These Halloween party suggestions were introduced to Victorian ladies in 1899 to help create a superb party! Although admittedly you may have to modify some of them for health or safety sake, these suggestions will get you in the mood for Halloween!
This article was written in Harper’s Bazaar in 1899. It has been edited for use on this site.
OF all the informal festival occasions of the year, none is so merry and unconstrained as Halloween. According to time-worthy and reliable legends, it is the night when fairies dance and witches ride and ghosts walk, and when all the mysterious powers of the air slip leash and work their own sweet will. It is the night, too, when charms read truly and future events are dimly shadowed forth. In former times, when the whole world was young for its years, these revelations were as little to be questioned as the truth of the Bible: man and maid lived, loved, married, died, and were buried in the light of them.
BUT even now, among the erudite young people of the nineteenth century, who know all about higher mathematics, optical Illusions and subliminal consciousness, there is a kind of half-ashamed belief in the signs and wonders of Halloween. Although they may smile at their own credulity, they are more than ready to fling aside dignity and learning at the bidding of a friend, and play at all the familiar tricks and charms with her, and feel again little primeval thrills of terror course up and down their spines as the hour grows ghostly.
If a hostess is wise, however, she will not tax the Imagination of her guests too severely at first, for the thoughts and reflections that belong to the after-supper hour are curiously mundane and ordinary, and out of all keeping with spells and incantations. She must make her transition gradually, and put n keen edge on their appetite for strange things.
ONE of the best introductions to a Halloween party is a game that has
not found its way into print before. It sets every one of the company at
doing something, mixes the people together well, and shakes out the
slight stiffness that usually attends the first state of any evening
The hostess beforehand provides as many cards as there are guests invited, and cuts them in shapes suggestive of Halloween -making witch brooms, for instance, for the feminine half of the company, and bats for the masculine. In each card she ties a ribbon, leaving a loop to pin it on by.
Next she numbers the brooms I, II III, IV, etc, and the bats likewise. Then she makes a list of as many pairs of people who are naturally associated in history, fiction, Mother Goose, current events, or anywhere else, as there are to be couples in her company. In making this list she may be as clever as she pleases. She may select local characters, or those from books that have a particular significance for her guests, just as she prefers, and she can decide beforehand what people are best suited to the characters, or leave the matter to chance.
WHEN she has completed her list, she writes on the unnumbered side of Broom I. the name of one of the female characters she has chosen, as, for instance, “Juliet." On the corresponding bat numbered I she writes "Romeo." On the broom and hat marked II she puts "Red Riding Hood" and “The Wolf” respectively and continues to fill out the other pairs of cards in the same way.
For a number of people whose tastes are general, the following list has proved very successful:
II. Red Riding Hood
III. Queen Elizabeth
IV. Maud Müller
V. The dog Schneider
X. The Ghost
II. The Wolf
III. Sir Walter Raleigh
Iv. The Judge
V. Rip Van Winkle
VII. Rupert of Hentzau
VIII. The Little Minister
Sometimes, where the company is not evenly divided more characters may be introduced in some scenes. Hobson for instance, and His Choice which proves to be a whole bevy of admiring girls; or Washington Crossing the Delaware or some other modification of the regular game that the fancy of the hostess may suggest.
When the company is gathered together, ready for the game, the mistress of ceremonies announces that partners must find each other by their numbers, allowing no one else to see the names on the other side of their cards. Then she distributes all the cards except the three marked XI, which are for herself and the two assistants she will need.
When the pairs have come together she calls her guests to order, and tells them that they will be given just five minutes to plan how they will represent in pantomime, in the order of their numbers the characters on their cards.
There are usually several people among the older guests who hold back when it comes to a question of playing games and who have a very stupid half-hour watching the other people's fun. But here they are asked to serve as judges and pass on the men t of each representation so that their interest is kept on the alert every moment.
When the guests really comprehend what is required of them, there is a great whisking and hurrying about to find material for costumes.
The thoughtful hostess has gathered together in one room the things that her guests are most likely to need such as shawls, capes, tissue paper, a broad-rimmed soft felt hat, a garden rake for Maud Müller, a sheet for Hamlet’s Ghost, a short step ladder or high stool, a pail for Jack, and anything else that she happens to think of.
THE ingenuity with which each couple selects from the simple properties at hand just the things most humorously typical of their characters is a constant surprise to the appreciative audience, whose turn will come soon, and to the hostess as well, who thought she knew just what to expect.
No. l and her companion, for example are transformed in the twinkling of an eye into the personages they represent. My lady lets down her hair and gathers it loosely behind, twines a borrowed string of beads about her head like a wreath, rolls the sleeves of her shirt-waist above the elbow, winds a pink scarf around her neck, drapes a party cape over her shoulders and arms, slips into the room behind a screen, which somebody carries for her, mounts a stool behind it, and appears before the interested spectators as an impromptu Juliet in the balcony scene. When Romeo strolls up to the screen with a banjo, a golf cape over one shoulder, under which projects a piece of picture-moulding doing duty as a sword, and a felt hat with waving plumes, no one seems to have any difficulty in guessing the characters.
No. II is likely to walk in amid the laughter of the audience. Particularly if he is a tall, broad-shouldered man, the effect of a very broad-frilled tissue-paper cap, and great goggles made of picture-wire, is funny enough for a comic opera. He lies down on a couch which has been pulled out in front of the company, and covers himself up to the neck with a shawl. In a moment up trips a dainty little figure in a red cape, carrying a basket. She points to the ears and eyes of the object on the couch, and when she reaches the teeth, the figure springs at her with fingers crooked and a ferocious look out of his wire goggles.
"RED RlDING HOOD and the wolf! Red Riding Hood and the wolf!" shouted from different parts of the room show the actors that they have been successful, and after elaborate bowing they yield their place to the next couple.
The other characters given in the list may be acted as easily and with as good effect as those described.
Maud Müller in a sun-bonnet, raking her meadow and the stately Judge leaning on his cane, make a pretty pair.
It needs only a ruffle of tissue-paper, a shawl pinned on like a train, hair twisted high and powdered for a very fair Queen Elizabeth, before whom Sir Walter Raleigh may be glad to lay his silk-lined cape, with a stately flourish of the same hat that graced Romeos head.
There should be as little delay as
possible, and the numbers should be called out very time, so that each
couple may have a warning and leave the audience soon enough. The double
capacity of spectator and actor in which every one serves relieves any
possible monotony, and the desire to outdo each other causes every
successive pair to do its level best.
Before the tenth number,
which is Hamlet and the ghost, the lights should be turned low, that the
Ghost, in its white sheet, stealing in upon Hamlet, may be as effective
as possible. Just behind the Ghost the three witches may come softly
In the dim light, with their tall caps, flying hair, dark draperies, and broomsticks, the crouching figures look quite unearthly, and we would scarcely suspect that their caps were made that afternoon in fifteen minutes by twisting up brown paper, catching the edges together with a pin, and blacking the whole with shoe polish, and that their cloaks are only shawls. But such is the case. As soon as Hamlet and his Ghost retire, the witches begin their chant in deep hollow voices.
"Poum! pum! puff! Pout!
Get ye hence; go each one out.
Jangle, bangle; every pair,
Fate awaits you otherwhere."
At the last word, the witch who is hostess goes through the door, saying,
"Follow, follow, follow me,
If your true fate you would see."
The other two witches gently shoo the rest of the company after her with their brooms, into a room- -the dining room, if possible - lit only by candles and alcohol burning a blue flame in saucers.
BY this time any well-regulated company is in the Halloween mood, and may be safely left to itself for the next half-hour without any prescribed programme.
There should be little tables about, suggestively ready for all the time-honored tests - a plate of apples on one, with knives ready to cut the magic paring which, swung three times over the shoulder and dropped behind, will infallibly give the first letter of the name of one's future husband or wife.
There should be a platter of flour, too, for the venturesome ones who
are willing to plunge into it with mouths open, in the hope of finding
the ring hidden there, and an apple hung from a string should not be
Whenever the fun threatens to flag, the three witches, moving about, can stir it up again. If one of them can tell fortunes from palms, it makes a pleasant diversion, and another of them can manage the leaden charm, by which soldering lead, melted in a big iron spoon and dropped into water, can be made to tell fortunes from the shape it assumes. Sometimes it is a shoe; then the fair maid's husband will be a shoemaker; or it can be anything else that the fertile imagination of the witch makes it appear.
Of course there must be plenty of nuts to burn side by side. It would not be Halloween without chestnuts, hickory nuts, walnuts, and all the rest of the nut kind.
By this time the half-hour is over. The guests will be ready for the refreshments which the hostess has to offer — sweet cider, perhaps, popcorn, molasses candy, and ginger cookies, or any other arrangement of good things that she chooses to make.
During this lime there may be a little more light, and the judges may be asked then for their decision, and the prizes awarded to the couples who, in their estimation, have done the best acting. The prizes can be anything appropriate to Halloween, the more ludicrous they are the better.
AFTER supper the lights should be lessened again, that the coup d’état of the hostess may be fully appreciated. Still in her guise as witch she retires behind a screen, and to each of the company in turn hands out an English walnut, telling each one in a solemn voice “to hold above the candle what is found within, but not to scorch it, lest it be a sin.” When the halves of each nut are wrenched apart, a carefully folded piece of blank paper is all that is found. But when it is held over the candle, lo and behold! Words appear. The trick, though simple, is very effective. They have been written upon with lemon juice, invisibly, but heat changes the color and makes the writing clear.
Verses and couplets may be taken from books or made up by the hostess and any assistant she chooses to share the secret. The following rhymes may serve as a few samples:
"Tell me this, and tell me truly.
Will my sweetheart lore me duly?"
"Your true love shall love you true
If your true love meant for you."
Take the third chance and leave the other two;
This haunted night shall bring them all in view.
If Success fly elusive before you,
Get courage and follow her fast;
It may he the luck of a moment will bring you
In winner at last.
Within this nut your fortune lies;
You’ll read it right if you are wise.
Brown eyes, black eyes, gray, or blue,
This the sibyl speaks for you;
“Toil and trouble quickly past,
Joy and yellow gold at last.”
WHEN the interest and excitement over the nuts have died away, it is probably very close to the weird hour of midnight, and the last number on the programme is in order. This is a ghost story, of course. The hostess has arranged it, beforehand, with the best ghost story teller among her friends. The lights are all but turned out, and sitting on the floor around an open fire, her guests prepare to enjoy true Halloween terror.
After the thrilling climax which makes even the shifting of a log seem scary, the lights may be turned on, lest the tension should grow too tight, but it will be strange indeed if enough of the Halloween spirit does not remain to make the homeward bound guests watch quivering shadows somewhat apprehensively, with a deeper drawn breath, and it will be stranger still if the echoes of the party where every one had a good time do not linger until next Halloween giving the hostess another opportunity to show her wit.
These Halloween party suggestions are great for those who have a close group of friends who love to entertain each other. Of course, feel free to substitute other characters than those mentioned as many people will not remember some of these characters. The tip to making this work, besides having willing participants is having the right items they can use to transform themselves into their characters. Most of all, have fun!
Return to top of Suggestions for Halloween.
The Last and Best Book of Art Needlework
Over 100 pages of authentic Victorian instructions and patterns from 1895!
Sign up for VEAC! Everything you wanted to know about Victorian embroidery, needlework, crafts and more!
Priscilla Bead Work Book
Make Beautiful Victorian Beaded Purses, Jewelry & Accessories - Starting