Terrifying Halloween Costumes from the 20s
These creepy photos of children dressed up in Halloween costumes look like they are straight out of a Tim Burton movie!
Halloween costumes from the first half of the 20th century were truly terrifying. Before Halloween evolved into the family-friendly, party occasion we know it as, October 31 was deeply linked to ghosts and superstitions. Drawing on the holiday’s pagan and Christian roots — as a night to ward off evil spirits or reconcile with death, respectively — people often opted for more morbid, serious costumes than the pop culture-inspired ones of today.
Children in Creepy Costumes
I’ve always been fascinated by the creepy, ghoulish children’s Halloween costumes from the 1920s. It makes the popular super hero costumes of today seem lame in comparison. Small children wearing horrifying realistic skulls on their heads, skeletons riding horses and a number of unidentifiable animal masks seem to have been the order of the day during that decade. Believe me, if I was walking alone on Halloween night, I would be terrified of encountering children dressed up like this!
The scariness is upped by the fact that the photos of these costumes are all in black and white. You’re not even sure if they’re children or miniature adults. The costumes are so distracting that it’s hard to see the scale of the people in the photos.
Pagan Festival of Samhain
The genesis of Halloween costumes dates back over 2,000 years. The Celtic pagan festival of Samhain (pronounced sow-in), which marked summer’s end and the beginning of the year’s “darker” half in Britain, is the holiday’s precursor. In medieval England and Ireland, people would dress up in outfits symbolizing the souls of the dead, going from house to house to gather treats or spice-filled “soul cakes” on their behalf (a Christian custom known as “souling”). This is where the tradition of ‘trick or treating’ originated.
Once Halloween entered American culture, its popularity quickly spread, according to fashion historian and director of New York University’s costume studies MA program, Nancy Diehl.
“People in rural America really embraced its pagan roots, and the idea of it as a dark occasion, centered around death,” she said. “They wore scary, frightening get-ups, which were made at home with whatever was on hand: sheets, makeup, improvised masks.”
Trick or Treat!
During the Great Depression, adults started organizing neighborhood activities like trick-or treating, haunted houses and costume parties to prevent teenage pranksters from wreaking havoc on Halloween night. This strategy obviously doesn’t work today since teenagers tend to be the ones to start bonfires and get their hands on illegal fireworks!
So this year when planning your Halloween costume, you may want to take inspiration from these creepy, ghoulish photos from the 1920s and make your own. All you need is a white sheet, a pumpkin and lashings of black make up!
Thank you for reading and Happy Halloween!