Halloween 2017 Round-up

The most popular Halloween cards this year weren’t particularly surprising. A lot of old favorites got shared, but a few new finds also made the rounds. Here are the ones that were most popular on Tumblr and Twitter:

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This went nuts in early October. Folk love confused owls.

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Cats. Insane cats.

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Scary, poorly drawn peepkin.

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Lots of folk thought this was genuinely creepy.

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I still don’t get the shroud thing.

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Yeah…..no.

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Always a favorite. For obvious reasons.

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This one surprised me a bit. Odd look on the cat and moon’s face, but otherwise not particulalry weird.

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Folk love them some vegetable people.

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I was happy to see this one get shared over 100 times because I just think it’s so cool.

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Not an actual Halloween card, but I thought it was really cool. So did lots of other people.

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A new find this year (I think).

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This was the single most popular thing on Tumblr this year. Close to 1000 shares altogether. SHARES! (Not just likes.) Not surprising, I guess.

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Definitely the most popular weird vintage costume picture.

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Wrong in so many wonderful ways. (This was the most popular on Twitter.)

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Who wouldn’t love this inexplicable little gem?

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I love this one so much. I was glad other people did, too.

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Then…this thing.

 

That’s it for Halloween, folks! Things chill out a bit for Thanksgiving. There’s still some oddness, but it’s mostly a lot of kids and turkeys. I’ll sprinkle some Christmas in, too, just for grins.

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Forgotten Halloween Fortunes

I’ve written about the Halloween fortune telling games in the old cards: kale-picking, apple-peeling, and mirror games. And I’ve talked about how some of the cards played with this trend by making up their own ridiculously complicated “spells.”

But there were plenty of other traditions that show up from time to time. You won’t see these repeated too often, but they’re fascinating (and even creepy out of context).

Luggie Bowls

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Luckily, this game didn’t always require a creepy pumpkin(?) headed man leering at you.

Luggie bowls are a tradition that seems to go back to old Celtic areas, particularly Scotland. (Note the hint at tartans in the woman’s dress above.) The game was incredibly popular, and you can find so many versions that it’s hard to pin down anything authoritative. But it generally went like this:

‘Luggies’ are small bowls with handles (‘lugs’). In this tradition, three of them would be filled with different substances and arrayed before a blindfolded fortune-seeker, whose future was fortold by whether he touched the dish of clean water (marriage to a virgin), dirty water (marriage to a widow) or nothing (no marriage would occur). (43)

That’s from Lisa Morton’s excellent Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, which you should just go buy. Morton’s a wonderful horror writer and anthologist to begin with, but she’s also written a lot about Halloween history, and I’ve quoted from this book I don’t know how many times. It’s an incredibly intersting and thoughtful history.

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More Scottish-ness in the language and thistle and tartan.

James Joyce uses the game in his story “Clay” from Dubliners where a woman plays only to have her fate (a continually sad life) turn out just as awful. Robert Burns also makes fun of the game in his poem “Hallowe’en” when a character gets so frustrated at bad fortunes that he throws all the bowls into a fire.

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I know she’s blindfolded because of the luggie bowl game. But this one always make me think of Disney’s most terrifying move ever: Watcher in the Woods.

 

Yarn in the Kiln

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You’re not hallucinating. It will all make sense.

These cards show lime-kilns, a kind of stove used on farms to make quicklime which was would kill the stench of dead animals or people in burials. But they were pretty common. Somehow, it became a Halloween tradition to take a ball of blue yarn, and – I’ll just let Morton explain again:

“In the classic version of this fortune-telling stunt, the girl threw her clew (or ball [of yarn]) into the kiln and would soon find something tugging on the yarn, at which point she cried out, ‘Who holds?’ She would then hear the name of her future husband which – needless to say – was likely uttered by the hidden boy himself.” (38).

I’m still not sure exactly why the kilns became the place for this, but I recall reading somewhere that there were beliefs that fairies of some sort lived in them like burrows.

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I don’t think that ugly dude’s gettin’ lucky if the pumpkin has anything to say about it.

In practice, this became a chance to play all kinds of tricks on people, too, and Morton quotes a story I adore:

There is a story of a tailor having hid himself in anticipation of this mode of divination being resorted to, and when the ball was thrown he caught it and gave the thread a tug. In answer to the question ‘who is this at the end of my little rope?’ he said, ‘I am the devil’ … and the woman to whom this frightful answer was given never tried divination again. (39, from John Gregorson Campbell’s Witchcraft and Second Sight in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland)

The yarn game itself moved around and left the farm, even showing up in cities as well:

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Talk about getting caught in a net! Get it? Because marriage is a trap! It’s lifelong, unsexy S&M! (Sorry…)

 

Eggy Love

I’ve only seen this once, but it’s just so weird-looking:

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Why does the candle smoke guy have a hat?

Egg divination! Apparently called oomancy (I picked that link because the site is so amazingly cheesy), which was new to me, and I thought I was a specialist in weird crap. But from what I can tell, the trick was to read the egg whites for the initials of your future lover. The card shows it making a face that I guess you’re supposed to recognize. But I imagine the actual process was made up on the fly.

Your Lover’s Nuts

There were lots of traditions about roasting nuts over the fire. Sounds like a certain ex-girlfriend, but never mind that. A few of the cards allude to some of them, but no overall trend. Some say the cracks in the shells would be the initials of your lover. Others were more like “he loves me/he loves me not” games, where a nut falling into the fire was bad news. There was even a period where Halloween was called “Nutcrack Night” in northern England because the game was so popular. (Morton, 53)

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I bet you do, you minx…

 

Fortune Cake

A lot like the King Cake from Mardis Gras, baking a cake with a small token in it was a common practice in Ireland and Scotland. Whoever got the ring or prize would either get married in the next year, or marry the cook, or need dental work. Accounts vary. But it does explain why there are a lot of Halloween cards that feature some serious cake lust:

 

“The Dipping of the Sark Sleeve”

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It’s as weird as it looks.

I’m not 100% certain, but I think this card is showing something like the tradition of the “sark sleeve.” Again, Lisa Morton explains it better than me:

Many of the now obsolete fortune-telling rituals involved water, but perhaps none was as popular as the ‘dipping of the sark sleeve.’ [Robert] Burns says this must be performed ‘whare three lairds’ lands meet at a burn’, and at that point a young woman would dip her sleeve in to the water, then return home to set the shirt to dry by the hearth-fire. The lass would then retire to bed, and during the night would see her intended enter the room and turn the shirt, so that the other side would dry as well. (42)

Now, if that’s what’s going on here, that poor person’s love life just got weird…

See any other cards that need ‘splainin’? Let me know in the comments or at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

Feline Fright

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Oh, I avoid them all right.

I’m repeating myself, but it can’t be said enough: I don’t like cats. I’ve explained why before because people really like the cat cards. And I don’t.

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Look at that smug bastard. Taking advantage of little kids! Nice! Asshole…

That’s a natural problem at Halloween because of ye old ubiquitous black cat. Let me say, though, if any of you actually think black cats are naturally evil, don’t be an idiot who makes life awful for animal shelters around Halloween. Attempts to adopt black cats specifically to torture them actually go up around this time of year. People suck, even more than cats.

But even cat lovers have to agree that some of these things are just plain wrong.

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This cat aids and abets evil.

It’s not always that they’re doing weird or creepy things. Sometimes, it’s just that sense that they’re planning something bad for you.

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We would like to eat you while you sleep.

And I can’t decide if it’s worse when you actually see them in the process of gathering an army to carry out your destruction.

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No! Do not sing! You sing of our doom!

Sometimes, though, there’s just this sense of feline insanity that comes through a few of the images.

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Our destiny is to scratch and kill!

Sometimes it’s the feline killer instinct that doesn’t even fear the otherworldly horrific supernatural.

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“I’ll cut you, demon-spawn animate pumpkin thing!”

Sometimes it’s simple murderous rage.

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Those pumpkin people are about to see their own seedy insides.

And sometimes, it’s the sheer terror of the unknown happening inside their tiny, furry bodies that makes me fear the darkness.

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Even the drum knows this is wrong.

You know what…it’s just too much. Here. Just…here. Look upon your end.

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Let’s end on a high note, though. One less cat…

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“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.]

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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?

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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.

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

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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:

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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:

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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.

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The faces in these are more painted on than carved.

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

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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:

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“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:

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

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“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:

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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.

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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.

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“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.

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

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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.

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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:

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“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:

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Whatcha doin’, Billy?

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

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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?

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

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

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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:

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Wasn’t always pumpkins, either.

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

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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.

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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.

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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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I…Wow.

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Intense chicken.

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

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The put a mask on a bloated corpse.

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We dressed as Great Aunts Velma and Maureen.

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Do you think I’m sexy?

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Our plans now are final. We shall do this…

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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References

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