Monday, October 29, 2012

Vintage Halloween

A full page of the San Francisco Call was devoted to Halloween party giving, with an apple bobbing demonstration. (San Francisco Call, October 28, 1900)
   Halloween once was a night where party goers attempted to look into the future.  Here's what you might have been doing on Halloween night at the turn of the last century, as described by the newspapers of the day.

The game of Snap dragon
   Raisins, citron cut into dice, candied ginger, a few bitter almonds, sliced, and crystallized fruits are spread on a large silver or stone china platter, set on a marble table.  Turn down the lights and collect the company about the dish before pouring in enough brandy to cover the fruit.  A match is then applied.  Each person must, in his or her turn, try to rescue a bit of fruit or nut from the blue flame.  "A tentative drag is more apt to burn the fingers than a quick, resolute snatch, and there is also the danger that the former method may bring the liquid fire over the side of the dish."

   One's lot in life is prefigured by the nature of the item picked.  A raisin signifies comfortable competence and contentment; citron, wealth; candied ginger, a peppery wife or husband; bitter almond, trouble and vexation; apricot, an amiable consort; a candied cherry, a voyage across the seas; a bit of pineapple, social success. 

The Looking Glass game foretold a young woman's romantic prospects. (San Francisco Call, 1905)

Roasting chestnuts
   This may be done on the hearth of an open fireplace, on the top of a stove or on a hot shovel held over the grate.   Two chestnuts are named and laid together on the heated surface.  If, in burning, they lay contentedly side by side, the omen is favorable.  If one hops away or refuses to ignite, the parties designated would do well not to attempt to join their fortunes.

Bobbing for apples was described as confined to the young men at the party. (San Francisco Call, 1905)

Cabbage stalks
   Cabbage stalks are pulled from the garden by the young people in the dark, or if there is a moon, with closed eyes.  Each must honestly bring to the light that which he or she first lays hold of.  If much earth clings to the roots, the holder will have wealth; if it is bare, poverty.  A healthy, well-made stalk promises a handsome partner for life.  A bite cut from the top of the stalk indicates the temper of said partner.  Some are sweet, some sour and a few bitter.  

   Each "fair owner," after inspecting and tasting hers, cuts her initials on the stalk and all are laid on a table with a cloth cast lightly over them.  The young men are now admitted and draw in their turn.  If a dance is to come off in the evening, each young man dances the first set with the girl whose stalk he has drawn.

An advice column suggested serving "archaic and simple" food. (School for Housewives by Marion Harland, San Francisco Call, 1905)

Fairy boats
   Halve English walnuts and clean out each side.  Melt enough white wax to fill as many shells as there will be persons present at your party, and stir in a few drops of perfume.  Have ready short lengths of coarse cotton cord, loosely twisted.  Hold a bit of the cord upright in the middle of each half shell, and pour in enough melted wax to fill it.  

   Launch the spice lamps in a tub of water, and light the wicks, naming each for a guest.  To set them in motion, jar the tub lightly.  If two boats approach one another, touch and continue the voyage in company, the owners' lots will sometime become one and the same.  If one sputters and soon goes out, the owner will have a brief troubled career.  If two jostle and interfere with each other, those whose names they bear will quarrel.  Should a boat refuse to quit the wharf or return when pushed out, its namesake is indolent and lacking in enterprise.  Those that burn longest, predict the length of days.

The "Dumb Cake" game involved making a cake in which symbolic items were hidden. (San Francisco Call, 1905)

   And, of course, ghost stories.  It's not All Hallows Eve without ghost stories.

"Tell ghost stories until you are afraid to go to bed" instructs the San Francisco Call. (How to Celebrate Halloween, San Francisco Call, October 28, 1900)   

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