Tag Archives: history

Great Gourds! Pumpkin Varieties and How to Use Them

If you’ve wandered your local farmer’s market or pumpkin patch this fall, you probably discovered that there’s so much more to choosing your desire type than “give me big and orange.”

Today’s decorative pumpkins have gone far afield (see what we did there?) from the traditional Howden’s Field or fun, kid-size mini.

Get in on the “pick your perfect pumpkin” craze – you’ve got your pick: traditional; fun; even a bit, well…freaky. This autumn’s pumpkins are ready-grown and ripe for the choosing. Grab a gourd and eat, decorate and be merry! Below are some of our favorite varieties.

Howden’s Field

The gold (or would that be orange?) standard for the American Jack-o-lantern, Howdens are just the right size, shape, color and ribbing to use as decor. You probably carved Howdens as a child — and so might have your parents, and theirs.

However, we don’t recommend Howdens for pie baking. They tend to be stringy and have less pumpkin flavor than some sweeter varieties.

Pick up at least one Howden for your jack-o-lantern carving this year. Scoop well, scrape and cut a spooky shape into your gourd. Try Pumpkin Masters for a really cool look, or Google pumpkin carving templates to find the perfect freebie.

Lumina

Confession time: as loyal as I am to the good old-fashioned orange Curcurbita, I have a secret love for Luminas. This variety is a gorgeous solid white on the outside but plump and very orange on the interior.

Play up the contrast of white and orange by using your Lumina for your Halloween decor. Add a battery tea light and watch the spooky effect.

Don’t throw away those innards just yet: Lumina seeds are delicious baked with butter and salt. If you don’t plan on carving your pumpkin for decor purposes, use it in a pie or soup; Luminas have a fabulous flavor.

Queensland Blue

This unusual-looking gourd originated in Australia as its name implies. It was imported to the U.S. in the 1930s. You may have seen Queensland Blues at farmer’s markets and overlooked them as not being a “real” pumpkin. However, they are definitely Curcurbitas.

Queensland Blues have a lot of flesh to scoop, so you may want to forgo carving. Or try peeling away sections of skin only, without scooping the pumpkin out. Use a potato peeler or a woodcarving tool to put fanciful shapes on your Queensland Blue.

The flavor and texture of the Queensland Blue also makes it ideal for pies.

Jack-Be-Little

Just 3 or 4 inches across, Jack-Be-Littles are adorable and great for decor. Kids love them because they’re so easy to handle and carry. For your decor purposes, they create instant atmosphere for Halloween or Thanksgiving.

They’re tricky to scoop thin enough to carve (if you figure out a way, let us know!), but you can use a potato peeler to etch cool designs in your Jack-Be-Little’s skin. You can also cut off the tops, scoop the pulp and place a tea light in each for a pretty guest table.

They’re edible too. Try this yummy pumpkin recipe, for example. Mmm!

New England Pie

We’re sure you’ve guessed the use this pumpkin is famous for! The New England Pie pumpkin is an heirloom variety that’s perfect for baking fall treats.

New England Pie pumpkins are on the small side, usually no more than 3 to 4 pounds. Their hard skins make them very difficult to carve, so if you’re using this variety as decor, set it up uncarved.

There are many other pie pumpkin types, but the New England is the gold standard. You will definitely want a few for baking and stewing this Thanksgiving or for pumpkin cookies on Halloween.

Kakai

Get ready for the most amazing pumpkin seeds you’ve ever tasted. The seeds of this fun variety are hull-less and easy to eat. They’re among the most tasty pumpkin seeds when roasted. (And of course, this variety is simply gorgeous, with orange stripes and green mottling on the outside and firm orange flesh on the inside.)

Here’s how to make roasted pumpkin seeds from a Kakai: Cut pumpkin open and remove seeds; separate seeds from pulp in a colander under warm water. Set out on a paper towel and dry for at least two hours. Remove to a shallow pan and smother in melted butter. Sprinkle lightly with Mrs. Dash seasoning. Bake in a 300 degree oven for approximately 45 minutes. Cool and eat.

Big Max

Whoah! If you’ve never seen a Big Max, it’s time to acquaint yourself with one. Just don’t try to pick it up: these behemoths can easily grow to 100 lbs. and more.

Not technically a pumpkin but a “squash type,”  Big Maxes are cultivated primarily for show. (Their grainy flesh makes them a poor choice for eating.) Scooping out the flesh would be a thankless chore, but you can carve these giants and reach inside to scrape behind your cuttings.

DO NOT try to lift a Big Max by yourself. They are slippery and often are very asymmetrical, making it hard to keep a grip. Ask a friend for help.

Cinderella

A French heirloom variety, Cinderellas are so nicknamed for their striking resemblance to the famous fairytale coach. (Their real name is Rouche vif D’Etampes.)

The Cinderella has a long history in the U.S., with rumors claiming the gourd was served at the first Thanksgiving dinner in New England. However, most experts agree that the variety wasn’t officially introduced to the U.S. until the 1800s.

But they’re not just tasty. Cinderellas are pretty, with a very deep orange skin. Pick up inexpensive craft wagon wheels and a wooden support (Cinderellas are heavy!) at a craft store and display this fun variety as a fairytale coach.

Happy decorating…and eating!

The Queen Mary Houses Guests…AND Ghosts

What’s going on at the docked Queen Mary? Plenty – and it’s all coming from long-deceased guests who never checked out, according to reports. Visitors report thumps, childish giggles, and heart-stopping apparitions.

Read on for a history of the ship, info on the annual Dark Harbor attraction, plus loads of spine-chilling ghost sighting tales to keep you up at night.

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Long Beach, CA is home to creepy haunt, hotel and carnival Dark Harbor aboard the famous Queen Mary. What’s the story behind this mystery ship and its haunted reputation? Read on…and shiver.

Why is the Queen Mary Haunted?

When the Queen Mary sailed on her maiden voyage in 1936, she was the second largest cruise liner in the world, with almost twice the tonnage of the Titanic. Famous personalities from American actors to British royals were often seen enjoying its first class amenities while crossing the Atlantic from Southampton, UK to New York City.

The ship also saw service during World War II, but reverted to a passenger ship until 1967. The ship sailed to Long Beach, California, where it’s been a combination museum, hotel and tourist attraction ever since, with over 1.5 million visitors per year.

But all hasn’t all been smooth sailing aboard the Queen Mary. Crew are said to have seen 49 deaths onboard the vessel during its years of operation – including those of innocent children.

And while tragic all by themselves, the stories don’t end there.

A (Very) Extended Stay: Ghosts Roam the Queen Mary

Queen Mary HauntingsThe chilling part? Some of these visitors are said to have never checked out. The ghosts of the Queen Mary are so famous, signs have actually been installed within the ship to point out where ghosts have reportedly been spotted.

So, what are some of these stories that would make this ship one of the world’s foremost haunted attractions? Let’s take a hair-raising peek into the unearthly goings-on aboard the bloody Queen Mary.

The Grey Ghost

In World War II, the ship was painted grey as camouflage, and due to that and the fact it held the world record for speed at sea, it was nicknamed The Grey Ghost.

To avoid torpedoes, it sailed in a zig zag pattern, and once sliced through an escort warship that went off course, sinking it rapidly and drowning 338 of her 439 sailors.

Forty years later, a television crew accidentally left an audio recorder running overnight in the exact location where the collision happened – the tape played back sounds of pounding hands on a metal hull and noises of drowning sailors.

The Crushed Crewman

In 1966, a young seaman named John Peddar was crushed to death in the depths of Engine Room #13 during a drill. To this day, visitors report sightings of a young man in coveralls wandering around.

One story goes that a visitor felt something brush across his face while visiting the room, and later his wife noticed a streak of engine grease on his face. You’ll find dozens of such stories, with ethereal touches that have left their impression on frightened (and thrilled) visitors year after year.

Ghostly Swimmers

According to insiders, there have been several reports of ghosts in the first class now-empty swimming pools aboard the ship, including bathers in 1930s era swimsuits. Visitors say they can sometimes hear the sounds of splashing, and many have seen wet footprints on the tile.

In the second class pool (long since converted into a theater), a little girl named Jackie is said to have drowned, and visitors can sometimes hear her calling piteously for her mother.

They’ve also heard Jackie’s innocent laughter and singing in the first class pool and have witnessed her shadowy form clutching a tattered teddy bear.

Little Spirits in the Playroom

The ship includes a children’s playroom and nursery, where  visitors may hear children laughing and playing. In 1991, one passenger on a guided tour heard the sounds, but could only see the usual toys, games and books on the display. Then the doorknob began rattling, and the terrified tourist heard the sound of the door being kicked.

The woman quickly went to catch up with the rest of the tour group, but felt her purse and shirt constantly being tugged along the way. It seems someone needed a play companion.

A much darker spirit is that of a little infant named Leigh, who tragically died a few hours after birth (though not without the doctors trying in vain to save his innocent life.) Some ship guests can still hear the last wails of the baby while passing what was once the third-class playroom.

The Woman in White

A “regular” ghost seems to reside in the ship’s first class lounge – a beautiful woman in a white evening gown is often seen dancing alone within the shadows.

On one tour, a little girl, who had never heard of the sighting, kept pointing and asking about a “woman in white.” Nobody else saw the apparition, but the girl insisted she was there, and continued watching it dance.

A Lonely But Playful Girl

In 2000, a hotel service member was vacuuming the carpet in the Exhibit Hall when the temperature suddenly dropped. Turning around, he saw a little girl sucking her thumb and floating in the air.

The child then stretched her arms out, as if wanting to be picked up. Her eyes appeared to be glowing. Terrified, the crew member fled and reported the incident.

A few weeks later, while leaving the Grand Salon on R Deck, another cleaning crew member was pushing his mop and bucket. The bucket suddenly jammed, so the worker checked to see what was stopping the wheels. He felt a presence, and turned around to see a little girl in a white dress and white hat sucking her thumb.

As with the other sighting, the ghostly child was floating in mid-air and oddly, appeared to have no legs beneath her wispy gown. She floated away into the Grand Salon, where the doors had mysteriously shut (they were normally kept open). The doors swung out so powerfully, they knocked the employee to the floor. As he struggled to get back up, the worker heard the girl’s chillingly playful laughter recede in the distance.

The next day the worker checked the (open) doors, and realized they were much too heavy to be swung shut by one person.

Cabin B340

Cabin B340 Queen Mary hauntingsCabin B340 has had so much paranormal activity, it’s now closed for rentals.  Previously, guests sleeping in the room were awakened in the night by lights turning on and off, water gushing suddenly from faucets, and covers being pulled off the beds. Other guests have heard an angry voice saying “Get out!”

There are two famous stories involving this cabin. The first is that in 1948 it was used as a holding cell for a deranged man who had been threatening his family. When the family visited later, the man flew into an inexplicable rage and murdered his 5-year old-daughter.

The second story involves a crew member who was murdered in the room in 1937; guests say that his ghost still resides there.

The Piano Player

One evening, a mother and daughter staying aboard the Queen Mary for the night were waiting for a friend to join them. The night wore on, until at at close to midnight, the daughter decided to sit at the lobby’sgrand piano, which had been constructed especially for the Queen Mary in the 1930’s.

The lid on the keyboard was down, but suddenly a tinkling, eerie melody emerged from  beneath it.

Both the daughter and mother heard the spooky tune. The two wisely decided to wait for their friend on deck instead.

The Dark Harbor Haunt

Queen Mary Dark Harbor EventMany people would list the Queen Mary as among the top world destinations for hauntings. To celebrate, the ship puts on a frightful Halloween bash every year. It features 7 mazes and attractions, as well as a complex for live entertainment, food and cocktails.

To enter the haunt, visitors must first pass through a 220 foot long, fog-shrouded tunnel of shipping containers containing ghouls and monsters. They then emerge at “Hell’s Bells Tower,” a 33-foot tower made of shipping containers and which shoots flames into the night sky.

Throughout the mazes, pyrotechnical and other spooky special effects keep visitors spooked and their skin crawling. Such attractions include “Containment” where the ship’s infirmary gets a bit sick, “Submerged” where it feels like you’re sinking (the ship almost sunk once due to a rogue wave on choppy seas), and “The Village of the Damned” where creatures attempt to make you their permanent residents.

The Queen Mary’s Dark Harbor is not to be missed for hardcore Halloween fans. Get more info here – and remember: don’t visit any area of the ship alone after midnight!

8 Awesome Smartphone Apps for Halloween

Halloween is such a great event and with the advent of smartphone apps you can enjoy your favorite parts of Halloween everywhere you go.  We tested dozens of apps and compiled a list of the 8 best ones we could find in terms of the most imagination and uniqueness. We hope you enjoy these selections and have a Happy Haunted Halloween!

1.  Halloween Deluxe  ($0.99)

Halloween wouldn’t be complete without scary sounds and this app lets you do that and more.  Opt for the paid version and avoid annoying requests to upgrade from the free one.  This app includes a count down to Halloween, a soundboard, ring tones, music loops, trivia, costumes ideas, and even a option that lets you create your own colored flashlight with the screen.  There are tons of Halloween soundboard apps out there but our recommendation is to ditch the others, this one has it all.

Halloween Deluxe iPhone App

2. imut8r ($0.99)

Our favorite picture altering app, this offering gives you tremendous creative control over altering real photos of you and your friends.  You have dozens of creature choices to model after including demons, zombies, werewolves, vampires.  From there you’ll change skin colors add blood or sores and channel Dr. Frankenstein himself!  When you’re done, save the photos and send them to your friends and family for a spooky good time.

imut8r iPhone app

3. 100+ Horror Stories ($0.99)

You’ll absolutely love this creative application that let’s you tell over 100 of the most popular scary stories in history, but with an added twist.  During your story you can tap the screen when prompted to play an appropriate sound to add extra effect to your story.  Lightning cracks, evil laughs, moans, and more will enhance your terrifying tale and keep your audience on the edge of their seats.

100 Horror Stories app

4. Ghost Radar ($0.99)

For all you watchers of ‘Ghost Hunters’ out there, check out the latest version of Ghost Radar from app developer Spud Pickles.  The creators of this app claim it runs on a proprietary algorithm that interprets QUANTUM fluctuations of intelligent energy.  Some users say the program is just reading simple electromagnetic sources in your immediate environment while others claim they’ve experienced accurate readings of actual objects in the room that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.  Either way, you’re bound to get hours of eerie entertainment from this original idea.

ghost-radar

5. Ask the Dead ($0.99)

Get ready to be freaked out with this unique offering from The FORM Group. It’s a digital Ouija board that sneakily uses your phone’s contacts to return answers to your questions. You can totally prank your uninitiated friends or family into thinking you are connecting with the spirit world.  You’ll get a ton of screams from this application, but be careful, you may even scare yourself….

Ask the Dead smartphone app

 6. Pumpkin Xplode (free)

Pumpkin Xplode is one of those annoyingly addictive games like Tetris or Angry Birds (yeah we could have easily added that one here too).  But you just can’t seem to put it down because there’s always the next level to defeat.  Bottom line: if it’s on your phone, you will play it.  It has great graphics and sounds built into the game play.  Thoughtful features include: night mode, saves game on exit or if uninterrupted by a phone call, and for you cheaters out there you have the ability to undo up to 10 moves back.  There is just something so gratifying about busting up pumpkins that makes this our only game of choice for inclusion in this app review.

pumpkin xplode app

7. Halloween Spooky Soundbox (free)

The truth is there are dozens of free Halloween sound boards out there and you’d probably do just fine if you downloaded most any of them.  Why do we recommend this one then?  Two reasons:  Selection and sound quality.  This sound board has 35 sounds to choose from, whereas most other apps you’re lucky to get 20.  Also, the sounds you get don’t sound cheap or “thin”.  In other words, they don’t sound like you made them yourself on an old tape recorder.  You can play the sounds on a loop (which you’ll probably never use) besides that there aren’t really any bells and whistles to this app.  If we could make a recommendation to the developer, it’d be to add a delay feature in a future version.

spooky soundbox app

8.  Footprints (free)

While this is not a Halloween application it certainly the most useful on the list particularly if you are a parent and your kids are old enough to trick-or-treat without you.  You can track your multiple kid’s locations in real time without having to request location status from the people you are tracking.  We’ve seen some apps where users have to “request” location and the person being tracked has to manually approve request on their device.

This app comes with a number of great features built into it.  Two of our favorites are the parental settings which don’t allow kids to disable the tracking feature or delete the application on their devices, and the ability to track way points.  In short it shows you where your kids have been not just where they are at the present moment.  All this is provided by a beautiful interface overlaid on Google Maps.  There is really nothing we don’t like about this app.

footprints app

About the Author:

Chris DuPaul is a huge Halloween buff and the co-owner of the self proclaimed #1 Wonder Woman Costume website on the internet.  He enjoys technology and sneaking up and scaring the crap out of unsuspecting people year round.  For all you ladies out there still looking for costume ideas check out our Sexy Wonder Woman Costume page for outfits that’ll make you the star of the party.

Is Your Costume Offensive?

Every year there’s controversy over a certain Halloween costume, and this year it’s the “Illegal Alien.” The costume features an extra-terrestrial dressed in prison garb holding a green card (which is a legal document allowing you to work in this country, ha ha). If the pun is lost on some people, the words “Illegal Alien” are boldly stenciled across the front.

Depending on your point of view, it’s either a hilarious pun, a political statement, or an extremely insensitive costume to a group of people.

According to Angelica Salas, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the costume is “distasteful, mean-spirited and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform.”

The organization successfully pressured retailers such as Target, Ebay and Amazon to pull the costume off its shelves. Another states the costume “perpetuates this idea we have about undocumented immigrants as alien foreigners, strangers, scary.”

Should Offensive Costumes be Banned?

illegal-alienShould this particular costume have been pulled from shelves? Did it cross a fine line? Or is it yet another over-sensitive political correctness issue that has been stifling free speech for the last two decades?

Is this costume distasteful? Definitely! However, and so as to leave nobody guessing, I believe it should not have been pulled, and here’s why: Halloween is supposed to be offensive. It’s the one night where people parody and make fun of frightening monsters, authority figures, celebrities, political and cultural issues (as this one is), and, frankly, anything else people are scared of, angry at or downright tired of.

Why else do you see over-sexed nuns, stereotypical rednecks, Bernie Madoff complete with a hammer to whack him with, revealing native American costumes (wow, racist and sexy!), and Obama masks (Obama-care – there’s a scary one!). The list is endless. A couple years ago, the big offensive costume was a guy dressed as a Catholic priest with an altar boy hanging by his … you get the picture. How about Harry Potter costumes promoting witchcraft? How about “evil witches” offending Wiccans?

As of this writing, there’s still a few places that sell this costume, such as here. (Disclaimer: I’ll make a commission on the sale – if you don’t agree with that, click here instead and search for it.)

The point is, poking fun at sacred institutions and cultural values is a healthy part of any civilization. It’s not just free speech – if nobody can poke fun at anything, the line isn’t too far away from a police state. It’s not insensitivity and racism, it’s a cultural safety value – one even the Romans had. More on that later.

Why Do We Celebrate Halloween, Anyway?

Most people will tell you the origins of Halloween comes from the Celtic Samhain, when the line between the living and the dead was weakened. Grotesque costumes were worn to scare away spirits who had come back to possess living bodies.

Medieval Christianity tried to erase pagan traditions by turning them into Christian holidays – hence, the creation of a competing “All Hallows Day” on November 1st – “All Hallows Eve” the night before, or Hallowe’en. (Christmas, too, is originally a pagan holiday.) Irish immigrants (there’s that “i” word again!) fleeing the 1840’s potato famine took this holiday with them to New England (which already had late October traditions, including pranks such as toppling outhouses.)

As our country’s population has shifted from rural to urban settings, Halloween traditions have shifted from the harvest and bobbing for apples to door-to-door trick or treating (which actually has its modern origins in the 1930’s).

Today, there’s another shift occurring. As parents are (alas) too scared to have their kids go door to door asking strangers for candy, the holiday is looking to becoming more of an adult celebration. And with an adult audience comes a more political view of Halloween – thus, instead of the cute princesses, goblins and witches, we now have more easily offensive “sexy” costumes, political masks, stereotypes and, of course, the “illegal alien.” Is this a bad thing? Does it show the moral decline of our civilization?

The Moral Code and the Right to Be Safe

mental institution costumeEverybody wants to be safe. It means you can grow up without being hurt or uncomfortable, both mentally and physically. However, we’re ingrained NOT to expect being safe all the time. We’re still programmed to watch out for lions stalking us outside our caves. But there are no more lions.

The result? We have to subconsciously make up our own fears. Parents believe all neighbors are mass-murderers, so trick or treating is out. Children are no longer allowed to play alone. Terrorists and child abductors are lurking around every corner. Gated communities and massive alarm systems are the norm.

Those of us living a safe, suburban middle-class life want to be scared, if only temporarily. (I certainly do not want an actual lion prowling my front lawn!) Deep inside, most of us wish for our lives to be epic, to be famous or be able to have an evil enemy to do battle with. Why else are Hollywood movies so popular?

Even deeper inside, we sometimes want to lash out at the moral constraints that being safe entails. If everybody is safe, nobody can be uncomfortable, and this means nobody can be offended and hurt. We all have to tread carefully to avoid insulting someone. Can we all restrain ourselves indefinitely? Heck, no! The pressure to be good, inoffensive and docile all the time will build up and eventually burst. We’re all human – none of us is perfect.

Fortunately, there are pressure release valves – violent video games, horror movies, the popularity of the t.v. show House (who offends everybody), the aggression of sports and … I’m finally making my point … the wearing of outrageous costumes.

What Does Halloween Represent Today?

Halloween today looks to be more of a cultural pressure release valve, a day to let off steam (similar to the ancient Roman a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturnalia” target=”_blank”>Saturnalia, where social order was reversed and slaves could insult their masters.). After being angry, frightened and weary after 364 days of watching our language, tiptoeing so as to not offend anybody, and fighting over polarizing issues like immigration and health care reform, not to mention worrying about our paycheck and keeping ourselves and our families safe from real and imagined terrors, we have one day to mock, poke fun of and laugh at all these serious issues and things in our lives.

That is why I justify offensive costumes. Every costume will insult somebody. I’ve been insulted more than once, or shook my head at the bad taste or pathetic attire long on the tooth (another pimp and ho? Please!)

However, I don’t believe people wear them to actually be insulting and mean-spirited. It’s an outlet to mock our beliefs and institutions and to laugh at our fears, if just for one night. It allows us to be someone or something we are not, to act as we normally wouldn’t, with the collective knowledge that we don’t mean anybody real harm. For one night, we can prove to ourselves that we are not so crushed under the moral and serious weight of living day to day and paycheck to paycheck that we can’t sometimes throw up our hands and laugh at it all.

The next morning we’re back to our real and imagined fears, helping others out, trying not to upset anybody, and debating serious political and cultural issues. We’ve let off some steam, the tightness around our shoulders are a bit more relaxed, and the offensive and insensitive costumes go back in the closet for another year.

What do you think? Is Halloween a way to let off some steam without harming anybody, or an excuse to insult and offend others?

Mystic Fortune Telling for Your Spirited Party

 

Image credit: shiekh1939.com

The following is a fun and fascinating contribution from a guest author who really did her homework. Enjoy!

Once upon a time, telling the future was an integral part of Samhain (in Celtic times), and then Halloween (particularly in the late 1800s, at spooky, ultra-phantasmic parties).

Today, there just isn’t as much emphasis placed on fortune telling on that spookiest of days.

We think it’s time to revive a few fun, fascinating and fortune-filled old customs. Today we talk about all things fortune telling, and how you can make your own Halloween party all the spookier AND more, well, telling this year.

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In American Victorian times, fortune telling was one of the most important events at any Halloween gathering.

While “begging” for treats and dressing in costumes was still a few decades in the future, many a 19th to early 20th century maiden could be spotted be sitting in her parlor dropping a hazel nut in the coals of her fire on  All Hallow’s Eve. (She’d have named the nut for the one she loved; if it burned completely, he was sure to always be true.)

The traditions were many, and one or two survived, even to the present day.

Old Spells, Modern-Day Charm

Some old-time charms have disappeared into the mists of history, many have been revived by books and neo-pagan traditions, as well as a general fascination with all things vintage. In their earliest incarnations, these nearly always focused on love, marriage and other coming-of-age areas of interest.

A few of these old traditions are so easy, you can incorporate them into your Halloween party today with just a few simple ingredients. For example, check out these Victorian charms (make them a part of your next spooky gathering!):

A late 19th century marriage-ready girl might peer into a mirror at midnight expecting to see the face of her love. (Remember Bloody Mary, the twisted side to this sort of scrying?)

And “he loves me, he loves me not” with flower petals hearkens to just such love rituals. This is a simple incantation that can be done any time, anywhere but can take on special significance if you sit in a candle-lit dark room on Halloween and take turns slowly pulling the petals.

Charmingly, many of these “spells” are illustrated in antique Halloween postcards, particularly as in the 1910s and 1920s, Halloween parties became the vogue.

Party games were now fashioned with the same goals in mind as the old charms. In the 1912 book Games For Hallow-e’en by Mary E. Blain, one such game is the Dough Test. Here’s how: take water and flour and make dough; write on slips of paper names of several opposite friends; and roll papers into balls of dough and drop them into water. The first names to appear will be the future husband or wife.

The Spirits are Rising: Party “Games” Evolve

Also around the turn of the century, there was great interest in spiritualism, including seances to communicate with those gone on to loftier but perhaps restless pastures.

At this time, although most games were still focused on love and marriage, fortune telling items and games not strictly “Halloween” became popular. Many Halloween party guides of the era, such as the Dennison Bogie Book, suggest having someone perform as a gypsy, or crone, and read the tarot.

Today many Halloween collectors also collect all sorts of fortune telling items. One of the most coveted is the Sybil Fortune Telling Doll, seen here in her original turn of the century composition version and in her 1930s cardboard litho version.

 

In the 1930s cake charms became popular. You can still buys these at some party or novelty stores today. The idea is that you bake these into a cake, and when a guest finds a particular charm in his piece he checks it against the list of fortunes to see what lie ahead for him.

Other popular party fortune telling games were Halloween “punchboards.” These were cardboard pieces with multiple holes. The holes were filled with tightly rolled scrolls of fortunes and covered by a decorative paper front and a paper back. A metal peg was provided so you could punch the fortune through the paper. (This can be a VERY fun craft to make for your next Halloween party.)

Spinner fortune games in which one would use a spinner to point to one’s fortune were also popular. In one version the spinner may point to a symbol that would correspond to an accompanying chart or directly to the fortune.

In other versions the player may be required to do a stunt in order to get his fortune, thereby making the game more entertaining. Some of these spinner type games were Fortune By the Luminous Cat, Whirl-O, and Spin-O-Rama.

Two other interesting versions are a metal spinning fortune top and a metal disc that spins to reveal a window with a fortune underneath. This Halloween fortune game was called “What the Stars Say.” (You can make your own simple version of any of these games by drawing a circle pie-wedge divided, with fortunes written on each wedge; and a pendulum on a chain or dice to land on a pie wedge.)

Most of these games remained popular through the early 1950s and then seemed to lose favor, bowing to a more sanitized Halloween. The new era of Halloween party played more musical chairs and telephone, listened to a spooky story, or played the Grand Prize game.

A Fortunate Revival

Today’s Halloween party goers are once again enjoying the fun and mysticism of fortune telling. They bring their Ouija boards out, bring along a deck of tarot cards, perhaps the hostess bakes a cake with the charms in it or invites a psychic to foretell the future. And of course, tarot cards are more popular than ever.

Halloween collectors eagerly seek fortune telling items and Halloween games for their collections, some antique fortune telling games are extremely valuable. An antique McLoughlin Brothers lithographed fortune telling game, The Mystic Wanderer, recently sold on eBay for $820.

Perhaps you will be wooed to the mystic side of our favorite holiday. What is in the cards for you?

Spiritualism: the Spooky Movement of the 1800s

Mystics seeking answers. Women touching on empowerment. Charlatans lusting after easy money. Depending on your viewpoint, all of these people made up the spiritualist movement.

Spiritualism is defined as “a system of religious beliefs centered on the assumption that communication with the dead, or spirits, is possible.” The movement took the European world by storm in the mid-1800s. Following the thread of reason for spiritualism’s wild popularity can make the researcher a little dizzy.

The world at that time was riding the first waves of the Industrial Revolution. Underground trains, movie projectors, telegraphs and cars were new technologies. The repression of the Victorian era was starting to collide with the demand for social reforms. The new phenomenon of smog was choking the lungs of London’s inhabitants. Women demanded political equality. Activists called for the humane treatment of children and prisoners. Somewhere, hidden in Whitechapel’s darkness, the possibility of violent serial killing was being born. And on the horizon, just distant enough to be ignored if one tried hard enough, a war of worldwide proportions was starting to take shape.

In the struggle against old restrictive religions and traditional ways of working, Europeans were reaching out for new understandings, new rules – even new sciences. Phrenology – the study of the bumps on one’s skull – and mesmerism enjoyed a rush of popularity as Man strove to understand the workings of the mind. Psychology joined the fray. Investigations of the mind were somehow reassuring. This was controllable. This could reaffirm Man’s place in the world and, eventually, even help argue against social reform as one type of human could be argued to be superior to another due to solid physical evidence. For example, men’s brains were larger than women’s, so, clearly men were the smarter gender. No vote, no equality, no voice, next questions please.

It should perhaps not be a surprise, then, that it was the stifled voices of women that would first start to communicate with the dead.

People in Europe had a very different relationship with Death than we ever had here in America. They wrote comedic graveyard scenes into their novels. Lethal diseases became the stuff of nursery rhymes. Photos were taken of the dead and kept as mementos of loved ones. There was, from culture to culture, an ongoing relationship with the dead, and so perhaps it makes a sense of sorts that actual physical communication between this world and the next should be the brainchild of America, the baby-country with no history of art or culture to help define its world-view.

The roots of the spiritualist movement are generally said to have taken hold in New York, under the roof of John D. Fox. His daughters, Katherine and Margaret, decided at the tender ages of 6-1/2 and 8 to start pretending to channel spirits. The sounds of mysterious rapping’s was evidence enough that the girls’ powers were real, and by the time Margaret was 13, the Fox sisters were making public appearances to demonstrate their amazing ability to communicate with the dead.

Eventually, Margaret would publicly admit that the whole thing was a sham. In this, she was far more honest than her Salem predecessors. However, the need to believe is often greater than the need to listen, and her claims of charlatanism did very little to stem the popularity of séances.

The sounds of knocks and thuds were impressive enough evidence of mediumistic skill. But people have always wanted bigger better faster, and so people on both sides of the ocean started looking for new ways to give voice to ghostly voices.

Automatic writing – taking a pen and letting it move free-hand across pages of paper, hoping for messages from beyond to appear in the scribbles – was a very popular method of communication. Encouraging a medium to fall into a trance in hopes of hearing unworldly voices speak from her slumbering body, or mysterious vapors to emit from her mouth, was the most dramatic technique available. Using photographic equipment to attempt to capture the images of ghosts on film was attempted. Elaborate tables were devised and constructed to allow spirits – with the help of a human agent – to spell out answers to questions. This method was tedious but effective, and led to the creation of the infamous Ouija board that is still used today by psychics and bored teenagers to reach out to the dead in hopes of enlightenment or amusement.

Moving into the very early 1900s, spiritualism evolved just a bit. Two girls, playing with a camera in their garden, claimed to be photographing fairies. Today, the photos are very clearly frauds; at the time, and true to the history of believing the fanciful claims of young women, an amazing number of people believed the girls were telling the truth and embraced this as yet more proof that there is more going on around us than our practical minds can bear to consider.

Looking at the history of spiritualism, it can be a little difficult to see how anyone could take all of this seriously. How could superstition be mixed with science to create as powerful a movement as spiritualism – something that would exist, in varied forms, for nearly 200 years? The list of supporters and believers in spiritualism is, frankly, staggering. Walt Whitman and Charles Dickens experimented with trance. Quaker abolitionists Isaac and Amy Post loudly supported the work of mediums and channeled spirits themselves. One of the most surprising supporters of the movement was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Creator of Sherlock Holmes, military hero, medical doctor, and at one time the most well paid author in England, Doyle moved from skeptic to believer and became one of the most influential advocates of mediums and fairy-photographers. He self-published numerous works on the field and lost the friendship of magician Harry Houdini, who fought just as hard to disprove the power of mediums as Doyle fought to support them.

In the end, a belief in spiritualism is about hope. Hope that we can continue to have a relationship with those that have passed away. Hope that, even when the world around is in chaotic flux, there is something beyond all of this that connects our souls and minds. Hope that we have a voice above and beyond our gender, social position, or age. Hope that there is still magic in this world. And if we can just find the right way to reach out, we can touch the hem of all the supernatural fancies we dream of encountering.