“Over the Garden Wall” and Vintage Postcards

[First, please, if you haven’t seen Over the Garden Wall and you like my site, make it a point to watch it before October 31. It’s my favorite Halloween special, even more than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! It’s also one of my favorite animations of any kind — simply wonderful in every way.]


Over the Garden Wall earns its charm from a mix of nostalgia, mystery, and humor. Those are the same things I love about vintage postcards. I didn’t make that connection the first time I saw the miniseries.

But the next year when I was browsing through my old Halloween cards, it hit me how similar a lot of the images used in OTGW were to the things I share.

Then I finally watched “Tome of the Unknown,” the first pilot made by Patrick McHale (creator) and Nick Cross (art director). I saw old John Crops and his vegetable/fruit car, and I knew it couldn’t just be a coincidence.



The shape of the cut in the watermelon, the multiple layers for seats, the cucumber wheels, the gourds/headlight/mirror-things, even the way they turned the stem into a crank, I mean even the camera/viewpoint angle: it was a plain match. And that’s a pretty popular card, too — so much that people have even made actual models of it — so it’s no stretch that McHale had seen it.

Then The Art of Over the Garden Wall came out, and it confirmed what was pretty obvious by this point: McHale had used a lot of these old cards even back when he was pitching the show.


Christ Tsirgiotis called them weird! He knows my name!

Some episodes show a stronger influence than others. And that makes sense since each one is supposed to be a different mini-adventure in a different part of the Unknown. But now I had a project: I went through my collection to find examples of the kinds of things McHale might have had in mind for different parts of the show. And I was thrilled by how much I found.

Please know that I’m not at all suggesting they somehow “stole” these ideas. The show is intentionally borrowing from all kinds of old styles and moods and reproducing them in this new world. Plus, as Art of… makes plain, by the time anything actually made it onto the screen, it had been through a host of concept artists, storyboarders, animators, and freelancers, so to suggest than any one idea came specifically from one source is ludicrous.

But to it. I don’t have cards relating to every episode, but I’m still looking. And if anyone else has good finds, please let me know (weirdxmas@gmail.com).


“The Tome of the Unkown” (Pilot)

I already mentioned the car, but John Crops himself is a throwback to a really popular trope of vegetable people that you can find all over old postcards and turn of the century advertisements.



The folk in the “big city” and the band entertaining them also fit the bill.


There are hundreds if not thousands of these vegetable and fruit people out there.

And, of course, John Crops’ new love is a pretty dead ringer for these folk, too.


Series Intro/Outro

The montages at the beginning and end of the series have a few nods to the old cards. The one that hits closest, though, is the turkey wagon:


I swear there’s a card out there showing two turkeys pulling a wagon of pumpkins, but for the life of me I can’t find it.

Now (spoiler, I guess), in the final outro, we find out that Enoch, the pumpkin leader guy from the second episode, is actually a black cat, probably the one driving the pumpkins up above. But he pops up out of the Enoch pumpkin.


Whatever else we think that means in terms of fan theories, it’s an idea that’s all over the cards. And, granted, black cats and pumpkins are pretty standard Halloween images, so it’s no surprise they’re matched up. But just take a look at a few of these:


Something about cats being in charge of pumpkins or having some kind of dominance over them is definitely a trend. And, for some reason, this one just makes me think of Enoch:


Something about the sense of control is very Enoch.


“The Old Grist Mill” (Episode 1)

The first episode doesn’t have much to do with the old cards, but I think it’s odd how similar Wirt’s hat is to this card that’s always bugged me. Plus, with the whole anthropomorphized black cat thing with Enoch…who knows?


Otherwise, I feel the first episode pretty much has its own vibe.


“Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” (Episode 2)

McHale says that this is one of the first episodes that they produced, despite airing second, so it makes sense that it probably owes most to the postcards for its mood.

First, many of the older Halloween cards (and often the Thanksgiving ones) try to create a nostalgic sense of early rural American autumn. The cornfield, the barn, and even the empty field where Wirt has to dig at the end all have a generally similar feel to the mood that many of the cards are going for.


Background from “Hard Times…” (Art of OTGW)

Autumn Mood

Granted, it’s a bit generic. But, still, the general pastoral feel of the whole thing fits.

But the strongest connection is of course the pumpkin people of Pottsfield. And Nick Cross says that many of them were straight from the cards:


Enoch’s pumpkin is definitely a “painted-on” pumpkin instead of a carved jack-o-lantern, and the citizens are a mix of paint and carved. But the one guy that just smacks me in the face as so close to one of the cards is this one:


Lots of pictures of people carving pumpkins, but the pose and placement of this is too perfect.

For the others, “pumpkin people” were all over the Halloween cards. The thing that makes the connection to the Pottsfield people closer than just a pumpkin head, though, are the arms and legs that seem sometimes like wrapped limbs of hay.


The faces in these are more painted on than carved.

There’s also this fun similarity with the pumpkin/cat dance:


There’s also a moment that goes by so fast, it easy to miss: two pumpkins are peeling apples, and then they throw the peels over their shoulders. But they’re not just throwing the peels on the ground. There was an old Halloween party game where you could find out the identity of your future lover by peeling apples and throwing them on the ground. It was a big theme of many of the old cards, and I wrote about it here. But these two pumpkin-lovers are obviously playing this game with each other:


“Listen, Little One! On Hallowe’en, throw an Apple Peeling over your shoulder and if it spells ‘kiss’ go to it. Its bound to work, girls. Any old thing looks like kiss to the right fellow if the time, place, and the girl are there.”

Enoch in his full costume also looks a bit like a few cards that put a pumpkin head on top of big stalk of, I assume, corn:


On top of that, there are just a bunch of old, weird cards out there that seem Pottsfield-esque.




“Heaven and How to Get There.” This one I can’t help but find connections with…


“Schooltown Follies” (Episode 3)

According to Art of…, “Schooltown Follies” draws inspiration from a lot of different sources: “There was a lot of talk about Our Gang, Anne of Green Gables, and Shirley Temple while making this episode” (101). McHale also mentions Dogville Comedies, old shorts made with real dogs in human clothes. And Richard Scarry’s childrens’ books are also pretty clear analogues.

That said, there are still a few old cards that show similar things:


The compliments of the Season. Victorian Christmas card

I would love to find a card with potatoes and molasses on it, tho…

“Songs of the Dark Lantern” (Episode 4)

This episode is another that’s doing something quite different from the vibe of most of the old cards. But I did come across one thing that I couldn’t help but compare the Highwayman.


Probably not. But, still, the weird angles and dancing oddness of the card…


“Mad Love” (Episode 5)

On this one, I have to admit that I’ve come up blank. McHale says that it began as a dream he’d had, and I’ll leave it at that.


“Lullaby in Frogland” (Episode 6)

McHale mentions an odd stop-motion video called Frogland as one of the main inspirations for this episode. But anthropomorphic frogs were a huge part of the old postcards, something I’ve talked about before. I also know that he posted an image from the McLoughlin Brothers company on his twitter awhile back, saying that their style was a big influence on this episode.

But there are so many cards showing frogs in fancy dress and/or playing instruments that it can’t hurt to share a few here.









“The Ringing of the Bell” (Episode 7)

Auntie Whispers is my favorite character of the series. I actually think she’s a nod to Studio Ghibli and Spirited Away in particular (Yubaba), something that this video brings up as well.

But there are a couple of cards that just seem like Auntie to me, whether or not they had anything to do with her.


There are also a few “hearth” cards that seem a bit like Whispers’ house.

Auntie Whispers.jpg



If only I could find old cards with small, black turtles…

“Babes in the Wood” (Episode 8)

Most of this episode was a nod to an old sentimental opera about children lost in the woods. It came back in animation as Hansel and Gretel: An Opera Fantasy and the Silly Symphony short Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

But one small detail is straight from the old postcards: the disembodied angel heads.


And there are indeed a ton of cherubs that are depicted on these cards as completely disembodied heads with wings.





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“Into the Unknown” (Episode 9)

Since this episode is a flashback to the “real” world, there’s not much nostalgia for early Americana going on (or at least pre-70s/80s). However, on the DVD commentary, McHale says that they modeled a bunch of the kids’ Halloween costumes on images of old costumes they found online (and I’ve posted my share here). He mentions the egg girl’s costume in particular, and I’m pretty sure this is the one he means:



“The Unknown” (Episode 10)

Dare I say it? I don’t have anything for this one. This episode is its own beast…


Wrap Up

Were the postcards’ influence necessary to the mood of the show? As much as I’d love to say yes, I don’t think so. The throwback nods are even more about old cartoons and animation styles, but the mood and oddities in the cards were certainly part of the atmosphere that McHale was trying to create from the beginning. Personally, I was thrilled to find two things that grab me match up so well. And, one day, if McHale or Cross ever read this, I’d love to know if they still have those cards and which ones they actually looked at during production.

Until then, though, if anyone else finds something simliar, please let me know. Comment or email me at weirdxmas@gmail.com.




Peeping Pumpkins

Creepiness is in the nausea and shivers of the disturbed. It’s hard to say what’s actually going to creep most people out because some of us freak at jump scares, some get grossed out by innards, and some are terrified of garden gnomes (true story). But this trend bugs the hell out of me:


Whatcha doin’, Billy?

Peeping Pumpkin cards. And there are a lot of them.


I like your doggie.

There are far too many old Halloween cards of pumpkins staring at children through windows with these hungry leers on their faces. And, granted, I know they’re supposed to be generically scary. But, come on, things spying on children when they’re vulnerable?


‘Sup, girlies? Wanna know what’s under my skirt?

It just leads to far too many, well, criminal suggestions. But they kept coming.


Is it better or worse to know there’s an actual human out there?

And just to add to the ick factor, you’ll also see a lot of cards with the same thing pointed at young women. At least this one shows them taking some kind of protective measures:


Wasn’t always pumpkins, either.

But most of the time, they were just frightened victims:


Pluck. Sure.

Really, though, it keeps coming back to creepy things staring at children in totally unhealthy ways.

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She’s getting ready for bed, and you’re smiling as you watch. Nice.

I suppose this is better than what we’ll see in a couple of months at Christmas time. You expect goblins and ghosts and monsters to be creepy.


I think this kid’s bigger problem is that his house is floating in space.

There are even more cards of Santa and St. Nick staring at children through windows. Ah, the joys of the holidays.


You are prey, children.

Halloween Costumes OF DESPAIR!

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Disease or costume? You be the judge.

Before you could grab a cheap mask at the drug store, you had to make your own costumes. And some people weren’t very, well, good at it, especially in the pre-Pinterest world. Luckily, other peoples’ miscues provide plenty of nightmare fuel for us.

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Scoliosis was a popular costume in the 50’s.

Some of these costumes are all over the internet as clickbait, but I thought I’d still throw up (pun intended) some of my favorites. And please send me any you find, too! (weirdxmas@gmail.com). I’ll post more as they come in this month.

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There’s a story behind this that I don’t want to know.

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She can’t blink. Sad.

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Baba Yaga!

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Real guns. America!

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I know it’s an old, old picture. I still want to run away.

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And whose childhood are you ruining today?

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Probably not a Halloween costume. But, come on, this is too, too good.

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Apocalyptic sewer rat cosplay.

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We spread a message of doom.

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Intense chicken.


“But, mom, it’s not finished yet!” “JUST GO OUTSIDE!”


The put a mask on a bloated corpse.


We dressed as Great Aunts Velma and Maureen.


Do you think I’m sexy?


Our plans now are final. We shall do this…


That’s intense, disturbing commitment to a costume.

It’s hard to know sometimes what’s actually creepy, terrifying, odd, strange, or just misinterpreted. I’m sure many of these, especially the kid ones, were meant to be amusing. But a little anachronism never hurt anyone, right? RIGHT?

Making Halloween Difficult


Yarn. Throw it. Then do some stuff, and…yeah.

Halloween used to be a time for regular people to cast spells and get their fortune told. “Good Christians” could be reassured that this was all just a game and play along with darker, mysterious forces in safe way. Or so it’s fun to think. Mostly, this meant games trying to figure out who you’d fall in love with, which were probably just a socially acceptable way to flirt at parties. You would carve an apple, or look in a hazy mirror, or even pick a cabbage. (Yes, cabbage. Even kale, before kale was koole.)

But sometimes, things went overboard, as things often do.


So, find an owl at just the right time, catch it, pluck a feather, eat it (wash it first?), and someone will ask you to marry them between midnight and 6:30 am.

A lot of the cards have these elaborate, overly detailed rituals you’d have to follow which seem far more complicated than they should be.


Wait, first get a hand held mirror. Then you gotta walk backwards after figuring out how long a damn “rod” is. Oh, and hold a lit candle! Then you’ll meet your fate which, by that time, is probably falling down and setting your house on fire. Especially if there’s a horde of black cats running behind you.

Some of this may be due to the fact that in the early 1900’s, Halloween parties became a big “thing.” According to Lisa Morton, this was a very intentional way to get1898book kids, especially boys, off the streets and away from pranks. (Morton, 69) There were even books and pamphlets, like the popular Hallowe’en: How to Celebrate It by Martha Russell Orne, detailing games, decorations, and party activities to keep your guests occupied. I’m guessing some of these cards are drawing on the kinds of “advice” given by pamphlets like these rather than talking about long-held traditions that have an actual history.


Run to your room without being seen…yeah, pretty sure this is just an excuse to steal up there and neck with your “friend” without getting caught.

But maybe not. Maybe these cards hold secrets to effective methods of divination. Maybe if I follow this, I’ll find out that I shouldn’t have married my wife but should have totally gone for that sweet, sweet chick back in high school who, last I heard, had 5 kids, a couple sources of alimony, and a police record.


I’ve shown this before, but, still…that’s a lot of damn work. I mean, what if your garden doesn’t have beets?

But I doubt it.


What if the feather isn’t a peacock’s but a dove’s? Or a mockinbird’s? Or a standardwinged nightjar’s?

My bet is that some poor copywriter was told he had four hours to fill the blank space on these cards with “spells,” and he spewed out some crap.


Again…the set up for this is far too effort-heavy for my tastes.

I don’t want to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm, though. If you’re up for it, give any of these a shot and let me know what happens. Just be sure to set aside a couple of weeks for all the prep work.











Morton, Lisa. Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween. (London: Reaktion Books, 2012).

Apple Peels for Love

Halloween Apple Peel

“S” for Sampo!

Along with the mirror “spell,” apples appeared in many divination games at Halloween parties. Apples are common harvest fruits, and we’re familiar with bobbing for apples, cider, and apple treats eaten in the autumn. But for a time, Halloween was directly associated with apples, even being called “Snap-apple Night” in some parts of England and Scotland. (Morton, 53)

“Snap-apple” itself was a game where players attached one end of a stick to an apple and the other to a burning candle. The whole thing was spun, and the players tried to bite the apple rather than get a mouth full of hot wax. (Morton, 53) Now, some call the game of trying to grab a hanging apple with your mouth “Snap-apple,” but there’s no way that’s as entertaining.


Um, what is she reaching for?


One of the most common Halloween games in the 19th century used apple peels for fortune telling. A young man or woman was to peel an apple and throw the peel on the floor. Then they interpreted the peel’s shape to learn about their future mate, either through letters of initials or shapes resembling suitors.


Apparently lots of girls would be marrying “S” guys.



She’s a little young to worry about this yet.

In most examples, the young woman had to throw it over her shoulder to get the effect.


She’s gonna keep trying until she gets a “J” for Josephus.


Other versions seemed more immediate, apparently giving young couples some “instructions” on how to behave.


“Any old thing”


It’s interesting how often peeled apples and even loose peels appear on the cards even when there’s no mention of lovers or even when depicting children obviously too young to care. Still, the icon was as ubiquitous as pumpkins and spiders are today.


Creepy ass owl.


Of course we’re now familiar with bobbing for apples, at the very least from It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. But many other games involving apples were also popular, some suggesting a fortune-telling aspect and others just for fun.




Morton, Lisa. Trick or treat: A history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.


Halloween Mirror of Love


So is the mirror cutting that guy in half?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Halloween was a time for parties. These weren’t the elementary school kids parties with monsters and candy and haunted houses. Instead, they were adult parties where the main events were games for young adults to learn about their future spouses.


You’ll never escape the kitchen!

One of the most common involved mirrors. Although there were countless variations (as you can see by the differences in the cards), most of them involved gazing into a mirror on Halloween night in order to see the face of your beloved.


They have matching hair color!

Some versions said this had to be done right at midnight, most often carrying a candle. (Bannatyne, 73)


Call me crazy, but I’d be freaked out by a dude in the mirror behind me.

Others required you to eat an apple while looking into the mirror. (Some even mixed this with the apple peeling game.)


I’m guessing the ring is also a mirror…

Some required the young woman to brush her hair before the spell could work. (Bannatyne, 75)


Uh, that’s just a picture behind you.

A few went all out and figured that if one weird task was good, lumping them all together was better.


Gotta gather the reagents of the spell won’t work.

Some of the strangest required a young woman to walk down the stairs backwards at midnight while holding a mirror. Not exactly the safest way to do it.


She almost made it down!

It’s no surprise that this game was ripe for pranks and tricks, and many of the cards show people trying to scare those taking the game a bit more seriously. There are also legends that the game could backfire in terrifying ways Lisa Morton quotes a tale about just that:

A lady narrates that on the 1st of November her servant rushed into the room and fainted on the floor. On recovering, she said that she had played a trick that night in the name of the devil before the looking-glass; but what she had seen she dared not speak of, though the remembrance of it would never leave her brain, and she knew the shock would kill her. They tried to laugh her out of her fears, but the next night she was found quite dead, with her features horribly contorted, lying on the floor before the looking-glass, which was shivered to pieces. (Morton, 39)


Some see lovers, some see cultists.

I still haven’t quite figured out where it came from, but it may just be an old folk tradition that became a game. Still, I prefer this to saying Bloody Mary three times and freaking myself out.


Dear God, it’s evil!



Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1990.

Morton, Lisa. Trick or treat: A history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

Of Cabbages and…Kale?

The strangest Halloween cards usually depict lost or regional traditions. They’re odd because of the anachronism, not because the makers were insane (or at least they were insane for different reasons).

Most of the early cards depict fortune-telling games. These made up the main event at parties before trick-or-treating was a “thing.” My guess is that these became so popular partially because Halloween was the one time of year where it was socially acceptable to participate in “witchcraft” (of a very innocent sort) and being able to play at casting “spells.” (Whether we think of it as All Souls’ Eve or Samhain or the end of the Celtic year, the day has always been a time when you had to protect against spirits but could also play with that spooky other world in fun ways.)

For the next few posts, I’ll describe the rituals that appear on the cards and explain the source and significance. That said, it’s still more fun just to think WTF!? when you see a lady throwing an apple peel over her shoulder with the caption “Merry Halloween!”

(Other posts in this series:

Of Cabbages and, uh, Kale!


I hope he doesn’t look like any of these guys, honestly.

That’s not a poorly drawn vegetable costume. Cabbage and kale were a huge part of Halloween fortune-telling traditions, especially in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Like most of these Halloween games, the point of “kaling” was for young people to learn about their fate in love.

Robert Burns’ poem “Halloween” sums it up nicely (and you should really read the whole hilarious thing):

Then, first and foremost, through the cabbage,
Their stalks are sought at once;
They touch their own, and grasp and choose,
For very strong and straight ones.
Poor fellow Will fell off the drift,
And wander’d through the cabbage,
And pulled, for want of better shift,
A cabbage like a pig’s tail,
So bent that night. [Modern English version]



You have now read the phrase “wise cabbage heads.”

In sum: you’d run out in the field (some insist at midnight) and yank up a stalk of cabbage (Ireland), kale (Scotland), or sometimes leeks (Wales). The shape, length, and even taste of the stalk would tell you a lot about your future mate. Short and thick? Plan on cooking a lot. Withered and old? You’d probably snag a widower. You could even guess the size of your dowry (or your spouse’s wealth) by how much dirt was on the stalk. It left a lot of room for interpretation: crooked could mean deceitful, but it could also have a bit more of a literal…translation. (Miller, 38; Bannatyne, 72)


This one starts in with a bit of the ole’ guilt for wanting to know the future.

Some sources say that couples were to pull them together to find out if they were compatible. Others say it was less about the type of person you’d get but whether or not you’d be married within the year (only if your stalk come up whole rather than broken off).


The blindfolds are new to me.

When the tradition came to America, it got a bit more mischievous. On what came to be called “Cabbage Night” (or sometimes “Cabbage Stalk Night”), it was common to go out to the cabbage fields (sometimes only after crossing a graveyard to make it work) and fling the cabbage at houses. (Miller, 66) Maybe they did it after the spell, or maybe the Yanks dropped that whole bit and went straight for the vandalism. USA!


You got your kale in my mashed potatoes! You got your…yeah, you know.



Cabbage also made it into a food-based game more common with cake but still very much part of the traditional Halloween meal: colcannon. This mix of mashed potatoes, onions, and kale would also have various tokens like a ring or coins, and, according to the particular game, if you got one of these in your portion, it would tell you how long before you could expect to be married. Apparently finding a thimble would mean you’d die a spinster. Either way, I’d fear for my teeth. (Smith)

I’ve yet to find a card with this (admittedly tasty) mush. (Yeah, I made some.) But I promise to keep looking. In the meantime, sleep on this:


Why does the moon look so sad?

One last bit: I haven’t found anything about beets or root-vegetables in particular, and the beet one’s more about how long the picker will live. Still..head out to the garden on the 31st and fortune-tell…something!


Carrot? Parsnip? Any other guesses?


That fairy-thing looks a tad peeved that you’re taking his beets, yo.


Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1990.

Morton, Lisa. Trick or treat: A history of Halloween. London: Reaktion Books, 2012.

Smith, K. Annabel. “The Halloween Tradition Best Left Dead: Kale as Matchmaker.” Smithsonian.com, 2012.