Friday, October 26, 2012

Hallowe'en: Mayhem, Mischief, and a Bit of Ghostly History

Updated October 2018

This updated version of the earlier posting shows a varied celebration of Hallowe'en in my area of southeastern lower Michigan - the metro-Detroit area - and includes snips and bits of Hallowe'en history and lore mixed in throughout. The many pictures and the historical information should hopefully bring what was (and still is) a children's holiday up to the level of adults as well, for, initially, Hallowe'en was actually meant for adults.
Hope you enjoy it..

Yes, you see an apostrophe in the title of this posting. According to the historians at Greenfield Village, this was the way Hallowe'en was spelled over a century ago, for the word "Hallowe'en" is actually an abbreviation of "All Hallows Eve." The "all" and "s" were dropped, "hallow" and "eve" (short for even or evening) became, as your English teacher might say, a closed compound, and, over time, became "Hallowe'en." And, by the way, All Saints Day (originally called All Hallow's Day) is November 1st, the day following Hallowe'en. Since this is a history-based blog, well, it only goes to show that I try to be as accurate as I can...
Anyhow, I've always somewhat enjoyed Hallowe'en, though to me it was not up there with Christmas or the 4th of July, even when I was young. Yeah, I dressed up and trick or treated with my friends way back then; we covered blocks and blocks and would come home with pillow cases filled with sugar-sweetened loot. But, to me, Hallowe'en was just that: a day to dress up funny or scary and get candy. All last minute.
Until somewhat a bit more recently.
The 1750 Giddings Home...with a full moon overhead.
Today, however, Hallowe'en has become a major holiday, with adults turning their front (and sometimes back) yards into scenes of ghostly horrors. In Romeo, Michigan there is even an entire street where every home owner gets involved. It's known as Terror on Tillson Street and we visit every Hallowe'en and, I have to admit, I have never been to anything quite like it. Virtually every house has the most amazing displays of Hallowe'en horrors I've ever seen, and each one is totally different from the other, from graveyards to a pirate ship to a torture chamber to - wait! is that the Charlie Brown gang? - to hearses...and the throngs of trick or treaters was like something out of a Disney movie.
It was really cool.
It sort of made Hallowe' alive (so to speak) - - - 
I have never seen so many trick or treaters than on Tillson Street in Romeo, Michigan
The (mostly) Victorian homes on Tilsson Street really go all out in their Hallowee'n decorations
All that it takes to make a scary scene is a little imagination...
Even something as simple as corn stalks and a jack-o-lantern can make for a spooky display. Of course, Victorian houses help quite a bit, too!
Yes, just a bit spooky...

Wait - - is that a pirate ship? Maybe it's what's left of the Black Pearl!

Ghosts in the attic

Romeo is scary enough in the daytime, but let's check it out at night...on Hallowe'en night!
How'd you like to walk through a cornfield and have these two jacks of the lanterns pop out at you?

The beautiful Victorian homes of Romeo are a perfect stage for creating Hallowe'en horror.

Frightfully cool...!

Jack Skellington and his dog, Zero enjoy an All Hallow's Eve.

Here's an abandoned really is! My son and I were brave enough to walk up to it, on Hallowe'en nonetheless! As I turned around to take a picture before we left, something caught my eye.
Do you see it?
Goblins, imps, fairies, and trolls were thought to do a lot of mischief on Hallowe'en; it was the night spirits were out, and farmers bolted their doors and avoided walking alone at night. This was the night when doors were blocked with carts, or attacked with a fusillade of turnips. Plows and carts were carried off and hidden. Gates were taken off their hinges and thrown into a neighboring ditch or pond. Horses were led from the stables and left in the fields a few miles away.
My daughter-in-law getting into the Hallowe'en spirit...
Then there is Hallowe'en at Greenfield Village. Yes, this historic open-air museum does a fine kid-friendly Hallowe'en presentation, and they utilize much of the Village itself to entertain the thousands of visitors who step through the gates every fifteen minutes. The costumed presenters are dressed in period-accurate clothing of Hallowe'en past, though there is little to no gore; like I said, it's kid-friendly. But there is an eeriness, however, for everything takes place beginning at dusk and into the autumn darkness, and that in itself can be quite spooky. While there, visitors will get to meet a variety of costumed characters interspersed throughout the city streets. They will also meet Ichabod Crane as well as the Headless Horseman, and even experience what it was like to cross a mystic covered bridge much like the one in Sleepy Hollow. In fact, you'll almost feel as if you actually were in that fabled village of Washington Irving's Sleepy Hollow.
Imagine walking down your street and seeing this - - - - Greenfield Village really does a fine job in decorating for Hallowe'en

My daughter did her best to imitate.
Look through any window, yeah, what do you see? No smiling faces all around in the Menlo Park laboratory!
Many of the costumes the presenters wear at Greenfield are based on costumes from story books from the days of old...
...but quite a few of the visitors also wear pretty cool costumes as well.
Yes, the above photo was also taken at Greenfield Village during the Hallowe'en evening event...

The telling of ghost stories on Hallowe'en derives from both the Druids' belief that the ancestral dead arise on this night and the Christian directive to honor the souls of the departed at Hallowmas.
It was only natural, then, at early American harvest time get-togethers, when the communities would gather for such harvest time activities as corn-husking parties, apple paring parties, sugar and sorghum making days, and even at thresherman dinner parties, that ghost stories would become an integral part of these autumn celebrations. Many American ghost stories evolved from actual superstitions and rituals practiced by those who lived in the British Isles. These tales of the ancestral dead were told and retold by the elders to a spellbound crowd, late at night, after all of the activities were done, when the moon was fully risen and the trees outside shook with the autumn wind. That's when people gathered around a fire and told one another tales of the silenced dead lying in graves nearby.
Who's that I see walking in these woods? Why, it's Little Red Riding Hood! And she's at the edge of the Sleepy Hollow forest!
Yikes! The headless horseman is chasing Ichabod Crane!
Ichabod is galloping toward the covered bridge!
But the covered bridge doesn't seem any less scarier...
Greenfield Village truly does a wonderful job in their Hallowe'en presentation! 
What fun!
Now, here is a bit I found about the supposed story behind the story of Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow's" plot and its ties to the American Revolution:
"The story is set in 1790 in the countryside around the Dutch settlement of Tarry Town (historical Tarrytown, New York), in a secluded glen called Sleepy Hollow. Sleepy Hollow is renowned for its ghosts and the haunting atmosphere that pervades the imaginations of its inhabitants and visitors. Some residents say this town was bewitched during the early days of the Dutch settlement. Other residents say an old Native American chief, the wizard of his tribe, held his powwows here before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. The most infamous spectre in the Hollow is the Headless Horseman, said to be the ghost of a Hessian trooper whose head had been carried away by a cannon-ball during some nameless battle of the American Revolutionary War, and who is ever and anon seen by the country folk hurrying along in the gloom of night, as if on the wings of the wind. and who rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head.
This dominant spirit seems to be commander-in-chief of all the powers of the air, and, as noted, is the apparition of a figure on horseback, without a head.
His haunts are not confined to the valley, but extend at times to the adjacent roads, and especially to the vicinity of a church at no great distance. Indeed, certain of the most authentic historians of those parts, who have been careful in collecting and collating the floating facts concerning this spectre, allege that the body of the trooper having been buried in the churchyard, the ghost rides forth to the scene of battle in nightly quest of his head, and that the rushing speed with which he sometimes passes along the Hollow, like a midnight blast, is owing to his being belated, and in a hurry to get back to the churchyard before daybreak."
There just may be some actual history to Irving's 1822 ghost story.
Read on...
"After the Battle of White Plains in October 1776, the country south of the Bronx River was abandoned by the Continental Army and occupied by the British. The Americans were fortified north of Peekskill, leaving Westchester County a 30-mile stretch of scorched and desolated no-man's land, vulnerable to outlaws, raiders, and vigilantes. Besides droves of Loyalist rangers and British light infantry, Hessian Jägers—renowned sharpshooters and horsemen—were among the raiders who often skirmished with Patriot militias. The Headless Horseman, said to be a decapitated Hessian soldier, may have indeed been based loosely on the discovery of just such a Jäger's headless corpse found in Sleepy Hollow after a violent skirmish, and later buried by the Van Tassel family, in an unmarked grave in the Old Dutch Burying Ground. The dénouement of the fictional tale is set at the bridge over the Pocantico River in the area of the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow."
Interesting, huh?

Speaking of Sleepy Hollow, my favorite manufacturer of lighted ceramic houses, Dept. 56, has a Sleepy Hollow collection. You have probably guessed that, yes, I have numerous pieces from this set. It adds to the fall flavors that I love so much this time of year.
A scene right out of Sleepy Hollow.

The Headless Horseman pulls from his grave to grab the head of his next victim
Ichabod Crane scurries towards the covered bridge. By the way, I made that bridge (based on the Ackley Covered Bridge at Greenfield Village) with popsicle sticks.
Not from the Sleepy Hollow series, but this haunted train depot  is pretty cool in that the lights flash and it has sound effects.

My son looking a bit creepy in the fake (but cool looking) cemetery at Greenfield Village 

Other autumn happenings tend to have a Hallowe'en theme, even if that was not the intention. For nearly a decade I participated in cemetery walks. As strange as it may seem, this is a wonderful way to bring local history to life. It also helps to bring people into these villages of the dead to show that they aren't necessarily scary places. In fact, a couple years ago my daughter and I teamed up to portray a long-deceased, um, father and daughter. The tour groups were shocked upon seeing a 10 year old girl acting out the life of a young girl who died at that same age back in 1910. Perhaps the most touching moment was when an elderly couple stayed behind after the tour group moved on and told us, with teary eyes, that they lost their young daughter many years ago and we had helped to bring them closure.
My daughter and I in the Clinton Grove Cemetery in Mt. Clemens, Michigan in 2010. It is very unusual to see a child participate in such a thing - and very gutsy, to be honest.
Sometimes cemetery walks can be a bit creepy...
...especially at night!
Speaking of cemeteries, mourning presentations of the 19th century seems to be on the rise. As reenactments I am seeing more women dressed in the traditional clothing of women who lost a loved one. In fact, at Greenfield Village during the Civil War Days over Memorial Weekend they have an actual house of mourning and will show just what it was like for a family to have lost a loved one back then.
My friend Kim Parr and her friend Stephanie began the mourning program at Greenfield Village's Adams House many years ago. Kim is a mourning historian and does presentations for many historical groups throughout the year.
Kim also portrays mourning inside the Crocker House in Mt. Clemens during the cemetery walks.
Rebecca has a wonderfully mournful photo here, showing the despair of the widow.

Kristen mourned for the loss of her husband, killed in the battle of Fredricksburg in December of 1862. Note the mirror of the dresser is draped with black fabric, for virtually anything reflective (or shiny in many cases) would be covered, such as mirrors and glass of any kind, including picture frame glass.

The widow in mourning looks for her husband's grave...
beckoning him to return to her...
(Taken at Greenfield Village)

Such a sad, sad sight to see, a wife in mourning for her husband. Here, she cannot bear to leave her husband's body lying in the cold ground. (photo courtesy of Heather Persetic)

...but he is there, comforting her from beyond the grave...
(one of my own ghost pictures here taken at Greenfield Village)

And then there are the fun things one can do with the computer, such as make ghost photos. I am no pro at this but I do see myself improving with each passing "trick."
This Firestone Farm ghost picture is a composite of four different photos. I don't have my faux ghost photos perfected yet but I sure do have fun trying!

I wonder if these presenters knew they had a visitor watching them...?

This ominous-looking structure was built in the mid-1700's. I wonder if...hmmm...

Wait-------do you see....?

Could this be Anna Daggett, who died in 1832, still a-waiting for her husband to return?

And what about the little girl who likes to tug on the petticoats of the presenters?
I see you?

A security guard at Greenfield Village heard voices one evening after closing coming from the 1750 Giddings House parlor. Hmmm...I wonder...

Who---or what---is peaking around the corner at the 
birthplace of Henry Ford?

Holy cow! It's coming towards me!

The Commander's house in Historic Fort Wayne located in Detroit can be a mite scary, too!

Spirits seem to like to descend stairs at the Waterloo Farm as well...

And finally, my daughter pictured below loves the TV show NCIS, as do we all in my family. So when she was asked what she wanted to be for Hallowe'en a few years back she did not hesitate one bit in saying, "Abby!" Abby Sciuto is the 'goth' forensic scientist on the show and is probably one of the most recognized characters in television today. It took a bit of searching but I found an NCIS Abby name tag, a white coat, dog collar, a black wig, and my wife did her tats, including the spider web on the neck. My son's then girlfriend (now wife) gave my daughter a pair of her goth boots to wear as well.
Let me tell you, everybody knew who she was. In fact, at one point she was literally surrounded by people saying, "Look! It's Abby!" and camera flashes going off everywhere. Her costume was such a hit that she plans to be Abby one more time for this year.
My daughter as Abby Sciuto 
And here's the last picture for good measure:
Hallowe'en 1965.
Yeah, that's me as Mickey Mouse and my brother, Tom, as a pirate.
Our costumes were so good and made of such high quality that people actually thought we were who we pretended to be!
Every time we yelled "Trick or Treat" at the door, the people handing out candy would say, "Oh My! A scary pirate!" and then, "Oh! There's Mickey Mouse!"
Yeah...we were that good.

I've seemed to have grown to enjoy Hallowe'en a bit more as I've gotten older, mainly due to portraying it more as history rather than scary, though the scary fun is kind of neat, too. I won't go to the various 'haunted houses' that dot the area, however. From what I've heard they're nothing more than a shock-fest set with 'spooks' grabbing people and screaming in their faces.
No, don't want nothing to do with that.
But a haunted hayride might be fun to try...

Until next time, see you in time.

Some of the information in this post came directly from the book
Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History by Lesley Pratt Bannatyne

To read about some of the hauntings inside Greenfield Village, please click HERE

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GinaBVictorian said...

Hi Ken, I totally loved that post! Terror on Tillson St. looks wonderful! There's just something about old Victorian houses all decorated spooky for Halloween! As you'll see on my next post, I try to do that to my house. Your Greenfield Village tour looks great too. With presenters wearing period clothing?! How neat! I wish we had something like that around here. You did a good job on your covered bridge for your village. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful post! Gina

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Gina.
We are going back to Tilsson Street this year - it really is an amazing thing to see. Even my wife, who is not a Hallowee'en person at all, admits that it is pretty awesome.
As for Greenfield Village...they really do it right.
I look forward to seeing your next post!!

Rick Mikulak said...

Hi Ken, enjoyed this recent post. You take us on a trip all around the city, both past and present. Keep up the great work.

Rick Mikulak said...

Thanks, Ken.