Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween 1912 - What were my ancestors doing?

With Halloween upon us it got me thinking and wondering how my ancestors might have celebrated it in the past.  So I've done a little research and put a social history twist on it.  Here is how my ancestors, specifically my great grandparents, might have celebrate Halloween in 1912.

Fred Haskins was 18 years old.  He was living in Marion, NY and was not married.  It was typical of young men and boys to be mischievous on Halloween.  They found fun by tipping over small barns and changing signs around on buildings in an attempt to confuse people.  They released pigs and hens from their pens, removed fences or decorated local churches. Given the fact that Fred was no longer at home and was working he most likely didn't engage in boyish traditions but he might have attended a Halloween party given by someone in town.

During my research I found a book entitled Games for Hallow e'en written in 1912 by Mary Emma Salisbury Barse.  In her book she states that "on this night there should be nothing but laughter, fun and mystery.  It is a night when fairies dance, Ghosts, Witches, Devils and mischief-making elves wander around."  Parties appeared to be a big deal.  Here is wording to a sample invitation from her book.  Maybe Fred attended a party like this.

On Wednesday, Oct 31st at 8 O'clock I shall celebrate Hallow-e'en and hope that you will come and participate in the mysteries and rites of All Hallow's Eve, so come prepared to learn your fate.

Kate VanLare was 27 years old.  She was also living in Marion, NY and had not yet married.  Halloween for girls took on a different twist than that of the opposite sex, instead of being mischievous they looked to the occasion with supertitous awe and hope that they might find love.  Maids often spent Halloween testing various sorts of wizardry related to sentiment and love.
An article entitled Halloween Paradoxes from 1912 states that some of the supertitions young women believed in were if she and her girlfriends placed a thimble and a ring in a wad of dough, bake a cake of it, and cut it carefully when done, the maiden who gets the ring will be married shortly, while the one who gets the thimble will die an old maid.  Another popular one was to write the names of her young men acquaintances on slips of paper, she would put them under her pillow, if she dreams of one of them, that is the one she is fated to marry.

I wonder if Kate and Fred attended the same Halloween party?  Maybe they played one of the various popular games of the day.  Maybe Kate put Fred's name under her pillow -  they did get married in June of 1913 which was only 8 months after Halloween.

Thomas King Robertson was 14 years old.  He was living in Canada.  Both the United States and Canada celebrated Halloween very similar and by the turn of the century Halloween had turned into a night of vandalism. Could Thomas and his brothers been out romping around tormenting his neighbors?   The Robertson family originated from Scotland so it is very likely that they practiced some of their traditional Hallow e'en rituals.  One of the most popular Halloween games in Scotland was dookin for apples.  Scotland is also one of the origins of "guising" which is when children disguised in costumes go door to door for food or coins, this custom dates back to 1895.  This practice started in Kingston, Ontario around 1911, given it was a common Scottish event it is probable to think that Thomas could have participated.

 Ruth Fredia Oestreich was 10 years old. She was living near Walworth, NY with her parents and siblings.  She had five of them living with her at the time.  Around 1912 there was a push to have more safe celebrations for Halloween because of all of the vandalism that was associated with the holiday.  School posters called for a "Sane Halloween" and children began dressing up in costumes going door to door receiving treats rather than playing tricks.  Ruth's parents could have looked for costume and decoration ideas in the Dennison's Paper Company specialized Hallow e'en themed Bogie Book .  The Bogie Book sold for five cents.  It was published each year to help in planning Hallow e'en festivities.  It would give ideas for planning decorations, costumes, favors, games and menus.

Dennison's Bogie Book - 1912 Edition

Peter Derks and Sarah Vergouwe were living in the US in 1912.  Peter was 31 and Sarah was 27 years old.  They had been married for seven years and had four children, ages 1, 3, 5 and 7.  They were living in Rochester, NY but had only been there a few years.  They arrived in the US from Holland in 1905.  In Holland they did not celebrate Hallow e'en.  They were more likely to celebrate St. Martin's Day on November 11th.  Sint-Maarten is a popular children's feast based on an old harvest festival which was celebrated in many European countries.  Children would make lanterns from hollowed out turnips and sugar beets and would go door to door singing St. Martin songs.  Children would be rewarded for singing and reciting poems with treats that often included chocolate, apples, mandarin oranges, nut brittles or fried oliebollen.

Issac DeFisher and Sarah Wisse were living in Marion, NY in 1912.  They were in their late 30's and had 13 children at that time ranging in ages from 1 to 17.  They had been living in the US since 1900.  More than likely they did not follow the customs of American Halloween.  But if they had one of the popular trends in 1912 was to send Hallow e'en postcards.  At that time people would send cheap greetings for many reasons but especially for holidays.   Below is an example of a postcard that might have been sent around 1912.

Happy Halloween!!


  1. Great research, I find it very interesting how our ancestors celebrate Halloween I think it was more fun in their time.

  2. I just found your website through Geneabloggers. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. What a great contrast to what we do today.

    Regards, Jim
    Hidden Genealogy Nuggets