“Though Pumpkins Make Faces and Dance on Tombstones”: Hallowe’en-Related Artifacts From the Homestead’s Collection, 1911-1930

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For much of American history, Halloween wasn’t nearly as popular a holiday, especially when it came to trick-or-treating for candy, as it became later, but, by the early 20th century, there were some changes thanks to the flood of immigrants coming to the United States from Europe, especially from Ireland. Based on traditions from across the Atlantic, growing numbers of Americans began to dress in costumes and go door-to-door to ask for treats or money.

One account states that single women thought that, by doing tricks with pieces of apple, mirrors or yarn, they might learn the look or name of their prospective spouse. While the spooky and scary component of “All Hollow’s Eve,” which preceded the 1st of November and the “Day of the Dead” observances, focused on ghosts, goblins, ghouls, witches and the like, there was also a growing emphasis on community events featuring costume contests, food and games.

Pasadena Post, 1 November 1928.

In some cases, there were towns and cities that had Halloween parades and some still do, including Anaheim, which returned to an in-person Fall Festival and Halloween Parade this past weekend. West Hollywood decided not to hold its Halloween Carnaval this year, but perhaps it will come back in 2023. Some of the local theme parks, of course, have become immensely popular during the holiday season, including the always-frightening “Knott’s Scary Farm” and the “Oogie Boogie Bash” along with other seasonal festivities at Disneyland.

The Homestead’s collection only has a few Hallowe’en-related artifacts in its collection and a quartet of those are featured in this post. The earliest is a 1911 advertising postcard from the Mammoth Shoe House, located at Broadway between Fifth and Sixth streets in downtown Los Angeles, and which seems to have operated for about two decades from the early part of the century through the mid-1920s.

Pomona Progress Bulletin, 1 November 1928.

The unused card has a cute little color vignette of a teddy bear scared out of its wits at a jack o’lantern held by a girl followed by a pair of toddlers with a caption reading “Teddy bear says, / “Goodness me! / “What’s this dreadful / “Thing I see!” Below an October calendar is the message that the store’s shoes for children “wear better and last longer because we give twice as good a shoe for the price than can be bought elsewhere.”

A postcard that was mailed in 1926 has a message, sent to a young man in Pennsylvania, that is not related to the holiday, but the front has a color image of a quintet of boys wearing snap-brim caps, jackets and ties and holding sticks aloft with pumpkins on the ends. There is a little verse, as well, reading:

Though pumpkins make faces

and dance on tombstones

Thought skeletons rise up and

rattle their bones

Though screech owls who-who

and black cats me-ow

I hope you’ll survive the witches


For the adults, there is a October 1930 bulletin for the Sunset Canyon Country Club in the hills east of Burbank from which a broadside for a 1929 New Year’s Party has been featured on this blog previously, with the front cover advertising a “Be-Witching Hallowe’en Party.” The annual event, which was to start at 8 p.m. and apparently to end whenever guests decided, included dinner and dancing, with $2.50 charged for both, though those wanting to trip the light fantastic without eating first only had to pay $1. Costumes were obviously encouraged, but those thinking of attending were urged to reserve their spots early because it was expected to be a full house. The bulletin is interesting, as well, for news about club events and members.

The collection also has an issue of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Daily Bulletin, which provided information for officers and which was issued each day save Sunday, for 29 October 1928. Much of the front side of the publication as taken up with license plate numbers, the year, make and model of cars and engine serial numbers of stolen cars, though there was also information on not issuing citations for court on Election Day and Armistice Day, a report of a lost badge, the cancellation of a missing girl report, thefts of bicycles and typewriters and note of a Police Relief Association meeting for the following day, specifically to discuss when and where to hold the annual police ball.

On the reverse is a list of second hand dealers, junk collectors, pool rooms, a public dance hall, a dancing academy, and an employment agency, which were seeking business permits, and officers were asked “Do you know of any reason why these permits should not be granted?” with requests to submit any reports to the office of Chief James Davis by the next Wednesday. Reports of missing teens Robert J. Brandt and Helen Catherine Johnson were also provided with physical descriptions of the pair, especially that of Johnson, who had “two suitcases, one black and one tan, containing all of her clothing” with her.

A commendation was also reported for Officer George H. Irwin for his role in the apprehension of a pair of men wanted for the hold-up of a store (the building looks to be still there) in Lincoln Heights just west of Lincoln Park. Irwin recognized the gents who were regulars at a cafe on his beat and forwarded the information to his superiors. It was added that “the close attention to descriptions and this excellent observation and memory for details that would make identification of ‘wanted men’ possible are extremely valuable qualities in police work” and officers who had and used these were “a distinct asset to the Department.”

Speaking of bandits, seven department divisions reporting those in their jurisdictions, with physical descriptions, type of weapon and vehicle and other information provided and it is notable how ethnicity was described. Some were identified as American, others Mexican, a few as Negro and one as an “American Jew.”

Lastly, the bulletin has a warning “To Division Commanders And All Officers” concerning “Hallowe’en Problems.” The fairly lengthy article began by noting that “Hallowe’en rowdyism each year costs the citizens of Los Angeles many thousands of dollars” and LAPD personnel were notified “to take every possible precaution to protect property and prevent disorders.” Specifically, division commanders were told to maintain a day watch on duty until there was no further need for them with respect to this issue.

The instruction also was that conditions were to be carefully monitored with respect to locations where problems occurred the prior year and “where it seems most likely that trouble will occur.” The piece sternly added that,

It is absolutely necessary for the Police Department to teach rowdies and hoodlums that they cannot break the law on Hallowe’en or any other time, and the general public will watch our Department carefully this year to see whether we can adequately protect law abiding citizens and save them from annoyances and serious property losses.

Commanders were expected to speak with officers on duty during the holiday evening to get suggestions or receive reports on problems from 1927 and in “making strategic arrangements to meet with better success this year.” The latter were implored to “act with vigilance and strictness and must neglect no opportunity to subdue lawless elements.”

Of particular concern was “suppressing the ‘soap nuisance,’ a destructive practice that has been adopted by rowdies in this city within the last few years.” This involved the targeting of cars and buildings, in which, for the latter, windows were scratched or doused with soap forcing business owners to hire special officers to stand guard, while, with the former, “the finish on many automobiles was ruined when hoodlums marked up the bodies of the machines with soap,” which often left “an indelible stain on the paint and the marks left by it reduce the value of the car.”

Officers, of course, were “instructed to arrest any person engaged in any activities tending to a disturbance of the peace or the injury of destruction of any property whatsoever.” Moreover, concluded the article, “the throwing of feather ticklers, snuff, flour or any other device harmful to persons or property will not be tolerated.” The problem was apparently regional as several newspaper articles attested, though vigilance in 1928 seems to have significantly stemmed the tide.

In the Pasadena Post of 1 November, there were reports of “hoodlums” in South Pasadena damaging flower pots and lawns, while an ink bottle was smashed against a building’s awning and porch, while a couple of fire hydrants were turned on. Police warned young men that a curfew began at 11:30 and while some of the toughs laughed and jeered, the streets were quiet and vandalism lighter than in the past. At Monrovia, the paper stated, there was a slashed car tire, cans dumped on streets, while “downtown the usual soap brigade was on the job” as officers chased adolescents down alleys and across lots “to the satisfaction of the pursued”—”otherwise it was a normal, successful Halloween.”

The Pomona Progress Bulletin wrote of rowdies who were responsible for “widespread soap lettering and markings on practically all the shop windows in the business district, and on all automobiles parked in that section,” but stated that there was no littering or property destruction. Usually, the city engineer’s office was targeted for vandalism but it was “surprisingly free from malicious gang operations” while scattered reports of dumped garbage were listed.

Los Angeles Times, 1 November 1909.

Still, it was declared that “Pomona experienced the quietest Hallowe’en in history” which was “in contrast to several nearby communities in which great damage was caused by rowdy gangs.” The city engineer added that 1928 “was in contrast to other years when thousands of dollars [of] damage was caused by Hallowe’en merrymakers” while the police chief announced that vandalism was prevented because of regular and special officers being detailed to guard all churches, schools and “public gathering places” from belligerents.

As for Homestead-related Halloween artifacts, we, so far, don’t have any in the collection, but there is one holiday-connected story to share. In 1909, Homestead co-owner Thurston H. Pratt and his wife Iva Bassett, whose father, Eugene, was the other owner of the ranch, resided in the Workman House and they threw a Halloween bash there at which there were 75 guests. The Los Angeles Times of the following day reported:

The house was decorated with paper black cats, witches and ghosts. At midnight, when a collation [light meal] was being served, sounds came from upstairs, which sounded like clanking chains, groans and rattling of old bones. The gas, also, began to burn very low all over the house. Things returned to normal after much comment. Dancing, guessing contests and other games caused the evening to pass pleasantly.

It’s be interesting to know if there were Halloween festivities held at the Homestead during the fifteen years when the Temples owned the ranch, but, to date, nothing has been found. We will, however, keep hoping for something to materialize.

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