19
Oct
by: Danielle Dumont
stored in: General

The hallowed eve of ghosts, ghouls, and goblins is nearing. In the chilly night, a dog bays outside the window. I peer hesitantly into the dark rooms of my house, but I have yet to be spooked by a restless soul.

If I were to meet a ghost, from the earliest years of our Huffman neighborhood, I might be surprised that it would not be a scary witch, bloody demon, or other sort of evil spirit. Instead, it might be a cheerless old maid who never married. 

Turns out, Halloween was celebrated in Victorian America as a holiday of fondness, not fright. 

Fortune-telling and séances were popular mid-18th-century Halloween activities focused on romance. Many a young woman wanted to find out the name of her future husband. And she innocently believed that a benevolent spirit from the dead might tell her this secret. Young people also played match-making games and secretly exchanged love letters on Halloween. What Victorian ladies feared most was not finding a love by late autumn, and being doomed to spending a cold winter alone. Frightful!

Communing with departed souls is not unique to a Victorian Halloween, however. It goes back to the ancient Celtic roots of the holiday, which remembered and celebrated the dead. The tradition also remains alive in Huffman today. One of our neighbors displays a life-sized mummy in her parlor year-round. (She is interested in Egyptology.) My house? No ghosts or mummies. It’s haunted only by a frightening collection of cobwebs.

5 Responses to “Halloween in Huffman, Victorian-style”

  1. John Robinson Says:

    Our old maid has, apparently, been hanging around our old Victorian house since the 1850s. She is far from cheerless, however, and prefers hiding socks and knocking stuff off the dresser to screaming “Booo!!.” I must admit that we haven’t actually seen her, but our two German Shepherds, Maggie and The Bear, see her regularly. From a dead sleep, they will both wake up and, on full German Shepherd alert, stare at some blank spot in the corner. After several beats, they will both turn and look at us as if to say, “Do you guys see her, too?” We play along. After all, we don’t need two already spoiled dogs to think they have special talents that we lack.

  2. Joel Michael Says:

    I wish we had an old maid to dust our cobwebs.

  3. Joanie Amato Spain Says:

    I hesitate to admit this, although I have already admitted to sitting on my front porch drinking ale and talking in a fake British accent, so what the heck? My maternal grandparents were Spiritualists during the heyday of the movement in America. I grew up hearing about trances and seances, table tapping, slate writing, and messages from the dearly departed. My grandfather eventually abandoned Spiritualism for the more intellectual world of Theosophy, but Grandma continued to attend camp meetings and seances. Somehow, I feel very comfortable in a Victorian neighborhood!

    *Disclaimer: my American Baptist husband in no way thinks that an eclectic spiritual heritage contributes to eccentricity, superstition, or paranoid delusions. No need to ask him about that. You can just take my word for it!

  4. Danielle Dumont Says:

    Joanie, we–a former-Catholic atheist and a former-Methodist agnostic–DO think that your eclectic spiritual heritage contributes to your eccentricity. But that’s what’s great about you!

  5. Joanie Amato Spain Says:

    Neighbors: several of you have phoned and emailed asking if you missed an impromptu ale-drinking-British-talking porch party at the Spain’s. The answer is NO. I was referring to an earlier blog post, “Round About Etiquette” http://historichuffman.org/?paged=8

    I will gladly let you know when we have the next impromptu porch party. [talking with a British accent is strictly optional at any gathering]. Thanks for following the blog so close as to notice!

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