19th century Halloweens: the Treats


hallotreats7Halloween is almost upon us, so it’s time for part 2 of Trick or Treating, 19th century style.  To read about the Halloween “tricks” pulled in the 19th century, click here for last week’s post.

Today, it’s all about the treats!  What kind of fun did Victorians have at Halloween?

The Entertainment:

The Victorians bobbed for apples, carved pumpkins, decorated, dressed up, and threw parties, just as we do today.  Dances and feasts were quite popular back then.  In addition, the Halloween revelers of the 19th century engaged in a number of ancient customs.  A lot of them had to do with courtship and marriage, so it’s easy to imagine the appeal of Halloween gatherings for the younger set.

The planchette – a precursor to today’s Ouija board – could answer questions from the “spirit world” through pencil tracings on paper  (For more about the 19th century planchette, click here).  The burning of the “nits” (“nuts” in Scottish lingo) was a time-honored tradition, and how the nuts burned – while the youth or maiden watched, thinking of a certain someone – determined how faithful the object of his/her affections actually was.

If the methods above weren’t enough to clarify things for an eager young lady, here are two more rituals for predicting a future suitor, detailed in an 1892 New York Times article:



You’d have to be one determined gal to be rubbing lemon peels on bedposts and grinding nut mixtures into pills to swallow.

This 1895 article from The New York Times describes a few other customs of interest:


For more about the customs and origins of Halloween, check out this post.

The “Costumes”:

Well, not really costumes as we think of it, but every Halloween cotillion, ball, or barn dance needs a gown for the occasion.  Here are some suggestions from The Salt Lake Herald, October 28, 1894 (apologies for low resolution):



Here’s a fetching outfit:


…because nothing goes better with brown eyes than wearing a bat on one’s head.

Let’s not forget the blondes:


I’m not sure what Halloween custom the sketch above refers to, but it doesn’t look very safe, does it?  And why did the artist make it the blonde who’s leaning in toward a lit candle, while blindfolded?  Hmm…


hallotreats6This is just a snippet, really, of the multitude of Halloween traditions and celebrations, but I’m sure it makes clear that those Victorians really knew how to throw a party!

Many thanks to everyone who attended Misterio Press’s Facebook Halloween Party on Friday.  We had a blast, enjoying digital cocktails and hors d’oevres, playing fun trivia games, sharing ghost stories, costume pics, recipes, and more.  An abundance of SWAG was given out, too!  Special thanks to Misterio Press author Kassandra Lamb, who worked tirelessly to make the event a success.

Wishing you a safe and fun-filled Halloween!

Until next time,


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27 thoughts on “19th century Halloweens: the Treats”

  1. Julie GloverJulie Glover

    Lemons? Who knew?!!! What interesting traditions, and I find it fascinating that the style of dress depended on the color of your hair. Thanks for sharing, Kathy!

  2. shannon espositoshannon esposito

    I love how traditions change over time. So glad the one where you put items in a baked cake isn’t still popular… I would definitely be the person rushed to the ER from choking on a thimble. lol!

  3. Jenny HansenJenny Hansen

    Yes, let’s NOT forget those blondes. LOL. I’m with Julie…I think that’s just fascinating.

  4. PatriciaPatricia

    Dipping their noses in flour? Weird. Nowadays, having white powder on your nose would be misconstrued for sure. “Officer I was dipping my nose in flour to find my future mate. Really I was. It’s flour.”

    Yeah, right.

    As always, very interesting stuff.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  5. Margot KinbergMargot Kinberg

    Kathy – This is so interesting! I knew that the Victorians were interested in the spirit world, so I’m not surprised about the use of the planchette and related things. I’ve also heard of other (non-Halloween related) traditions they had to determine one’s future mate. One I’ve read about was putting a piece of wedding cake under one’s pillow; one would dream about one’s future spouse. Can you imagine what that did to the sheets? No, thanks.

  6. KirstenKirsten

    I collect vintage Halloween postcards, from the early 1900s, and many of them relate Halloween “spells” to find out about the man you’ll marry. My favorite is where you walk backwards down a set of stairs and look into a mirror over your shoulder. Presumably you’ll see a vision of the man you’ll marry in the mirror… if you don’t trip over your long gown and break your neck!

  7. Sharla RaeSharla Rae

    This is a fun series! Thanks for sharing.

  8. Kassandra LambKassandra Lamb

    Aww, thanks, Kathy! The party was a blast. I think we´ll do a repeat next year.

    And I love your post. I´m a little afraid to find out what redheads like myself are supposed to wear. LOL

  9. Amy KennedyAmy Kennedy

    As always so dang interesting! I love the newspaper columns and your comments on the sketches!

  10. Gloria RichardGloria Richard

    Laughed out loud over your comment on the bat befitting a brunette. What’s up with that?

    And, I think the editor of these pictures must have had a thing for blondes. Not only is she leaning blind-folded toward a candle, but it appears her breasts point forward while her torso faces the candle.

    Thrilled I didn’t live in a time when all celebrations for young women were supernatural ideas for finding their future mate. IMHO there is nothing super or natural about that.

    Fascinating Intel, as always, K.B.

  11. Emma BurcartEmma Burcart

    Wow, they went to some extremes to find out about men! It seems more fun to wait and see what the future has in store. But I do like the idea of a ball gown so much more than a costume. That is my kind of holiday!

  12. Jess WitkinsJess Witkins

    Beautiful gowns! Are you sure this isn’t a Jane Austen party? Either way I’m in!!

  13. PhilPhil

    Great post! Love seeing the old ads/news snippets for Halloween costumes. So many strange traditions back then.

    Happy Halloween!


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