OCTOBER 1997

October rolled around, and it was time for the second online column, as well as the return of the printed column. This was an appropriate time for such a return, as the very first Book Again newsletter appeared one October long ago (1986), and, as you have probably figured out by now, I have always had a special love for all things mysterious and spooky, especially anything associated with Halloween!

Now, I would usually attempt something special for these Halloween columns, and past columns would delve heavily into the realm of "true" ghostly encounters, favorite horrific moments in fiction, etc.

Oddly enough, as of '97 the only column that had ever explored the origins of the holiday itself was the very first one, back in October 1986. In that column I looked at Halloween's ancient origins. It now occurred to me in '97 that it was high time to finally continue the tale, bringing the celebration from Ancient Europe to these shores, and bringing the history into the twentieth century.

A third part, taking us from the 1920's to more modern times, would appear online in October of 2001.

This was the first column to appear in print and online. Now, I had always felt somewhat constrained by the necessity of keeping things brief due to the space limitations inherent in producing a printed newsletter. Finding myself finally free of such constraints (as far as the online edition was concerned), I thereby with this column inaugurated a tradition of presenting a short "teaser" version in print - all that would fit - then directing the reader to our website to get the full version.

This was also the first column to introduce links to other sites. I combed the web for the best Halloween links I could find, but now, in 2003, I have discovered that none of these sites are accessible any longer! I have nonetheless retained the links (and descriptions) for your entertainment . . .

Halloween History - Part 2

 

It's me again, your frightful folklorist! As a long time denizen of the bookstore I can attest to the truth of Mike's experiences - it's true, the books do move by themselves. Either that, or something is moving them around in the dead of night . . .

Now it seems you've had your chills, you've seen the deals, and this newsletter has just a few sentences of . . . life . . . left. In past issues we've discussed the ancient origins of Halloween, and never got much further than the Celts. Here then, is the shortest history of Halloween-in-the-past-200-years you'll ever read:

That's what I said in the "paper" version of the newsletter! However, You the Web Reader are now invited to read this lengthier treatise . . .

Halloween being Druidic (hence Celtic) in origin, it was preserved principally in the areas of Britain the unfortunate Celts were pushed into by the Germanic Angles and Saxons - mainly Scotland and Ireland. It is thanks to the Scots of course that the original "All Hallow's Eve" was turned into the modern "Halloween."

However, though the Scottish brought the name and the original superstitions when they migrated en masse to this country in the 1600's and 1700's, it remained for the great Irish migrations of the 1800's to turn this day from a simple reminder of pagan superstitions to the grand holiday it is today.

The Jack O'Lantern dates from an old Irish legend concerning a "Flying Dutchman" of the marshes - Jack was an unfortunate who ran afoul of the Devil, some saying that he won a pact with the Dark Lord which kept him from going to hell. Unfortunately, when Jack died, he was too wicked to be allowed into heaven, and since the hell thing was already a closed door, he was doomed to wander the marshes for eternity, and can often be spotted by the ghostly light from his lantern as he wends his way through the marshes - especially around Halloween.

This legend was paired with an old tradition of collecting pennies for the dead at this time of year, and it was common to see children going from door to door on Halloween night asking for pennies, using hollowed out gourds with candles inside to light their way, in emulation of Jack's light. This is the root of the modern Jack O'Lantern - the poor pumpkin remained in obscurity in the New World, waiting to be discovered.

The coming of millions of Irish in the mid-1800's to America gave Halloween new significance. The pumpkin quickly supplanted the gourd, and Victorian America liked the idea of a day to playfully give in to archaic superstition. As the century wore on, it became a common practice among younger people to dabble in innocent superstitions on this night - there were a great many rituals for getting a ghostly glimpse of one's future mate - and all would only work on October 31st!

In the meantime, going door to door for pennies was not as immediately taken to, and the resentment of non-Irish Americans for these "thieving Irish children" led to a bit of a backlash. More and more, Halloween became a night for pulling pranks and causing general mischief. This, of course, immediately caught on with children of every descent, and by the turn of the century the situation was out of control.

So it was that wise people throughout the land decided to offer an alternative to the devilish Halloween antics by reinstating and legitimizing the practice of "trick or treating." Halloween was now getting into high gear, and grew so in popularity that in 1921 the first City sanctioned Halloween festivities occurred in Minnesota. Pennsylvania followed in 1922, New York in 1923, and by the end of the decade it had become the national event we know and love today.

If you're reading this you're obviously online. Therefore, I give you a list of some of my favorite Halloween sites. A couple have good links to hundreds of others, so . . .

HAPPY HAUNTING!

[Final notes from 2003: I went through hundreds of Halloween related sites to choose what I considered to be the 4 best. As you can see, not a single site remains!
Funnily enough, however, I left out my favorite place of all (hadn't found its URL as of '97) - a truly delightful (and free) halloween house that has been offering chills to residents of the San Fernando Valley (and hence the greater L.A. area) for thirty years! As it turns out, they are still very much in operation, AND online. I shall be posting the link this October, but I might as well put it here as well.

http://www.hauntinggrounds.org

After all, one ought to have at least one working link, right?]

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