Friday, October 26, 2012

Countdown to Halloween: The Civil War

"Jeff Davis Reaping the Harvest", Harper's Weekly, October 26, 1861 (via Library of Congress)
Halloween during the Civil War: where real and imaginary horrors meet.

Above, a great case in point: Thomas Nast's illustration of Jefferson Davis "Reaping the Harvest", taken from Harper's Weekly in October 1861. The precise date of publication - October 26 - leaves little doubt that this wonderfully ghoulish image is timed for Halloween, and in that sense its iconography seems rather modern. But on the other hand, the context for its publication - and the harvest that was to follow - gives a peculiar frisson to Nast's illustration.

More lighthearted is this illustration, also from Harper's - October 31, 1863 - of infamous Copperhead Clement Vallandigham as a pumpkin:
(via Son of the South)
Make of that what you will - but the date of publication is compelling, because - following on from two previous posts in this series - it certainly implies an established association between Halloween and pumpkins.

Of course, as much as the war infiltrated all aspects of life, some things didn't change. Across the Mason-Dixon line, in her Civil War diary Louisianan Kate Stone left a record of a Halloween evening's activities in 1864 - testament again that the kind of activities recorded by Robert Burns at the end of the eighteenth century were still alive:
"Some gentlemen called, and we had cards. After they left, Lucy and I tried our fortunes in divers ways as it was "All Hallow'e'en." We tried all magic arts and had a merry frolic, but no future lord and master came to turn our wet garments hanging before the fire. There were no ghostly footprints in the meal sprinkled behind the door. No bearded face looked over our shoulders as we ate the apples before the glass. No knightly forms of soldiers brave disturbed our dreams after eating the white of an egg half-filled with salt."

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