Oct 11 2009

More Vintage Halloween Insanity

Before I begin, I want to give some credit where it’s due. This post (and several of my other recent entries) would not have been possible if I hadn’t learned the joys of Google Books from Atomic Mystery Monster’s link-filled JREF posts.

Long-time readers will likely remember an entry from the first GdL Halloween countdown where I linked to dangerous Halloween ideas from an old issue of Modern Mechanix. After discovering that Google Books offered complete scans of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science, I decided to see if I could find any other oddball Halloween tips similar to the ones from 2008.

At first, it seemed liked the old dangerous and lawsuit-baiting ideas I discussed last year were a one-time only thing. This three page article on mask-masking from 1931 seems fine, as does this article about making a Halloween-themed rocking chair. Although many of the tricks noted here are quaint, they’re pretty safe for the most part.

But once I started reading scans from a November 1934 issue of Popular Mechanics, things started to go downhill. It starts off pretty well, but soon lapses into over-complication once they wheel out the smoking robot and tent costumes. Sure, the robot costume looks neat, but don’t expect any easy time getting out of it to use the toilet. As far as I’m concerned, the only really useful (and fairly easy) idea to be found in the article is the part about giving a costume glowing eyes.

But things got really crazy in the November 1935 issue, both in terms of the layout and suggestions. If you think tricking people into biting cakes of soap and electrically-charged nails sticking out of a chair are bad, wait until you hear this: The article actually suggests making “secret messages” appear using a hidden curling iron and sulfuric acid! I don’t care that they told people to use caution when handling it or that the acid should be diluted, why the hell did they think telling people to use sulfuric acid at a party would be a good idea? Did they forget that children and alcohol consumption tend to appear at parties, Halloween or otherwise? Did they forget that writing messages on paper with lemon juice and holding them over a lamp provides the same basic effect with much less effort and much greater safety? Then again, these are the people that recommend wiring up a Ford coil to a tin strip over a light bulb or creating a burning alcohol mixture in order to produce strange lighting effects, rather than simply using colored bulbs (or fireproof colored coverings placed over bulbs). Unsurprisingly, the simplest and safest ideas are saved for the end of the article. It’s amazing that people managed to survive Halloween in the thirties.

Now that I think about it, why on earth are they giving Halloween advice in their November issues? My first guess was that the magazine was bi-monthly, but the existence of October issues from that period prove that theory incorrect. Did Halloween used to occur in November back then? It would certainly explain why the protagonist of Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn went trick-or-treating around Thanksgiving. Does anyone out there in readerland have an answer for me?

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  1. […] the last two years that I’ve do this, I always think I’ve found the most dangerous and foolhardy Halloween […]

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