How do you celebrate Halloween? Do you decorate? Dress up? Put on a scary (or just spooky) movie? Gorge yourself on candy and chocolate? I am sure many of us remember going trick or treating on the one night a year where accepting candy from strangers is encouraged. However you celebrate Halloween, you may find yourself wondering how people celebrated the holiday in the past: in a time before fun-sized chocolate bars and Spirit Halloween. I am here to answer that question, albeit in a limited way. Straight from archived issues of the Allisonia, The Argosy, and other local newspapers, here is how Mt. A students have celebrated Halloween in the past.
First, there are a few things you should know about the Halloween of the past. In fact, it is more accurate to say the Halloweens of the past because the holiday was celebrated in two distinct ways, one masculine-coded and one feminine-coded according to the general genders of the students attending and the division between the University and the Ladies College. Male-coded Halloween events were a chaotic affair. It was all about causing mischief and trouble through noise-making and acts of vandalism. The “female” Halloween was more subdued, focusing on practices like parties, games, costumes, and fortune-telling. Most of the Halloween celebrations in Mt. A’s history fell into one of those two categories. The events I included are not the only Halloween celebrations that occurred, but simply interesting examples.
An early record of a Halloween party hosted by female students comes from the May 2, 1936 issue of The Argosy. The issue reported on an anonymous letter from 1884 that claimed that 15 female students snuck out in the middle of the night to host a secret Halloween feast under the noses of their professors. This is the closest thing I could find to mischief out of the female students. There is an indication in the November 1900 issue of the Allisonia that the Ladies College, while it was in operation, hosted an annual Halloween party that began well before that date. In November 1905, the Allisonia reported on another Halloween party in detail. This one had costumes, ghosts, and bobbing for apples. The October 31, 1925 issue of The Argosy reported on a Masquerade hosted by the girls living in Allison Hall, complete with costumes and a fortune teller, to raise money for the Girl’s Basketball team.
While these holiday parties sound like something that could happen today, the stories of what happened in the male Halloween history are far more wild. Some of these stories are about young men in Sackville in general. However, considering the size of the community it is not unreasonable to assume Mt. A students were involved. On November 3, 1881, The Transcript reported on the Halloween mischief that occurred that year, describing stolen gates, destroyed fences and objects moved to block streets as a standard level of holiday chaos. Some years were quieter than this, but others were far worse. The Port Elgin Tribune section of the Sackville Tribune reported on a young man being shot in the midst of the revelry on November 4, 1912.
The Halloween of the past was very different from the one we know today. Remember that as you prepare for this year’s festivities!