a value most observable on the tradition of honoring All Saint’s Day, also known as the Day of the Dead.

Catholic cemeteries in New Orleans were usually constructed by the various ethnic groups that made up the city’s faithful. The French-Spanish-African Creoles had the original St. Louis cemeteries in Faubourg Treme and Faubourg St. John. The Irish built the St. Patrick’s cemeteries at the head of Canal Street, and the Germans had their cemeteries dedicated to St. Joseph on Washington Avenue.

The 19th century Day of the Dead was a celebrated and community-wide event. On Halloween, the day prior to the holiday, families would make visits to the graves of their ancestors and clean them in preparation for the holiday. Then, as Martha Ward describes, “in the early morning hours of the first day of November, families … made the rounds of the cemeteries and greeted their loved ones.” Outside the cemeteries, the “market women sold pralines, peanuts, rich cakes, sausages, bread, and treats for children … Relatives arranged offerings at their families tombs—gumbo, coffee, sweet potato pie, or canned goods… . This holiday, Catholic in origin, bears more than a little resemblance to the tradition of ancestor worship in West Africa and practices by Christians in the Congo (96). The Creoles, unlike the Greeks, felt that communication was possible with those on the other side of the breach. And for the Voodoos, none would set off like Orpheus to visit the underworld; instead, on the Day of the Dead, the most important day in the Voodoo tradition, the spirits would be invited to visit them.    Source Source

A letter describing the Feast of All Saints in 1845

“Cecile´s Gift” mentions Cecile´s family attending mass “one Sunday in November”.Source


Of course, New Orleans also had a long history of Irish immigration. An early wave of Irish immigrants, fleeing British persecution at the end of the 1700s, landed in New Orleans and became well integrated into the economy and social life of the city. The first St. Patrick’s Day celebration was held in 1809. Irish social and benevolent organizations were formed, and Irish theater thrived. The still existing St. Patrick’s Church was founded in 1833 because Irish parishioners wanted to attend services in English, not French. Immigrants from Ireland started arriving in significant numbers as famine began to drive them out of their homeland in the 1820s, a famine which peaked in the 1840s. As New Orleans was a thriving port city, the itineraries of many boats ended here and the passengers simply stayed. Source

The Irish communities in New Orleans would have celebrated Halloween as described in part 1 and 2., with pranks, jack o´lanterns, and spooky stories, but it is doubtful just how much Cecile and Marie-Grace would have seen of it, let alone participated.

Cecile and Marie-Grace would have dressed up for Mardi Gras or a masquerade party some other time during the year, rather than for Halloween.


Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries Scottish and Irish immigrants entered the United States by the thousands and brought their Halloween folklore with them. Other groups added their own cultural influences. The Germans, for example, brought an especially vivid witchcraft lore; Haitian and African blacks brought their own superstitions about black cats, fire and witchcraft; and the English and Dutch brought a flair for masquerade. Late at night in the kitchens of the American South, Irish girls new to American likely whispered with slaves brought from Africa and the Islands: would a black cat’s bone make you invisible? Could you hear the bone scream as you passed it through your lips? Was it true that on All Hallows Eve, if you placed an egg front of the fire and it sweated blood, you’d attract the man you loved?  In the mountains of Virginia, people said that on Halloween you could hear the future whispered in the wind; and in Louisiana, some said that if you made a “dumb supper”–a meal cooked backwards and in total silence-and waited until midnight, a ghost would slip in and sit at the table.

Halloween celebrations first depended entirely on the religious and folk fabric of each region. The Caledonian Society in Canada, founded in the mid-19th century, kept the Scottishness of Halloween up front, and people gathered to read Scots poet Robert Burns’ poem “Halloween” (1786) each October. Children in Scottish-influenced Kingston, Ontario went out “guising” in their neighborhoods [the first North American media mention of a trick-or-treat-like custom comes from here, in 1911), and Ruth Edna Kelly reports in her Book of Hallowe’en (1919) that it was the custom in her area–very Irish Lynn, MA–to go souling, among other festivities. In the Ozarks, Halloween could mean a barn dance; in New York City, parades and firecrackers; in Philadelphia’s history, tavern-hosted costume parties.

If there was a commonality, it was this: Halloween–being the night the spirits were out–was a time for anarchy. To those who rail at seeing toilet paper in the trees, consider these Halloween pranks: Kids in 1879 collected teakettles, boots, and stones, and piled them in a neighbor’s vestibule, knocked on the door and bolted. They coated chapel seats with molasses (1887), exploded pipe bombs (1888), built huge pyramids of stones on streetcar tracks, and smeared the walls of new houses with black paint (1891). The employees of a butcher shop in Albany, NY stole corpses from a nearby medical school and hung them in front of a rival’s shop on Halloween in 1894. Two hundred kids with bags full of flour attacked all the well-dressed folks on streetcars in Washington DC in 1894. They strung ropes across sidewalks and tripped people ambling along, tied the doorknobs of opposing houses together, broke trees, mowed down shrubs, upset swill barrels, poured crude oil on sidewalks, shattered windows, attempted to jack up churches, greased trolley rails, removed telephone poles, and once filled the streets of Catalina Island with boats. Although it might seem so, not all Halloween celebrations were rowdy.

British Hallowe'en card

By the end of the 19th century, the world had turned on its head. Darwin had published The Origin of the Species (1859), and archeology, spurred by excavations in Egypt and Greece, excited the public imagination. Victorians began to see history as a series of progressive layers, and set about finding old stories, ballads and poems as if they were fossils that could tell what life was really like in the past. Surrounded by factories and machinery, the world’s first industrial societies came to hunger for the country, for a simpler time they saw as more connected to nature, and a deeper truth. They sought comfort in ancient traditions, in things that did not change. Halloween, as imagined by Victorians—rural, colorful, otherworldly, and demanding a certain amount of innocence—was entrancing. It wasn’t long before hostesses began holding Halloween-themed parties in their homes. They decorated with cornstalks and pumpkins, played the games they found in Robert Burns’ poem “Halloween,” and fed their guests apples, cider, nuts, doughnuts–seasonal foods we still use today.

In the late 19th-century—an age of reading dominated by the periodical press—how Halloween was described in literature became as important as how it was actually practiced. Where some people certainly marked the holiday as they had in their home countries, and many took advantage of this night as a time for mischief, a much larger number of people read Halloween stories and poems, and studied illustrations printed in magazines and newspapers. Halloween fell into the public domain as a night for romance and fortunetelling.

Halloween games had been geared towards finding out who would marry who since at least the 1700s, perhaps before. Magazine fiction published after the Civil War used the day’s fortunetelling customs to stir characters together. Halloween was the backdrop for passion unleashed in the dark, for a titillating brush of hands, cheeks, lips. Heroines, anxious to try the “ancient” divinations of the night, ate apples at midnight in front of a mirror, desperately searching for the face of a future husband. Source


1880s photograph

In the 1860s, members of both the Catholic and Episcopalian churches (the successors of the Church of England after the Revolution) campaigned to put some of their holidays on the official calendar, Hallowmas included. Newspapers and magazines reported about the celebrations or occasions more often. Halloween started to become a more mainstream part of American culture. Source

Following the death of her beloved Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria went into a deep mourning which lasted until her death in 1901. She lived as a widow for all of 40 years and was rarely, if ever, seen wearing any dress other than black. While there were certainly mourning rituals before Prince Albert died, mourning etiquette gained immense popularity as Queen Victoria’s friends, family, acquaintances and countrymen (and women) followed her example when they experienced grief of their own. In America, people adapted the same rituals as well. Once the Civil War began and families everywhere were suffering loss after loss, the strict mourning etiquette began to relax. Source and more on Victorian mourning customs This probably contributed as well to the spread of Halloween and All Saints.

The Peoria Morning Mail, on November 2, 1862 reported, “All-Hallow E’en [sic] This old time anniversary which took place on Friday evening was made the excuse by some of our wild boys for throwing unsavory missiles, putrid vegetables; taking gates off of the hinges, and sundry other pranks. This was probably ‘good fun’ to the boys, but for those thus attacked it was not so desirable. This is the way a ‘very quiet’ night was spent as stated by a contemporary.”

mischeif postcard

Kate Stone, in her journal, Brokenburn, described some Halloween practices. She wrote in November, 1864, “Some gentlemen called, and we had cards. After they left, Lucy and I tried our fortunes in divers ways as it was ‘All Hallow’e’en.’ We tried all magic arts and had a merry frolic, but no future lord and master came to turn our wet garments hanging before the fire. There were no ghostly footprints in the meal sprinkled behind the door. No bearded face looked over our shoulders as we ate the apples before the glass. No knightly forms of soldiers brave disturbed our dreams after eating the white of an egg half-filled with salt.”

Another early article that described Halloween and its charms was printed in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on October 31, 1865, in which a number of Halloween spells were recounted; also included was a Halloween parody of the “Night Before Christmas.Source

Addy, 1864

Addy and her family attend Trinity African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

In the United Methodist Church, All Saints’ Day is observed on the first Sunday in November (other sources: November 1st) to remember deceased members of the local church congregation. A candle is lit as each person’s name is called out, followed by a prayer offered for each soul.



1864-65, mourners at grave

A Halloween celebration at the church, with parlour games, music and storytelling, is conceivable, seeing that the Episcopal churches were “promoting” Halloween at the time. It would have been a communal event, rather than a spiritual.

Addy would probably not have worn a costume – if at all, a simple home-made one,  and she would not have gone trick-or-treating.

1870s to 1900

From the 1870s onward, Halloween begins to gain a real foothold in American society. The idea of “tricking” also becomes popular as young people began using the date to get up to all kinds of mayhem and mischief. Source 

The October 1872 issue of Godey’s contained an explanation of Burns’ poem, “Hallowe’en.” The author stated that the holiday was an ethnic celebration of the old-style English, Irish, Scots and Welsh immigrants. “Hallowe’en – Time in its ever-onward course, has one more brought us to the month in which this festival occurs. About the day itself there is nothing in any wise peculiar or worthy of notice, but since time almost immemorial All Hallow Eve, or Halloween, has formed the subject theme of fireside chat and published story. There is, perhaps, no night in the year which the popular imagination of the Old World has stamped with a more peculiar character than the evening of the 31st of October…
There is remarkable uniformity in the fireside customs of this night throughout England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales…
In this country Halloween for a time was strictly observed, but of late years it has been forgotten by almost all, except juveniles. Amongst the old style English, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh residents, the [fortune telling] games mentioned above  are practiced to some extent…
Amongst the American people but little other sport is indulged in than the drinking by the country folk, of hard cider, and the masticating of indigestible ‘crullers’ of ‘doughnuts.’ The gamins make use of the festival to batter down panels, dislocate bell wires, unhinge gates, destroying cabbage-patches, and raise a row generally.”


From the American Girl’s Handy Book (1888), a full chapter on festivities for “All Hallow Eve”, wherein candy makes a brief appearance:

Putting aside conventionality and dignity as we laid aside our wraps, ready for any fun or mischief that might be on hand, we proceeded down-stairs and into the kitchen, where a large pot of candy was found bubbling over the fire. This candy, poured into plates half-full of nuts, was eaten at intervals during the evening, and served to keep up the spirits of those who were inclined to be cast down by the less pleasing of Fortune’s decrees.

Ideas for a Halloween party in 1894 published in The American Agriculturalist included these proposals for refreshments: nut cake, pop corn, molasses candy and “as many more goodies as one cares to provide.”

In these pre-1900 party scenes, the candy references are decidedly turned toward the home-spun. Molasses candy could be purchased, but it was also a simple candy to make oneself, by cooking down molasses to candy consistency. As the American Girl’s Handy Book suggests, home candy making was a fun activity, especially suited to the colder fall and winter months. Source

Candy corn was created in the 1880s. The three colors of the candy – a broad yellow end, a tapered orange center, and a pointed white tip – mimic the appearance of kernels of corn.  Each piece is approximately three times the size of a real kernel from a ripe or dried ear.


Jack o Lantern, ca. 1880

As the 19th century progressed, the celebration of Halloween continued to increase and was mentioned in magazines and newspapers.

In the fall, Godey’s, Harper’s Weekly, Harper’s Bazar, St. Nicholas Magazine, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Delinator, and local newspapers contained Halloween stories and suggestions for party activities. In an 1881 St. Nicholas magazine, a change in Halloween was predicted; “… belief in magic is passing away and the custom of All-hallow Eve have arrived at the last stage; for they have become mere sports, repeated from year to year like holiday celebrations.” A great many of the old spells and charms were converted into games for the parties and made their way into parlor game books dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.



You can try to discern the name of your true love with an apple peel the old-fashioned way: take a red apple and an apple peeler, and peel all the skin off in one long piece.  Moving the peeler around the apple in a spiral motion, from stem to blossom end, is the traditional method.  Then, you take your long, unbroken apple peel spiral, and throw it up into the air and over your shoulder to land on the floor behind you.  The peel will land on the floor in a position that will hopefully resemble a letter of the alphabet (in script or cursive style); decide which letter your apple peel looks like, and that’s the first letter of your true love’s name! (Godeys, 1855)


Doubtless many an American girl of English or Scotch ancestry has heard of, or tried, the “looking-glass spell.” The curious one must go, candle in hand, to a mirror, eat an apple while standing before it, and in due time the face of her destined husband will be seen reflected in the glass across her shoulder (1884 article on Halloween customs)


Costumes for Halloween parties began to appear in the last part of the 19th century and there were many suggestions for Halloween parties and activities published in newspapers, magazines and books. Even though Halloween was celebrated and nights of revelry were observed, it was not until 1921 that Halloween was declared an official holiday.