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Friday, August 28, 2009

Preparing for Halloween

It's a little early to be thinking about Halloween, unless you're a museum planning for an exhibition. The Halloween: Superstitions & Traditions exhibit will be open September 5th to November 1st.

With installation coming up in just a few days, staff is busy writing label text, selecting artifacts, and steaming Halloween costumes in preparation for display. Here, Collections assistant, Becky Gates, steams a circa 1960 Blue Fairy costume on loan from a private collector.

The exhibit will feature vintage Halloween collectibles such as costumes, trick or treat bags, noisemakers, Jack-o-Lanterns, and postcards.

The origins of Halloween trick or treating are very old, and connected to Celtic and Roman culture, and also harvest traditions. While doing research for the exhibit, I also came across photographs in the collection of Raggamuffin Day. Though this day is associated with Thanksgiving, its parallels to Halloween are striking, including that people (especially children) dressed in costume and went door-to-door begging. The photo of adults dressed in costume for Raggamuffin Day in Waukegan is from 1903.  (Coon-Mason Family Photo Album, 93.30.194, Dunn Museum).

The Thanksgiving masquerade or Raggamuffin Day existed as late as the 1930s and then, according to sources, suddenly vanished. Afterward, Halloween costumes and parades gained national popularity and Raggamuffin Day was all but forgotten.


Anonymous said...

There's an interesting website where people have posted their first hand reccollections of Ragamuffin Day here:

D_Dretske said...

Yes, I came across that site when I was trying to track down details of this unusual tradition. Thanks for sharing the link.