I’ve been captivated for several days by this photo essay from BoingBoing showing excerpts of the book Haunted Air by Ossain Brown and with an introduction, appropriately enough, by David Lynch. The book collects old photos of Halloweens past, and the photo essay shows the range the book holds, from strange, to creepy, to downright disturbing.
The photos promoted me to do a little research (and by research, I mean go to Wikipedia) to find out the origins of the American tradition of wearing costumes on Halloween and trick or treating. Basically, the whole thing goes back to the Middle Ages and the Scots/Irish tradition of “guising” in which poor people would go around and perform “tricks,” like singing a song, or doing a dance, in order to earn treats, like, I don’t know, a turnip. The tradition even gets a cameo n Shakespeare’s comedy, The Two Gentlemen of Verona.
In North America, the tradition first started popping up in Canada in the early 1910s and reached mainstream popularity in the United States by the 1930s, with the first US use of the term “trick or treat” appearing in 1934. The term didn’t reach a national publication until 1939.