Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Countdown to Halloween: A Gilded Age Halloween Extravaganza

We've reached the penultimate post in this Halloween Countdown - and we've hit a rich vein of Gilded Age spookiness.

As we've seen in the last couple of posts, somewhere around the Civil War moment Halloween apparently starts to become a more mainstream part of American culture. Whilst this has often been linked to Irish immigration - take a look back at the post on Whittier's pumpkins - I feel that it's also related to the broader interest in folk customs and provincial practices that were a significant part of late-nineteenth century American literature. Halloween as a component of local colour? I think that makes sense.

Either way, the apparent reinvigoration of Halloween in the post-war period can be confirmed - kind of - by reference to Google's new Ngram Viewer, which allows you to look for the occurrence of a word or words over the entire corpus of their scanned archives. So this is what the frequency of "Halloween" looks like, from 1800 to 2000:

Google Ngram for "Halloween" - click for bigger
If you take a close look, there's a distinct up-swing in the use of the word after about 1865.

And there's no doubt that the major literary journals were soon running Halloween stories with some frequency in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Below, a handful to brighten (darken?) your Halloween-eve. There's plenty to say about all of these, too - but that's a project for next year...

Meta G. Adams, "Halloween; or, Chrissie's Fate", Scribner's Monthly (November 1871)

William Sharp, "Halloween: A Threefold Chronicle", Harper's New Monthly Magazine (November 1886)

William Black, "A Halloween Wraith", Harper's New Monthly Magazine (November 1890)

Hezekiah Butterworth, "A Hallowe'en Reformation", The Century (November 1894)

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