A Tradition from Across the Sea Takes Root in America
It’s that time of year when all over the country pop-up stores are popping up with fake spiderwebs, life-size plastic gravestones and spooky skeletons. Halloween might not have originated in the United States, but we’ve certainly embraced it and given it a full, Americanized life of its own.
Rooted in the old Irish holiday Samhain, Halloween was brought to America by Irish immigrants. Samhain was believed to be a magical, liminal time when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld was easily crossed. Rituals and games like trick-or-treating, bobbing for apples and carving jack-o-lanterns are all old celtic traditions. When the veil was thin, children and the poor would go door to door and beg. Asking for food or money, they offered songs and prayers on behalf of the patron’s dead. The Irish would also carve scary faces into turnips, and leave them outside their homes so spirits would think they were one of them, and simply move on past the house.
Today trick-or-treating is popular as ever and carving pumpkins on Halloween has become a tradition as American as fireworks on the 4th. In fact, not far from the 50ROOTS headquarters in New York, the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze happens every year. Featuring a walking path illuminated by over 7,000 jack o’ lanterns—all designed and hand-carved on site by a team of artists – it’s a breathtaking nod to just how much America has claimed the tradition for its own.
From Homemade Craft to Store-bought Staple: Boxed Costumes Get Big
America has a special knack for merchandising our traditions and customs, and Halloween costumes are no different
As far as dressing up on Halloween, costumes have always run the gamut from Casper made out of a plain white sheet with two cut-out eyes to elaborate handmade creations that took months to plan, sew and create.
But most of us can remember a slightly different trend, when companies like Collegeville, Halco and Ben Cooper, Inc. sold boxed costume sets – inexpensive plastic masks and vinyl smocks that became an iconic part of American Halloween.
From traditional Halloween characters like witches and goblins to classic superheroes to then-modern stars like Fonzi or the Hulk, those plastic masks filled shelves in every Sears, J.C. Penny and Woolworth’s across our country. For millions of Americans, picking out a new costume box was a yearly tradition.
Some Ghosts Don’t Need Costumes
Halloween comes with its share of haunted attractions, too.
Haunted houses … haunted farms … haunted corn mazes … but what about some of America’s actual ghost towns and haunted places?
Not all ghost towns have residents that bear their name, but they all do carry the eerie emptiness of a once-vibrant life passed. Places like Terlingua, Texas, Cahawba, Alabama and Bodie, California offer intriguing glimpses into a historic time through places left abandoned and untouched.
But then there are the really haunted places. Places where the residents never quite abandoned their residence. Whether ghosts inspire you to book a ticket to a place or add it to your do-not-visit file, here are 5 American locations frequently found on “most-haunted” lists.
The site of one of the bloodiest battles in American history, it’s no wonder there are reports of ghosts here. Roughly 50,000 young men died over three days on this field, many of whom never got a proper burial. Some say the souls of these men wander the land, looking for their guns and their fellow soldiers.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
Located in Weston, West Virginia, the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum operated from 1864 to 1994. In the 50s, the asylum became wildly overcrowded – treating more than 2,400 patients when it was only designed to hold close to 250. Cramped conditions coupled with inhumane treatment resulted in violence, fires and attacks. Among the thousands of patients who were admitted and died here, some say many still live in the facility.
Then there are some cities so full of ghostly mystery that it’s hard to narrow down a specific location or story. New Orleans is one of them. Take your pick of ghosts – it’s got a socialite serial killer, a infamous pirate and a favor-granting voodoo queen. A supernatural city with its share of struggles, it’s really not surprising that it’s haunted. One theory is that because Jackson Square was a sight for public executions, the city will always carry ghosts.
90 minutes north of Denver in Estes Park, Colorado this haunted hotel and its loud, bold ghosts inspired one of America’s classic horror movies. Back in 1973, Stephen King stayed in room 217, a room widely reported as haunted since 1911 when a housekeeper named Elizabeth Wilson was electrocuted during a storm. Not long after his stay, King published The Shining in 1977.
Another southern city full of spook. Civil War battles, breaks-outs of Yellow Fever, devastating fires and a handful of colorful murders put Savannah on the American ghost map. Countless antebellum homes – like the Andrew Low House – have claimed paranormal sightings. The Andrew Low House home has particular rich ties to American history and culture since Daisy Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts, lived and died here. Maybe she’s responsible for the rocking chair that rocks itself or the sweet perfume that wafts through certain parts of the home. It’s even said that one ghost bears a striking resemblance to Robert E. Lee, who spent time in the house when he was alive.
A favorite holiday for many Americans, Halloween’s spooky fun bonds us across all 50 States every October. Whether you’re a scary thrill-seeker or just love the whimsy of dress-up, there’s something for every American to enjoy on All Hallow’s Eve. What will you wear to fill up your plastic pumpkin with bite-size candy this year?