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In the Sumptuous Time of Autumn,
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This review is from: Halloween in America: A Collector's Guide With Prices (A Schiffer Book for Collectors) (Paperback)
Stuart L. Schneider's dynamic 'Halloween In America: A Collector's Guide With Prices' (1995) spectacularly captures the spirit of the classic years of the American Halloween tradition: the period from the turn of the century through the end of the nineteen-fifties. Though the book includes more recent material, Schneider wisely focuses on what he recognizes to be the holiday's glory days in this country, when its spirit hadn't moved too far from its agricultural roots and American culture was predominantly positive, forward-looking, and uncynical--and its Halloween decorations charming and vividly imaginative.
The book opens with three short, loosely-composed essays, "A Brief History Of Halloween," "The Colors And Images Of Halloween," and "Halloween In America." Schneider, who provides no source material, is often broadly correct but specifically wrong.
He suggests, for instance, that the Druids may have built Stonehenge when it has been long established that they did not, and that 'Dryad' is another word for 'Druid.'
The author also writes a paragraph about witches and "witch conventions" during the Celtic reign of the British Isles as if this were an established historical fact, embellishing his account with images of witches stirring cauldrons, speaking in tongues, dancing around bon fires, and sacrificing animals; if Schneider knows this to be historically factual, then he has access to information the rest of the world doesn't.
He also discusses 'Samhain' as a god of the Celtic people who "controlled the dead or non-growing season," when whether or not 'Samhain' was a Celtic deity or even an entity, rather than a season or holiday, is something currently hotly debated among historians, scholars, and Wiccans.
Schneider is to be commended for his honesty in addressing some of the more unpleasant aspects of the holiday and its associations head-on, as well as for the wonderful historical scope he provides in placing Halloween origins in a wide, multi-cultural context.
Readers will find a rich phantasmagoria of topics discussed in the essays, including the custom of sin eating, All Saints' and All Souls' Days, the belief in the 'veil between worlds' and the return of the dead to their families one the night of the harvest feast, the story of 'Jack of the Lantern,' Snap-Apple and Crack-Nut Nights, apple bobbing, fortune-telling, the Scottish influence on American Halloween traditions, Cabbage and Mischief Nights, the various theories surrounding the origin of trick-or-treating, the meaning of the literal 'scapegoat' and its influence of the appearance of the Christian Devil, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and even mention of the elves, gnomes, boogies, and goblins with which agrarian societies peopled the forests and fields.
The gorgeous main portion of the book is dedicated to collectible items and includes sections on Postcards, Decorations, Lanterns, Costumes, Hats and Masks, Noisemakers, Invitations, Games and Toys, Trick Or Treat Bags, and Vegetable People, Figurines and Candy Containers.
Halloween In America is by far the best of the books on Halloween collectibles available, and also the best of the Schiffer books on the subject.
Many readers will remember these items from their childhood homes, classroom bulletin boards, Five & Dime store shelves and windows, and neighborhood parties. Readers will also be astonished at how the painters, artisans, and creators of these crepe paper, cardboard, composition, glass, and celluloid items were able to envision and capture what we remember and still think of as the very essence of holiday, and in a wide variety of forms: lonely, barren, orange-skied landscapes with setting suns ablaze or yellow rising moons, black cats and owls lurking in pumpkin patches with an anthropomorphic moon overhead, witches flying on broomsticks in formation over dark, isolated houses, skeletons parading in graveyards, etc.
Folklorists, sociologists, academics, and artists may have special appreciation for the visionary and sometimes surreal paintings, illustrations, and three-dimensional designs revealed here.
One 1908 German postcard portrays a witch, a black cat and a vegetable spirit riding in a car made of a partially hollowed-out watermelon with squash-slice tires; another portrays a red-caped witch riding a immense cob of husked corn like a phallus-conquering Amazon through the stratosphere, with an astonished moon and planet Jupiter looking on; and a third, from 1911, shows children happily bobbing for apples in their warm, cozy home, while a tall, red-skirted, stone-faced witch, accompanied by an owl and a black cat, looks in at the window like the ultimate outsider and a disenfranchised, but still proud and powerful, loner.
An entire page is devoted to 1910 postcards of anthropomorphic vegetables riding cars, dancing with or chasing fairies, and joyfully imitating human family practices.
Others display Rockwell-like scenes of boys and girls carving pumpkins or trick-or-treating, or elderly women in dimly-lit Victorian mansions being frightened by children's pranks and high jinks.
Throughout the book, visionary landscapes and distant horizons beckon; curly-toed elves spring from hollow trees and slide gleefully down rooftops; lone witches warm their hands at their cauldrons under brilliant, star-filled skies; beautiful young ladies sleep fitfully on ruffled pillows while fairies circle their heads; peaked-hat shadows stretch in threateningly at midnight doorways; black cats screech to their own banjo, accordion, violin, and horn playing; and scarecrows extend their arms heavenwards to frighten off their circling opponents.
Readers will run for their magnifying and/or reading glasses so that none of the often minute detail will escape their gaze and inspection. 'Halloween In America' is a huge treat, will make collectors and seekers out of most, and hopefully inspire generations to come to celebrate and pass on the traditions recorded here. Highly recommended to holiday lovers, educators, folklorists, Scout leaders, and all lovers of Americana.