Halloween Customs

Children in Halloween Costumes

Children in Halloween Costumes (22A-24-01 - Purchase Print/Scan)

All Hallow’s Eve--the night when witches and hobgoblins supposedly walk abroad. What began in the 1860s as a night of boyish pranks evolved into a county-wide celebration of parties, parades and fun.

October 31 was a night when many county residents resigned themselves to the annual onslaught of cabbage heads and shelled corn pelting their doors and windows. Wagons and buggies were put on the roofs of outbuildings, and fences were built across public roads.

HALLOWE’EN 1870. “Many pranks were played on our unsuspecting and innocent citizens. We noticed on one gentleman’s door the following card: “No person admitted during working hours.” On another residence was the following: “Oysters, fresh, fried, roasted or stewed at the shortest notice.” Signs were taken from their fastenings and hung in various places. Some person or persons tolled the College bell at midnight.”1

HALLOWE’EN 1881. “The streets were alive early in the evening, but the principal drawback seemed to be the scarcity of corn and cabbage stocks…Instead, the pranksters battered doors and houses with mud, and carried away signs, etc.”2

By the 1880s and 1890s Halloween had evolved, and parties became fashionable. Shippensburg Normal School held a masked Halloween party with a taffy-pull in 1903.3

HALLOWE’EN 1910. “Parties were numerous, and decorations were as novel as the season—Young America also had their time outdoors and acted very well.”4 Parties were held at halls, colleges and at private homes throughout the county in rooms decorated with corn fodder, pumpkin lanterns and black cats. HALLOWEEN 1913.Halloween is becoming one of the greatest holiday nights. Each year sees it more generally observed and the parties held, fun indulged in, and all around good time had. In many towns and cities there are elaborate mummer’s parades. Shippensburg, however, will not have any of these this year…”5

Halloween became even more popular after World War I, as witnessed in a sampling of items in the newspaper in 1919. The Friendly Circle Class of Carlisle's Grace U.B. Church was holding their monthly meeting, and because it was their annual Halloween meeting, they asked everyone to come masked.6 The Ladies Guild of Carlisle's First Reformed Church was holding a sale of cider, pumpkin pie, gingerbread, candy and other goodies at the church on the afternoon of Halloween. The teacher at the Ever Green School House was giving a Halloween social at the school house on Halloween night and said that any money donated would go to the school.7 The girls of Metzger College held an old-fashioned Halloween party in the “darkened corridors” of the school. “The visiting young men were ushered into rooms containing tableaux of historical and literary events. The girls were gowned in white, some with gruesome false faces.”8 Tables in the halls were laden with food. There was music, dancing, apple bobbing and marshmallow contests. Carlisle High School held its annual Halloween social. The “Witches Scene” from Macbeth was performed, ghost stories were repeated, witches roamed, and fortunes were told. Shocks of corn and jack-o-lanterns decorated the rooms and refreshments were served.9

Unfortunately, the residents of Mount Holly Springs would have to forego their night of fun. The following notice appeared in the October 30, 1919 edition of the Carlisle Evening Herald. “The Burgess of Mount Holly Springs has issued an edict forbidding a Halloween celebration. Any violations will be punished.”

The tradition of Halloween parades in Cumberland County began in the 1920s. Bands, floats and both young and old alike, in all manner of costumes, marched along the parade route hoping to win a prize. Halloween parades became so popular that in 1948, 3,000 people watched the Newville parade. The Valley Times Star reported that there were so many and varied costumes and floats in the mile-long parade that “even the judges were bewildered.”10 Trick-or-Treat night had begun, and the Halloween that we know today had arrived.

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John “Black Jack” Wilkins: Cook, Caterer and Hotel Keeper

Scan of John ‘Black Jack’ Wilkins’ 1844 petition to keep a tavern in Hogestown with the signatures of local men who attested to his ability to do so. Clerk of Courts, Tavern License Petition 1844.060.1-2. Cumberland County Archives.

"'Black Jack’ was a famous cook,” wrote Jeremiah Zeamer, editor of the American Volunteer  newspaper. “He had a great reputation as a cook and caterer. Whenever in that part of the county there was a wedding, a dance, or a party of any kind for which a feast was to be prepared, ‘Black Jack’ was sent for to superintend the cooking and set the table, and so well did he do this that he was always in high favor with people who had appetites.”

References (Sources Available at CCHS in bold)

[1] Carlisle Herald, November 3, 1870.

[2] Carlisle Weekly Herald Nov. 3, 1881.

[3] The Star and Enterprise, Newville, November 4, 1903.

[4] Carlisle Evening Herald, November 1, 1910.

[5] The Shippensburg Chronicle, October 30, 1913.

[6]Carlisle Evening Herald, October 29, 1919.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Carlisle Evening Herald, November 1, 1919.

[9] Carlisle Evening Herald, November 1, 1919.

[10] The Valley Times-Star, Newville, November 3, 1948.