The Victorian Halloween party described below was printed in Harper’s Bazaar, October 19, 1895 and describes a Halloween party the writer, Merab Mitchell, had attended. Since she speaks of it being Halloween night, and this being written before October 31, 1895, I am assuming (yes, dangerous, I know!) that the party was the year before. WHENEVER it was, it was one heck of a party! Or was the punch she may have partaken more than mere fruit juice which made her imagination run wild? OR is it just a great Halloween story? YOU decide!
There is no time in all the year in which even the most incredulous can be so impressed as at Halloween. Old and wise folk – yes, even the young folks of to-day, who can explain away the family mystery and have a reason for everything, have been known to look over their shoulder on entering a dark room on Halloween. And there is story told of a very learned and skeptical professor having turned pale when requested to go up to a certain dark hall and bring from a far corner of it a bundle of sticks, and when he was chided for his hesitation, answering, “No! no! I do not believe in ghosts, but I should not like to meet one this eve.”
But Halloween ghosts are apt to be “sae blithesome an’ sae bonnie” that even the professor was not so badly frightened at meeting one. Although he never made known what incantation he used to allay his fears, certain it was that he succeeded, for when he returned he brought not only the bundle of sticks he had been sent for, but bonnie Jan Brown, whom he had met half-way on the stairs, she having been sent by a mischievous companion from another part of the house on the same errand at the same time.
In getting up a Halloween party keep everything as secret as possible, and greater will be the fun and mystery. Of course your guests must be selected with care, and it is best not to let your invitation list be known to any except to those of your friends who are to help in the witch dance or other events of the evening.
The invitations were all hand-written on cards decorated with water-color drawings of witches, black cats, brooms, witch-hazel blossoms, and snatches of verse. On my card the invitation began:
“Come spend wi us a happy nicht,
And crack a joke thegither.”
And on the back of the card were the following instructions:
So I went to the party in full faith and great mystery, on the verge, as
it were, of discovering things. What these things were to be I knew
not, and that is really the right way to go to such an entertainment.
The house in which the party took place was one of the new old-fashioned
kind. The entrance hall was a long low-roofed room, with a huge
fireplace and a broad stairway at the other. Of course this was where
most of the festivities of the evening were to take place. The house was
called Holly Lodge, from the quantity of holly-trees that surrounded
it, and now great bunches and branches of holly decorated the walls and
corners and stairway. The mystery-room was on the second landing, at the
end of a long hall, and had no light save that lent by the moon, which
happened to be in all her glory for the night.
I knew that the side door at which I was bidden to enter led to a short hallway into the state dining-room, and I wondered a little at having to enter there; but eight o’clock found me there, one of at least thirty, none of whom I recognized. It certainly was very weird, that silent company standing in the white moonlight. For each one of us had entered so into the spirit of the evening that we all had contrived to arrive and take our places before the closed doors in as mysterious a way as possible.
A gong or bell pealed forth eight, and then the doors without any one appearing, opened, and we filed silently into the outer hall, and from there one by one into a little side room, where were moved our wraps and were given a card by the whispering attendant; as no two persons were allowed in this room together, we were none the wiser as to who had come. From this room we slipped into the grand dining-hall of the Lodge, and sat down on the first chair we found. The light was o dim that it was just possible to find a chair, and impossible to recognize any one.
No one spoke, and there would not have been a sound, except for the rustle of the girls’ skirts, had I not carelessly dropped my fan in trying to fasten the card that had been given me, and which I found out afterward bore the number of my seat at the table on it and the order of dancing.
The gentlemen of the party were going through the same mysterious entrance at the other end of the hall.
After we were all seated, and had waited in wondering silence for perhaps five minutes, somewhere away in the distance a clock began to strike, the tones getting louder as each stroke was rung out until the last one; then there was a blast of trumpets, the electric lights were turned on, and in a instant all were on their fee and exchanging greetings, and uttering exclamations of surprise at the beautiful supper table that in some queer way seemed suddenly uncovered; and displaying a most tempting array of eatables. The effect was wonderful and weird beyond everything. Of course the hostess had been very careful, in her choice of guests, that only people fond of each other, or whom she wished to make so, were present; for that reason she had allotted us each a special seat at the table, and there was great fun hunting up our partners and places, although the person – man or woman – who happened to be on our left when the clock struck nine was supposed to in some way help on the fate said to be in store for one.
But that supper table was one never to forget. There was absolutely nothing on it to eat, and yet it seemed loaded with the most delicious cakes, pies, fruit and so on. A huge pie at one end was found to contain brooms of fortune, tiny little straw brooms with silver handles. The apples and oranges were made of silk and paper, a printed fortune either tied to the stem or found inside; the cups of chocolate with cotton cream were only cases for fortune beans. There were plates and baskets of crackers (dainty little sachets), emery strawberries, and tomato pin-cushions.
When every dish had revealed its mystery to us the band struck up a merry tune, and we danced by couples into the great hall. There those who had been drilled for days before danced the witch dance, standing back to back, and led by old Mother Goose, or rather the Witch of Henda. Then followed the Virginia Reel. This dance broke up by couple after couple dropping out after once going down the middle to hund for Halloween apples.
These apples had been hid in all sorts of out-of-the-way places, in the hall and on the stairs and up to the first landing – no further, it was understood.
As each one found an apple he or she hurried back to the great fireplace, and standing before the fire, pared it very carefully, then turning three times around and repeating the following doggerel,
“St Simon and St. Jude,
On you I must intrude,
For by this paring I wish to discover
The first letter of my own true lover.”
she threw the paring over her left shoulder. Of course it fell in the proper way and formed some sort of letter.
The gentlemen entered as heartily into this as the girls, and were, or pretended to be, as earnest in discovering a letter as the girls, although only three out of the thirty men succeeded in getting a whole paring, and a broken one was of course no use.
Then came the counting the apple seeds and burning nuts – that is, casting two nuts into the fire together, and if they burnt nicely together and did not fly apart, then the people for whom they were named were sure to live happily together all their lives.
While the nuts were being burnt three great black cats came into the room, and the reading of fortunes, not only by the nuts, but by the way pussy acted, was entered into with great enthusiasm. If pussy sat down beside you, then peace and prosperity were assured you; if she rubbed herself against you, it was rare good luck. If she yawned, as cats will sometimes do, take care that your fortune dies not call you twice. If she runs away from you it was a sure sign that you had a secret that you would have to tell before seven days were passed. If she jumped up on or into your lap, great would be your good fortune.
Suddenly the hostess drew our attention to the three cats, who at a word from her formed themselves in a line in front of the fire, and sat as though listening. Then we were aware that the lights were out, and that only that of the great fire filled the room with its queer rays. For some one had thrown blue and green powder into the fire, and while we were wondering, suddenly a witch appeared, who carried a broom that as she moved seemed to shower gold-dust in every direction. When in front of the fire she suddenly stopped, and called, Erebus, Henda, Imp, and the three cats ran to her and jumped to her shoulders and arms. We fairly gasped; but when she began, in the sweetest, clearest, and quaintest manner, to chant a song in the minor, our surprise and delight almost got the better of our manners. The song was only a short one, and as she began to chant she slowly stepped backward, disappearing altogether with the last word behind a heavy curtain. Then there came the sound of bagpipes, and in a moment we were all donning overshoes and wraps to go into the near field and gather kale-stocks. Of course they were put there for our special benefit, and of course they were all as crooked as crooked could be; and so we decided to burn them all in a heap on the blazing hall fire, each one being cast into the fire with a wish.
Then we were once more bidden to supper; but this time the meal was no witch’s supper, although it would not have been correct without the great Halloween cake, which contained a ring, a button, and a sixpence, and which fell apart into the proper number of slices when the hostess tapped it with the witch’s broom, which was said to have been captured from that person as she left the house, for this purpose.
The ring in some mysterious way found its way into the right piece of cake, for the young girl who got it was the first of the party to be married during the following year, and she very properly married the man who got the button, thereby saving him the disgrace of becoming an old bachelor.
But signs will sometimes fail, and I, the young girl who got the sixpence, and was thereby promised a fortune, not only did not get one, but lost what she had; only other signs came true, in that she not only married the man of her choice, but has lived happily ever since, and counts all her good luck from the night of the Halloween party at Holly Lodge
To me, this Victorian Halloween party would be hard to beat! Wouldn’t you agree?
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