Monday, October 1, 2012

Countdown to Halloween: Priming the Pump(kins)

From The Almanack of the Month, October 1846
Throughout October, I'm going to be taking part in the annual Countdown to Halloween blogging marathon.

In previous years I've been an enthusiastic consumer of the project, so now I'm throwing my hat in the ring too. Growing up in the UK in the late twentieth century, Halloween was largely a non-event. You had to scour the television guide on the off-chance that there might be a horror film buried late in the schedules. The glorious, traumatic folly that was Ghostwatch, broadcast in 1992, was probably ample proof of the fact that (ironically, given its provenance?) we didn't really get modern Halloween, and maybe still don't. But even then, burnished, tantalising glimpses of what an American Halloween might be like filtered through, thanks to television specials, films, comic books - the usual channels. And so, this imaginary Halloween grew to be a significant piece of my growing fascination with Americana. As I've grown older, that feeling hasn't left me. If anything, my delight in the Gothic embellishment that Halloween brings to the season has only deepened as I've dug deeper into nineteenth century culture.

Which leads us to this Countdown to Halloween - an indulgence, perhaps, but one which speaks to many of the wider concerns of this blog. Across the month, roughly every other day, I'll be posting some seasonally-appropriate reading from the length of the nineteenth century. In the main, like everything else here, these selections will reflect my own foibles. Don't worry - things won't get too terrifying. And I hope, since these posts will be roughly chronological, that as things develop we'll be able to trace the growing, changing role of Halloween in American (and British) culture across the century. We'll begin at a time when the observation of the day seems to have been considered a relatively obscure folk custom, and end at a point when it had entered the mainstream in a significant way. So stay tuned, and make sure to check out some of the other blogs taking part in the project.

In the meantime, if you're already looking for some antiquarian spookiness, I thoroughly recommend this story about the New England Vampire Panic of the 1800s from the Smithsonian Magazine. More soon...


Semetra Rhodes said...

Looking forward to it! I've been involved in the Countdown for a couple years and always enjoy reading other fellow "spook season" bloggers

I am of Native American ancestry and, honestly, I don't really have a clue how on "old world" celebration got to be such a big deal in the "new world." Crap, my parents even dressed me up as an "Indian" to go trick 'r' treating when I was a kid (BTW: confusing!!). I guess I should look it up. I do know that the whole Jack o Lantern tradition of carving our native pumpkins came from European carved turnips...but that's about all I know. If you find out anything, literary of course, please post!

Thomas Ruys Smith said...

Thanks very much! And stay tuned - I'll be talking about pumpkins a few posts down the line!

Dania said...

This is not the usual blog that takes place on the countdown - and I'm therefore very interested in it! Your blog looks fascinating, and I'm glad to have found it.

Thomas Ruys Smith said...

Thanks Dania - looking forward to your posts too!