Diane C. Arkins' 'Halloween Merrymaking: An Illustrated Celebration of Fun, Food, and Frolics from Halloweens Past' (2004) offers a poignant but hopeful glimpse back into American high culture and the "Golden Age of American Halloween," which the author locates between 1870 and the early 1930s. Today, many deny that such a high culture ever existed in this country, or, if willing to make such an admission, will tar that culture as "elitist" and "oppressive."
Yet, at present, Americans everywhere crave a richer, more substantial, and refined existence than the mediocre model that the current popular culture promotes and sustains. 'Halloween Merrymaking' looks back on a time when neighborhood and community, good manners and retail integrity, decorum and propriety, dress and composure, breeding and ingenuity, were all essential and unavoidable aspects of daily American life.
Such cultural elements certainly represented strictures in some cases, but the rewards for such discipline was enormous: a thriving, evolving, positivistic, and multi-tiered society that strove to refine and improve itself in any number of ways.
Stressing above all that Halloween in the Golden Age was "hardly a monster's ball by any stretch of the imagination," Arkins focuses on the holiday as it was celebrated in magazines and periodicals of the era, which subtly dictated the civilized manner in which this most anarchic of American holidays was enjoyed by parents and children alike, whether at family gatherings, church socials, classroom frolics, bridge parties, or comparatively chic adult soirees.
While children's party treats include the expected cakes, donuts, and candies brightly wrapped in autumn colors, a typical adult menu unselfconsciously suggests Oyster Canapes, Lobster Bisque, Waldorf Salad, and Broiled Squab.
Though the preface states that Halloween Merrymaking is not a "how-to manual" in the traditional sense, the book has sections lovingly devoted to "old fashioned" invitations, interior and exterior decoration, party favors, preparation of the party table, menus, costuming, appropriate music, and suitable games such as apple bobbing, nutshell auguries, tea leaf divination, and other forms of fun and fortune telling that have long roots in British history and folklore.
Though the finest commercial Halloween decorations, party favors, and costumes of the period are featured and emphasized, there are also numerous suggestions for making comparable items from orange, black, and white crepe paper and cardboard, standard kitchen vegetables, and other readily available materials. Ingenuity, enthusiasm, and a happy "can do" attitude are underscored throughout. America was largely an agricultural society at this time, a fact the book reflects in a number of meaningful and practical ways.
Halloween Merrymaking includes period photographs of parties and costumed partygoers, magazine covers and entire magazine articles (such as 1906's "A Jolly Forest Halloween" and 1909's "Under The Pumpkin Vine At Halloween"), and a wide variety of imaginatively depicted period reproductions of witches, jack o' lanterns, black cats, ghosts, harvest moons, owls, and fairies.
Highly recommended to those seeking inspiration and a cure for cynicism, apathy, and the present third-rate norm.