Halloween highlights arise from the museum vaults

By Leslie A. Wilson

"When witches go riding,
and black cats are seen,
the moon laughs and whispers,
'tis near Halloween."
- Author Unknown

From the decorations in our homes to the sweets we make (or buy), Halloween is a holiday filled with tricks and treats, fun and, sometimes, a little fright. We've embraced All Hallow's Eve as a night to dress up and join with fiends... I mean friends, to celebrate things that go bump in the night. Here at the museum, we have a wonderful collection of objects used at Halloween. See if you recognize any of these pieces from years past. 

Cardboard and metal punch game decorated with spooky cartoon figures
Halloween: A Party Game (around 1935). Cardboard and metal. Manufactured by A. Master, Brooklyn, New York. Object number 2009.0211.06.

The A. Master company made a variety of novelty games from around 1927 through the 1940s including this small, hand-held punch game for Halloween.

Child's Super Hero mask and packaging

Child's Halloween Costume (around 1983). Plastic mask, vinyl costume, cardboard box. Made by Ben Cooper, Inc., Brooklyn, New York, and Taiwan. Object number 1989.0064.02.

Ben Cooper, Inc. was one of the largest manufacturers of costumes in the United States for over 50 years. Founded in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, the company specialized in Halloween costumes, which were sold through large retailers like Woolworth's. Ben Cooper, Inc. often licensed popular movie and television characters like this one, B.A. Baracus, played by Mr. T, from the 1980s television show, "The A-Team."

Two masks with ghoulish faces and big eyes

Masks (1930–1950). "Witch" and "Devil." Fabric, paint, elastic, metal. Maker unknown. Object numbers 2009.0211.01 and 2009.0211.02.

A paper pumpkin decoration and two evil jack 'o lanterns

Left: Halloween Decoration (around 1935). Paper, cardboard, metal. Maker unknown. United States. Object number 1991.0176.04. Festive "honeycomb" pumpkin of tissue paper unfolds into a three-dimensional table decoration. Similar designs are still available in stores today. Right: Lanterns (around 1940). Paper-mache, metal. Maker unknown. Object numbers 1991.0176.01 and 1991.0176.02.

This pair of creepy jack-o'-lanterns with pierced eyes, noses, and mouths are made of paper-mache. Electric lights or candles could be inserted through the large opening at the top. Brightly colored facial features are printed on paper inserts inside the lanterns. These menacing faces would cast an eerie glow when lit from the interior.

Four black cat decorations (flat) with orange details. One is playing accordion. Because cats know how to do that?

Halloween decorations (around 1930). Cardboard. Made by Beistle Company, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Object number 1991.0176.06 – 1991.0176.09.

This quartet of "swinging" black cats would have been a fun decoration for a Halloween party in the 1930s. They were created by graphic designer Henry E. Luhrs and manufactured by Beistle Company, a producer of holiday novelties.

Cookie cutters in an orange and black box shaped like Halloween icons

Interior of cookie box from above

Set of Cookie Cutters (after 1930). Metal, paper, cardboard. Manufactured by ATECO, Glen Cove, New York. Object number 1983.0711.10.

Six spooky cookie cutters (bat, cat, jack-o'-lantern, witch, owl, and broom) still reside in their original box along with an insert showing decorating ideas. The box also offers creative ideas for using the cookie cutters to shape other types of food and even art clay. August Thomsen founded ATECO (August Thomsen Corporation) in 1905. The firm has manufactured specialty baking supplies for over a century.

Leslie A. Wilson is a Museum Specialist in the Division of Home and Community Life at the National Museum of American History. She is a graduate of the Smithsonian Institution-George Mason University Master of Arts program in the History of Decorative Arts.