Ring in the New Year With Some “Dry” Prohibition Drinks

Want to ring in the New Year with an unusual 1920s twist? Why not try a Prohibition cocktail…without any alcohol?



A Happy New Year

What you won’t find in this post: actual alcohol! This cute postcard from 1907 is on sale now at Cardcow.com, however.

While New Year’s Eve in the Roaring Twenties tends to call up images of glittering  high-class speakeasies dripping with champagne, New Year’s Eve in Chicago during the 1920s was actually fairly tame. While some people went out for a night on the town full of booze, or partied hard at home, many more had a nice, quiet, and dry celebration.

When asked what they’d be doing for New Years in 1920, many Chicagoans answered that they were going to spend a quiet night with family and friends, rather than have a night on the town. “In former years the thing to do was to reserve a table at some downtown cafe and enjoy whatever entertainment it might furnish, but I guess since John Barleycorn died people have gotten out of that habit,” observed Mr. Merrill when asked what he planned to do for New Year’s Eve.1 His fellow Chicagoans seemed to back up his statement, with few of them planning to go out and “see a show” that year.2 The following year seemed to cement the new trend. When asked if their New Year’s Eve was “wet” or “dry” in 1922, all of the people asked said they had “a very ‘dry’ New Year’s Eve” in general, with many saying they spent a quiet night home with family instead of going out.3 Yet by 1928, public opinion had started to change. When asked if they missed New Year’s “before the country went dry,” three out of the five Chicagoans surveyed said they wanted the old New Year’s celebrations back, citing “no good” liquor, increasing bootlegger violence, and a general lack of “whoopee” as reasons why a “dry” New Year was no longer wanted.4

Those people had to wait until 1933 to get their regular New Year’s back, but for most of the duration of Prohibition, most folks didn’t spend their New Year’s Eve drinking to excess. What did they drink instead? All kinds of things—and many of them actually sound pretty good, too! Check out the recipes below. These cheerful, non-alcoholic drinks would be sure to please any teetotaler on New Year’s Eve.


mock champagne cocktail 1 with raspberries


” C H A M P A G N E ”   C O C K T A I L   ( 1 9 2 9 ) :

1 pt. sparkling grape juice

1 pt. of carbonated water

1 tsp. angostura bitters

1 sprig of mint, roughly chopped, for garnish

Combine items in large punch bowl, taking care not to add any extra fruit juices. Then add “a bunch…on top of the ice in the pitcher or bowl” and serve.5

This unusual recipe comes from the Chicago Tribune‘s Jane Eddington, whose recipes have been featured in many of my previous posts. It came, she said, from a maitre’d at “one of our grandest hostelries” who had served it at many a debutante ball, and many of the underage guests thought it was “a great lark.”6

Jane assures readers that it tastes just like “an old-fashioned champagne cocktail and goes equally well with a fine, balanced meal.”7 As for what an old-fashioned champagne cocktail was, she’s probably referring to this Jerry Thomas recipe for a Champagne Cocktail. In modern terms, it means a drink like this one. Either way, one likely ends up with something both sweet and sour, and actually sounds pretty good! 🙂


Jerry Thomas’ creations acts as inspiration for another of Eddington’s drink as well, a kind of brandy punch—minus the brandy, of course ;). Eddington modifies this Jerry Thomas recipe below.


fruit citrus punch nonalc.jpg


 F R U I T   P U N C H   ( 1 9 2 9 ) :

1 tablespoon raspberry syrup

2 tablespoons sugar

1 small orange, juiced

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/2 cup of water

1 slice of pineapple, crushed

Combine ingredients and shake together, then add lump ice to a tall glass and pour mixture over ice. Sip through a straw.8

Eddington also recommends Thomas’ Milk Punch, but I think a classic Tom & Jerry cocktail is better if you’re looking for something hot to ring in the new year.

Spiced, hot drinks like cider were another popular choice for Prohibition-era New Year’s Eve revelers. Here are a series of recipes from 1931, all of which involve spices, fruit juices, and zero alcohol content…



Okay, so this is really a hot toddy with booze, but the picture’s still valid, more or less, even without the cherries.



1 can pitted cherries

2 tbsp grated orange rind

3 tbsp lemon juice

1 cup boiling water

2 tbsp sugar

 1 qt. grape juice

4 cloves

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

Drain cherries from juice and chop them. Soak orange rind, lemon juice, cherry juice water and sugar for 15 minutes. More sugar may be added if needed. Add grape juice and spices and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve hot or chill and serve with shaved ice.9


mint julep fancy

Just because your drink doesn’t have any booze doesn’t mean it can’t look fancy! (This one does though)



1 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1 bunch fresh mint

1 1/2 cup sugar

3 pt. ginger ale

Add mint leaves, sugar and water to lemon juice. Let stand 30 minutes. Pour over a large piece of ice and add ginger ale. Serve in small glasses.10


cider punch fall

Technically this is Ambrosia Punch, but the image works.



2 oranges, juiced

3 lemons, juiced

1 qt. cider

1 qt. grape juice

1 cup sugar

2 qt. water

Add a little of the grated rind of the orange and the lemon to their respective juices and stir in the sugar and cider. Place in punch bowl over block of ice and serve in sherbet glasses. Makes about 4 1/2 quarts.11


wassail punch

Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green…this lovely punch has a modern recipe here as well at Taste of Home


WASSAIL (1931):

4 tart apples

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

2 tsp. allspice

1 tsp. ground cloves

4 two-inch sticks of cinnamon

4 oranges, juiced

2 lemons, juiced

1 cup sugar

2 qt. cider

Remove cores from apples and cut into rounds. Bake until tender but not too soft. Add spices, fruit juice and sugar to the cider and bring to boiling point. Put the baked apple rounds in a punch bowl and pour the hot cider over them. Serve hot.12


These vintage recipes aren’t the only New Year’s Eve mocktails available, however. There are tons of different reasons not to want to drink alcohol on New Year’s Eve, from not wanting to deal with a hangover the next day, to pregnancy, to being heavily medicated. Whatever your reason for not drinking, a lack of alcohol doesn’t mean you don’t get to have fun! There are tons of great festive drinks out there just waiting for you to try. Here’s a quick list of modern mocktail recipes, specifically tailored for New Year’s Eve:

Tablespoon offers 9 Non-Alcoholic Cocktails to Party Down With on New Year’s Eve, including Pear Tree Punch, Raspberry Frost Soda, and a Noel Spritzer, among others.

Bustle offers 13 drinks to help you ring in the New Year, featuring unusual drinks like a Pear Rosemary Spritzer, a fake Moscow Mule, a Lavender Cardamom Fizz, and a Pomegranate Chai Ginger Fizz.

Martha Stewart has 11 different non-alcoholic offerings for a dry New Year’s Eve.

Delish offers 16 different kinds of mocktails, both adult and kid-friendly.

Taste of Home has a ton of different mocktails, though not all of them are tailored to New Year’s/

Spaceships and Laserbeams offers 29 different drinks with tons of pretty Pintrest-ready pictures.

Is This Really My Life has 12 of the prettiest New Year’s Eve mocktails to serve to your guests.


What are YOU drinking this fine New Year’s Eve, dear readers? Share your picks or recipes in the Comments below. Cheers, and Happy New Year! 😀

Works Cited:
1. “The Inquiring Reporter.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Dec 29, 1920. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174755802?accountid=3688.
2. Ibid.
3. “The Inquiring Reporter.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jan 02, 1922. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174929232?accountid=3688.
4. “The Inquiring Reporter.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 31, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180980273?accountid=3688.
5. Eddington, Jane. “Here are Cups that Cheer but Don’t Inebriate.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 29, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180940437?accountid=3688.
6. Ibid.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. Potter, Paul. “NEW YEAR’S EVE GIVES IMPETUS TO FRUIT SALES.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 30, 1931. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181263359?accountid=3688.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
Posted in 1920s vintage recipes, drink recipes, holiday post, link post | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Books for Every One”: A Christmas Gift Guide from 1928

merry xmas book cardcow.jpg


Scrambling for a last minute Christmas gift?

Why not try a book recommendation from 1928?


What do you think was the most popular Christmas gift in 1928? If you said “a book,” you’d be right! 🙂

Books were extremely popular as Christmas gifts throughout the Roaring Twenties, of course, much like they are today—and it’s easy to see why.

“Books are the ideal Christmas gift,” stated a Chicago Tribune article in 1928.1 “Those who enjoy reading are more thrilled with a book than any other gift one could choose, and those who don’t like to read are flattered anyway.”2 That’s because giving a book as a gift can imply all kinds of things about its reader—and with so many different kinds of books available, a giver was almost guaranteed to find something appropriate for their recipient.

As a result, books were considered as a “safe” gift for young men and women of the 1920s to give to one another. Such gifts were particularly important for young people who were “courting,” as giving or receiving an expensive or extravagant gift of any kind could potentially embarrass, drive away, or signal the wrong intention to the other party. Books, however, were considered exempt from this social consideration. For example, one Tribune article stated that young women should be “most careful” when giving anything to man they weren’t “betrothed to” for Christmas—unless it was a book: “Books, of course, she may send—that goes without saying—and it’s just one more nice thing about books.”3

Books were considered equally “safe” for anyone else on your Christmas list, too, as they could be personal or not and covered so many topics you were sure to find something eventually. As a result, books were also popular gift choices for everybody else in your life, too—just like they are today.

In light of that, then, imagine my joy and surprise when I ran across a Christmas book guide from 1928 while digging through the Chicago Tribune archives! 🙂 Not only did it suggest over 100 “popular” book titles as possible Christmas gifts, but each book list was created with a different kind of recipient in mind, from fathers who consider themselves “collegiate” to old women who have, ahem, “delusions of Sixteen” (instead of admitting their age).4 Most of the descriptors of each recipient were quite funny and sarcastic, and the books they suggested for each of them were very interesting.

Here are the possible book recipients given in the article:

Father,” who is either “a nice solid soul” or “inclined to be collegiate.”

Mother,” who either “wears gray and glasses and likes to whip up pudding for Sunday night supper” or “wears French models and a bob.”

Sister,” who is either “a romantic” or “thinks the peaches in the gardens of life are lemons.”

Brother,” who is either “collegiate” or “isn’t.”

Her,” who is “proud of her mind” or “has spent her life trying to prove she hasn’t one.”

Him,” who “still thinks the West is wild” or has brains “in his head and not in his feet.”

An Old lady” who either “admits she is one” or “has a delusion of Sixteen.”

An Old Gentleman” who “plays pinchole, doesn’t dance, and smokes cigars” or “plays bridge” and “does the Varsity drag” (sorry, I couldn’t resist… 😉 ).

Tessie, aged 13, who knows all.”

Angie, aged 9, who still believes there is a Peter Pan.”

Cuthbert, aged 12, who has a quiet little smoke occasionally.”

George Alfred, aged 6, who lies on his stomach when he reads.”

“The baby, aged 3, who will probably be President some day.”5


While there were far too many books in the 1928 article for me to list all of them, there were some notable trends throughout the selection:

Most of the suggested books were published in 1928.  The Tribune article sourced “Chicago bookshops” for recommendations, so it’s not surprising they’d want to sell new products).6

Volumes of poetry were popular gifts for everyone, no matter the age or gender. Carl Sandburg, Dorothy Aldis, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mother Goose (hah!), and A. A. Milne were all recommended as poets. This suggests a society with a greater appreciation for, familiarity with, and daily exposure to poetry as a valuable form of literature…something we lack today, sadly.

“Classic” literature from the Victorian Age was a big hit. While there were some books on the list that would be considered classics today (Bambi and Orlando were both recommended, as were some Wodehouse books and Agatha Christie), most of the classic literature came from the late 1800s or early 1900s. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the Tom Swift series, and books by A. A. Milne were all listed.

The same book was recommended for every adult on the list: Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley. Sort of an intellectual Who’s Who of the 1920s, Huxley’s longest novel covers a philosophical conversation between a large cast of characters, many of whom were based on prominent real-life figures of the time. Sounds like a book that would prompt lots of discussions around the Christmas dinner table at the time!

Women’s book choices reflected women’s changing position in society. Depending on what “type” of women the bookshop owners were suggesting for, their book choices veered wildly from intelligent to catty to downright childish. There was everything from Bambi (which was suggested for the “gray” mother AND children), to The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, to a matter-of-fact book about having extramarital affairs. Not exactly the best grouping of stereotypes, is it?


Below you’ll find a selection of books from some of the “recipients” in the Tribune article. Each book has a small summary, links to where you can find a vintage or reprint copy, and a modern-day read-alike. Take a look. Perhaps you’ll find the perfect last minute Christmas gift here after all! 🙂




Who is either “a nice solid soul” or “inclined to be collegiate”:

Father’s tastes seem to run to biographies of famous people (Lincoln and Grant being particularly popular), drinking guides (for reliving college days), and staid religious titles, with the odd adventure book thrown in. Here are few picks for him:

abraham lincoln vols beveridge

Vintage Suggestion (for “solid” dad): Abraham Lincoln, Vols. 1-4 by Albert J. Beveridge and Meet General Grant by W. E. Woodward

While the books on Abraham Lincoln are considered classics in their field, the book about General Grant contains some racist leanings, but seems to offer a pretty fair general picture of Grant as a person, in spite of being written by a Southerner.



grant chernow

Modern Read-alike:  Grant by Ron Chernow has made the New York Times Book Review Top Ten List for 2017, and is purported to be an excellent study of a complicated presidential figure.  There’s also a new biography on the underrated President McKinley as well.







bon vivants hardcoverVintage Suggestion (for “collegiate” dad): How to Mix Drinks, or The Bon-Vivant’s Companion by “Professor” Jerry Thomas

I was both surprised and amused to find this book listed here, under “collegiate” father’s book list, especially considering how Prohibition was still going strong in 1928, when this list was compiled.  At the beginning of Prohibition, most booksellers were forced to remove books like these from their shelves, and could be fined for selling them. Interesting, then, that the Tribune would actually recommend this…

Modern Read-alike: Why not try a reprint of the original? As most cocktail aficionados know, it’s got some great drinks and has tons of historical value, so why mess with what already works? And if you don’t want to shell out any cash, there are tons of free online versions too.


hounds of god sabiniVintage Suggestion (for “solid” dad): The Hounds of God by Rafael Sabatini

Rafael Sabatini, the same Italian-English adventure novelist who penned Scaramouche, The Sea-Hawk, and Captain Blood, offers a stirring adventure novel about a shipwrecked Spaniard who falls in love with an English lady while pursued by the Spanish Inquisition.

count of monte cristo classic coverModern Read-alike: While Dumas isn’t exactly “modern,” he came up consistently on Novelist Plus as a similar author to Sabatini, probably because both feature swashbuckling heroes on daring adventures.  May I recommend one of my favorite Dumas books, The Count of Monte Cristo? 🙂









who either “wears gray and glasses and likes to whip up pudding for Sunday night supper” or “wears French models and a bob”:

Traditional “gray and glasses” mother favors historical fiction, the lives of the rich and famous, and Methodist religious texts. Modern mother, however, apparently likes to cheat on her husband, plans to take over Hell in the afterlife, and enjoys Gothic mysteries. What a pair! O.o

mary lincoln review Vintage Suggestion (for “gray” mother): Mary, Wife of Lincoln by Katherine Helm

Written by the niece of Mary Todd Lincoln, this book purports to be an insider’s view of Lincoln’s famous wife. According to Goodreads reviewers, it’s quite biased (she was family, after all), but worth it if you’ve already read a lot of other books about Mary and want a different take on things.  If you’re interested, there are used copies available for sale on Amazon, or you can read it all for free here online.

mary todd lincoln revisionist cover

Modern Read-alike: Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography by Jean Harvey Baker

Considered a “definitive” work, this book offers a readable, sympathetic, and more balanced portrait of Mrs. Lincoln’s life and times.

If you’re more interested in fiction, try Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. Based on a true story, it chronicles the friendship between dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave, and Mrs. Lincoln throughout the most tumultuous period of her life.


jealous gods reviewVintage suggestion (for “modern” mother): The Jealous Gods by Gertude Atherton

Getrude Atherton was a popular Californian writer with strong Feminist views. Her book The Jealous Gods appears to be a piece of historical fiction, but I couldn’t find out much about it beyond the first sentence, which begins thusly:

The last thing that Alcibiades had wanted was to marry, but one day on a wager he slapped the face of the father of his friend Callias, and the wealthy and genial Hipponicus was so charmed with the grace of his apology that he offered him his daughter and ten talents as a marriage portion.”

…And based on the ad to the left here, it looks like it also involves an Egyptian princess! Sounds interesting. Unfortunately, it also seems to be out of print. But then, there’s always Worldcat…

Modern Read-alike: NovelistPlus suggests Edna O’Brien as an alternative to Atherton, since her work also focuses on women’s struggles. Why not try her most recent book, The Little Red Chairs? Set in Ireland, it features a mysterious healer who comes to a small village and woos a local woman. When she finds out that he’s a wanted war criminal, however, her world is shattered, and she must find a way to pick up the pieces.




who is either “collegiate” or “isn’t”:

Brother seems to be an adventurous soul, with broad interests in war, early science fiction, booze (The Bon-Vivant’s Companion is also recommended for “collegiate” brother), mysteries, and the occasional book of essays—one of which I talk about below.

whiter mankind review

Vintage Suggestion (for “collegiate” bother): Wither Mankind, edited by Charles A. Beard

This collection of essays explores what it means to live in a “modern” world, with an emphasis on man’s relationships to machines. At least one Amazon reviewer argued that these 1928 essays still have relevance today. While I haven’t read them myself, they do sound interesting—and you can read it all for free here.

thinking machines coverModern Read-alike: These days, everyone seems to be discussing the future of artificial intelligence, and there are a number of new books out this year that try to imagine what that future will look like—and if humans will still be a part of it. Check out these three books:

Thinking Machines by Luke Dormehl covers the history of A.I., from its beginnings in the Cold War to the advances being made today—and predicts where it might be going next.

Heart of the Machine by Futurist Richard Yonck discusses how incorporating emotions to A.I. could be the next big step in human-robot interactions.

Renowned MIT physicist Max Tegmark imagines what will happen to human societies after A.I. reaches singularity in Life 3.0.


raiders of the deeep cover Vintage Suggestion (for “collegiate” brother): Raiders of the Deep by Lowell Thomas

Listed as a bestseller in 1928, this book by renowned reporter Lowell Thomas offered a sympathetic, behind-the-scenes look at the German soldiers who risked their lives in U-Boat crews. That’s because, rather than offer some kind of history or context, he simply asked German soldiers to tell their stories—and frankly, after what I’ve read about life in U-Boats, I have no doubt that it’s just as gripping as the goodreads reviewers say.



dead wake coverModern Read-alike: Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Luistania by Erik Larson

A terrific read (and one of the few books on this list I’ve actually read), Larson covers both the side of the victims and the Germans with aplomb, and his descriptions of stressful, cramped life in a U-Boat are excruciating to read. Can’t recommend this book enough! 🙂







blue train christieVintage Suggestion (for the “isn’t” brother): The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

When an American heiress is strangled on the French luxury train Le Train Bleu, detective Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate. While many people on Amazon don’t consider this her best work—and a precursor to her classic Murder on the Orient Express at best—it’s still an Agatha Christie mystery, and as such, it truly can’t be all that bad. Christie was a master for a reason, after all! 😉

Modern Read-alike: Just go read anything by Agatha Christie. Seriously. She’s wonderful! 😀





who is either “a romantic” or “thinks the peaches in the gardens of life are lemons”:

These sisters are another interesting pair. “Romantic” sister seems to be young and naive, as many of her book selections are rather childish and have some crossover with “gray” traditional mother, too—not exactly the nicest insinuations there. The bitter sister who thinks only of “lemons,” however, has more racy titles, such as the autobiography of Isadora Duncan.

Strangely, though, both of them got the same recommendation: a copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry collection, The Buck in the Snow.

The title poem goes like this:

White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow,
Saw you not at the beginning of evening the antlered buck and his doe
Standing in the apple orchard? I saw them. I saw them suddenly go,
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed with snow.

Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding the snow. 

How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing, a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks, that as the moments pass,
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow –
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.

——–Edna St. Vincent Millay

Cheery, isn’t it? :p Not sure why they both got that one. Some of the kids even got it, too. Here’s a tiny ad for it, too:

buck in the snow reviewI guess the fact that it was her first book in five years was a big deal, but I digress.


silver slippers cover

Vintage Suggestion (for “romantic” sister): Silver Slippers by Temple Bailey

Largely forgotten today, Temple Bailey was a popular and prolific author in her time who produced quite a number of short stories, novels, and articles for famous magazines like The Saturday Evening Post, McCall’s, and Good Housekeeping, to name a few. As for novels, she mostly wrote sweeping romances, and according to this goodreads review, it sounds like Silver Slippers is definitely in that vein: Joan Dudley, orphaned as a young adult, is forced to live with her wealthy aunt and must decide if she will marry a middle-aged man who seems to only want her aunt’s money. Whatever will Joan do? Unfortunately, aside from buying antique copies, it doesn’t seem too easy to find a copy of this book, except on Worldcat of course.

Also, a fellow WordPress blogger has apparently reviewed some of her books. Awesome! 😀

regency buck georgette heyeModern Read-alike: I’m not much of a romance reader at all, but Georgette Heyer is constantly being recommended to me as a good historical fiction writer who focuses on romance. She’s known for excellent historical research as well as gripping romantic plots. Why not start with her first Regency romance, Regency Buck? Not only does it feature romance, but a mystery as well! (Heyer was also a prolific mystery writer, which was the other reason she was recommended to me).






fall flight vintage cover

Vintage Suggestion: Fall Flight by Eleanor Gizycka

A thinly-veiled fictionalized account of the author’s broken marriage, Fall Flight chronicles the life and loves of a “shy, lonely, passionate” girl who marries a Russian prince, then flees his estate—and her failing marriage—with the help of the prince’s sexy English stable manager.  The author’s real name, however, was “Cissy” Patterson. Not only was her grandfather the owner of the Chicago Tribune and former mayor of Chicago, but her brother Joseph founded the New York Daily News, and she herself went on to start the Washington Times-Herald. Not a bad read according to the few reviews I could find, but frankly, Cissy’s real life sounds MUCH more interesting than this.

newspaper titan coverModern Read-alike: Okay, so this isn’t really a read-alike per se, but Cissy’s life really WAS interesting, if only in that it intersected in some way with pretty much all of the major historical events of her lifetime. Famous, rich, demanding, and always on the cutting edge of the news, Cissy’s life was full of famous people and events of the 1920s and 1930s, which is good for history-loving folks because outside of that she was apparently a really awful human being—and Amanda Smith’s Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson gives you both in spades!




BOOKS FOR THE CHILDREN, who consist of Tessie (age 13), Angie (age 9),

Cuthbert (age 12), George Alfred (age 6), and Baby (age 3):

With the kiddies, it’s a much broader mix, and titles seem more dependent on the recipient’s age, gender, and attitude. Thirteen-year-old Tessie features a mix of serious titles and sweeping romances (Silver Slippers appears on her list too). Nine-year-old Angie gets a host of children’s classics (The Wind in the Willows, Dr. Dolittle in the Moon, Arabian Nights, etc). Cuthbert gets a mix of war books, survival books (Boy Scouts and so on), adventure novels and some classics too (like Tom Sawyer).  Six-year-old George gets Winne the Pooh, Oz, and Uncle Remus stories. Three-year-old baby gets multiple Mother Goose rhymes, as well as Dorothy Aldis poetry. All in all, an interesting mix!

harriets choice cover shelf

Vintage Suggestion (for Tessie): Harriet’s Choice by Jane Abbott

A girl goes to New York to live with her aunt and “Harriet found a deep mystery at Aunt Marcia’s city home – and the road to her heart’s desire!” was pretty much all I could find to describe the plot this book, though based on the cover I’d peg it for a romance, perhaps in the same vein as Silver Slippers. Apparently, when she’s not reading serious stuff like The Crock of Gold, Tessie likes to read romances (yeah, right! :p).

Bridge_to_Terabithia wiki coverModern Read-alike: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Based on the other books recommended for Tessie, she came off as an intelligent tomboy, so I’d vote for giving her this excellent book instead. It chronicles the growing friendship between a young artistic boy and a rich, tomboyish girl who create an imaginary world together called Terabithia. The ending is quite the tearjerker, but it’s a good one!





kimo cover

This vintage copy is for sale at abebooks.com

Vintage Suggestion (for Angie): Kimo by Alice Cooper Bailey

It was hard for me to find much about this book, save for the following summary from Goodreads, which was the most complete one I could find anywhere: “Kimo, a boy from Honolulu, goes to stay with his aunt in an isolated village on another island. Here, the people have been untouched by modern civilization and still live following the old ways. But, to his dismay, he isn’t accepted by the grandfather of the little village. Mysterious letters, a talking bird, unknown histories — by the end of this tale, Kimo and young Lani learn a lot about their families and their country.Also, according to a different Goodreads user, the boy’s grandmother is thedoomedQueen of Hawaii. Maybe he meant this lady?

bomb cover taylorModern Read-alike: While it’s hard to confidently suggest anything not knowing fully what this book is about, but if you want to discuss the exploitation of islanders with kids, maybe try The Bomb by Theodore Taylor. While the book isn’t meant for very young children (so Angie, who is 9, is off the list), teens and older preteens will be touched by the poignant, heart-wrenching ending that encourages them to think about the exploitation of indigenous peoples.


historic airships

Vintage Suggestion (for Cuthbert): Historic Airships by Rupert Holland

Aside from being a “general history from hot air balloons through Lindenberg” plus other forms of air travel, I couldn’t find much on this book….except for a picture of the inside title page, which included gorgeous color plate!

Check this out:

historic airships inner pgs

Looks great, doesn’t it??? 😀 I bet the pen drawings inside are great too, based on that insert there. WWI planes are the best, after all! 😀

wings coverModern Read-alike: Wings: A History of Aviation from Kites to the Space Age by Tom D. Crouch

Written by a former curator at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., this book attempts to cover the entire history of commercial aviation in one volume—and does so admirably. He covers everything from early gliders to the Wright brothers to the rise of commercial aviation in the 1920s to stealth bombers and beyond. Engaging, well-written, thoroughly researched, and still in print!



aa milne set pooh

This first edition set is also on sale…

Vintage Suggestion (for George Alfred): The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne

The second collection of Pooh stories by famous writer A. A. Milne, this book was recommended along with Now We Are Six, a book of poetry for children. This particular collection is notable for introducing this guy.

pooh box set disney

Modern Read-alike:  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, some things are classics for a reason! So why not give a set of his books to your favorite young person?

And if you’re looking for an adult, you could always try one of Milne’s mystery novels. Did you know Milne actually wanted to be a mystery writer, but his adult work was never taken seriously? Apparently it infuriated him to no end. If you want to give his adult work a try, start with The Red House Mystery, one of those classic locked-room scenarios.







here there and everywhere cover color cover

Vintage Suggestion (for the Baby): Here, There and Everywhere by Dorothy Aldis

Dorothy Aldis was a famous children’s poet during the early 1920s. She was also a Chicagoan, being raised in the city and settling in nearby Lake Forest, IL. Her rhymes may be simple, but her imagery is quite nice, and many of her poems are still included in modern children’s poetry collections.





fox sox abridgedModern Read-alike:  Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss

An abridged version meant for toddlers, this popular Dr. Seuss book is full of rhymes and tongue-twisters that are great for little kids and their parents to try together.



So what do you think of these book lists, dear readers? See any books you like? Have you read any of the vintage books on this list? If so, would you recommend them, or not so much? Please share in the Comments below! 🙂


Happy holiday reading, everyone!

May you have a lovely holiday season and a happy New Year! 😀 ❤

A Merry Christmas - Volumes of Good Wishes - Books and Holly

This cute vintage postcard is for sale here at Cardcow.com! 🙂

Works Cited:
1. “Christmas Books for Every One are Listed here.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 08, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180993473?accountid=3688.
2. Ibid.
3. “How to Reduce Your Christmas Shopping to its Easiest Terms.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Nov 22, 1925. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180707135?accountid=3688.
4. “Christmas Books for Every One are Listed here.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Dec 08, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180993473?accountid=3688.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
Posted in book list, book reviews, link post, list post, primary source review, Social Customs of the 1920s | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Turtle Soup and Oyster Stew: A New England Jazz Age Thanksgiving

Hello everyone! As you know, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and American tables will be overflowing with mashed potatoes, turkey, and pumpkin pie, to name but a few…though sea turtle soup, oyster stew, and broiled lobster probably won’t be on the menu!

While poking around for images for my Halloween How-To series, I came across some charming vintage Thanksgiving postcards from the 1920s. Each one contains a small illustrated menu, with suggestions for soups, entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks, as well as a short toast for guests to use. All the postcards were mailed during the Jazz Age, so it’s likely that many of these dishes wouldn’t look out completely of place on a Roaring Twenties Thanksgiving table—especially one in New England.

Check out the menus below. Notice anything different from our modern-day feast?


Thanksgiving Menu

Succotash is a traditional New England dish. On sale at CardCow.com


Thanksgiving Menu

I like how this is the only one that contains salad. On sale at CardCow.com


Thanksgiving Menu

Green sea turtle? Really??! On sale at CardCow.com



Mmmm, lobster! On sale at CardCow.com


So what’s different about these menus? The seafood! As you can see, some kind of sea creature is on every single one of these menus, from oysters to lobsters. Why? Well, it’s likely because these menus are meant to evoke a Colonial New England Thanksgiving. Heck, there’s even succotash, and that’s a traditional New England dish as well. It’s not necessarily inaccurate either, as lobster, clams, oysters and mussels were part of the first Thanksgiving—but it’s doubtful that people in, say, 1920s Ohio were eating boiled lobster with their turkey. Oyster stew, maybe, but not fresh lobster. So why send these menu postcards to their friends?

Well, it’s probably part of the general trend throughout the Roaring Twenties to hearken back to “simpler times” during the holidays, choosing to emphasize tradition over the new modern age. And with its position as a uniquely American holiday, Thanksgiving became a time to emphasize a particular vision of America’s Colonial past, whether through reviving old recipes, making children put on pageants, or sending postcards like these.

Incorporating some seafood into your modern Thanksgiving feast, however, isn’t necessarily a bad idea. While fresh oysters aren’t as plentiful, cheap, or easy to obtain as they used to be (there’s a reason they used to be considered common workingman’s food), they’re still worth your time.

For example, the idea of stuffing a turkey full of fresh oysters is utterly foreign to me as a Midwesterner, but it’s not only part of New England’s food history, it also supposedly tastes great. Serious Eats assures me that its “just really freaking good,” with the brine from the fresh oysters making “deliciousness guaranteed.”

So, even though we’re no longer able to get fresh oysters as easily as our forefathers, let me offer you this vintage recipe for oyster stuffing, which is paraphrased from Hospitality (1922) by Mary M. Wright:


Oyster Stuffing (1922) :

1 qt. bread crumbs

1 pint oysters, fresh, shucked and drained

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon butter

Mix all ingredients together and stuff the bird, increasing amounts as needed for a larger turkey.

—paraphrased from page 46 of Hospitality (1922) by Mary M. Wright.

Or, if you’d rather try something with a bit more flavor, try this modern recipe from Serious Eats.


Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and no matter what’s on your table, I hope you enjoy it! 😀


Now back to carving the turkey… ;). On sale at CardCow.com 


Posted in 1920s vintage recipes, holiday post, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hallowe’en How-To: What Food to Serve at Your Vintage Halloween Party

Congratulations, dear readers! What with the invitations mailed and the house decorated, you’re almost ready to hold your vintage Halloween party! Now you just need one more thing: food! Lucky for you, vintage Halloween fare is simple to prepare…though not all of it is the kind of stuff you’d see on a party tray today. No need to worry, though—there are all sorts of recipes to choose from below. But first, you’ll need to…


Step One: Decorate Your Table

No matter how simple or elaborate the decorating in the living room, the table itself must be a bright spot of color,” says the 1926 version of the Dennison Bogie Book. While that generally meant that everything should be covered in as much orange and black crepe paper as possible…

1922 Bogie book witches supper table 1

Even the “moss” hanging from the ceiling was made of crepe paper! 😮 From the 1922 Dennison Bogie Book

…many hosts and hostesses from the early 1900s through the Jazz Age took a different decorative tack, incorporating vegetables, flowers and fruit to create an “old-fashioned,” rustic decor that evoked the Autumn harvest, with pumpkins, apples, dried corn stalks, autumn leaves, fall flowers like chrysanthemums and various nuts all making an appearance.

A 1905 book recommends this layout for an “old-fashioned” buffet-style table set up, which incorporates many of the aforementioned items:

“Refreshments should be served on a highly polished oak or mahogany table covered with fall leaves arranged as mats. In the centre of the table put a small table mirror on a mat of brown chestnut leaves. In the center of the mirror stand a large brown jug or pitcher filled with tiny old-fashioned chrysanthemums, red and yellow. Towards the end of the table make large mats of leaves and pile on them beautifully polished apples. Cut sheets of tin in squares of about nine or ten inches, roll the corners to give the appearance of flat cake dishes. Fill these with doughnuts, ginger cookies and sand tarts. At one end of the table, on a large tray, place a jug of cider and glasses or stone mugs. Have plain brown bread and butter sandwiches, a large wooden bowl full of cracked nuts. Another filled with smoking hot boiled chestnuts will be brought in during supper. Serve on wooden plates…and…use brown paper napkins.”—Mrs. Rorer’s Every Day Menu Book (1905), page 242 and page 243

By the 1910s, pumpkins took center stage as table decorations. In a 1914 article, for example, Jane Eddington of the Tribune says a pumpkin can “be carved into baskets for fruits—brilliant clusters of grapes and rosy apples and pears being the most suitable…with autumn leaves, perhaps” and thus turned into a fine centerpiece.1 She also mentions in passing an entirely different way to decorate a pumpkin that doesn’t involve much carving, but does involve using extra vegetables in interesting ways:

“In carving a pumpkin and fixing it up, a question that faces us is as to how grotesque we shall make it. I think that to make the jack-o-lantern too grotesque is to lose some of the real charm we might put into it. Therefore, instead of a red pepper for a nose, as is common, we cut out a carrot, allowing for an ample Roman quality. Little discs of carrots were also used to make the eyes expressive, and carrot pegs for teeth.”2

Even shop-keepers got involved in this act, apparently: “The grocers last year did some wonderful carving with cranberries set in for eyebrows, red cabbage leaves for tongues, teeth of kernels of corn, or other vegetable decorations.”3

A 1910 Tribune article suggests a similar set-up as well:

“in the center of the table be placed a large jack-o-lantern or a large pumpkin hollowed out and filled with fruit. Another good center piece is a small sheaf of wheat surrounded by all sorts of harvest vegetables, and in the center, peeping saucily out, a small jack-o-lantern. A candelabra made of apples raised on a standard and streamers of strung pumpkin seeds for a canopy over a jack-o-lantern head makes a good center piece…”4

Other table centerpieces were interactive, offering guests party favors or fortunes along with their food. Check out this example from a 1904 copy of The Good Housekeeping Hostess, which incorporates fortune-telling:

1904 halloween centerpiece good housekeeping

The actual centerpiece in question, from The Good Housekeeping Hostess. Photo Source: The Good Housekeeping Hostess (1904), p. 253

“An appropriate centerpiece for the Halloween supper table may consist of small paper mache jack-o-lanterns and splendid chrysanthemums arranged alternately around a mammoth pumpkin carved into a basket. The basket is filled with the shells of mandarin oranges, and is passed to the guests. Each shell contains an article—a penny, a heart, a bachelor’s button, tiny china cat, etc., etc. These are supposed to carry a meaning prophetic of the recipient’s future.”—The Good Housekeeping Hostess (1904), page 250

Another 1910s centerpiece also involved fortunes, but used a cabbage and flowers instead of a pumpkin:

“The centerpiece was made by placing a cabbage, which had curling leaves, in a shallow glass dish, and into the leaves of the cabbage sticking flowers, on the stems of which were curled slips of paper containing a ‘fortune’ for each guest.”5

dame curtsey halloween centerpiece candles 1911

This centerpiece is less about the pumpkin and more about the candles. So many candles.—From “Dame Curtsey’s” book of novel entertainments for every day in the year (1911), pg. 94

For a children’s Halloween party, Tribune reporter Ada M. Krecker suggests another fortune-telling centerpiece in the form of a pumpkin, something called a “jack-o-lantern surprise”:

“…select a large, round turnip pumpkin, and carefully remove the top, keeping it whole for Jack’s hat. Next hollow out all of the inside possible, and cut triangular eyes, nose, and mouth. The favors will suggest the future lot of the boy or girl who receives them; a ring for the one who will first be married, a horseshoe for good luck, a thimble for an old maid, a penny for riches, etc. These favors are wrapped in yellow tissue paper, tied with long strands of raffia, and packed in the pumpkin. The raffia is used instead of ribbons for pulling the gifts and gives the effect of hair.”6

kids halloween party omg candles pumpkin center

See the pumpkin in the center with all the ribbons coming out of it? What do you want to bet it’s some form of the “jack-o-lantern surprise” game? Photo Source: Vintage Everyday

Other hosts eschewed food entirely, however. One clever hostess (the same one who gave secret invitations) surprised her guests with a very different kind of feast:

“The supper table drew quantities of attention, especially as it became evident that it held absolutely nothing to eat, despite its generous burdens of cakes, pies, and fruit. There were apples and oranges of silk and paper with printed fortunes pinned to their stems or buried inside; there were cups of chocolate, as they seemed, but which proved to have cotton cream on top and fortune beans below. There were tomato pin cushions and emery strawberries and sachet crackers, all in plates and baskets. A big pie at one end held brooms of fortune, which were wee wisps of straw with silver handles.”7

By the 1920s, however, most hosts had given up on such time-consuming, homemade table decorations. Instead, they preferred to use exciting new mass-produced items that could be bought in stores and put together with ease. As a result, Halloween supper tables were less about presenting the autumn’s bounty and more about cramming as many matching place-cards, patterned napkins, candy holders and die-cut cardboard centerpieces on the table as you could.

This 1929 Tribune photo depicts a typical Halloween supper table from the Jazz Age. Note the large amounts of commercially made decorations, many of which were selected to match some kind of theme (in this case, a black cat):

Dennison’s Bogie Books reinforced the trend towards store-bought materials with their highly coordinated table decorations. Check these out. A bit eye-watering, aren’t they? 😉

1920 bogie book house party table dec

Photo Source: 1920 Bogie Book

1920s bogie book table decs business party

Photo Source: 1920 Bogie Book

1920 bogie book table favors decs

This selection of candy cups, serving cups, and various wrapped food (number 1 is wrapped around a doughnut, and number 6 involves an orange somehow) shows some different ways people could adapt pre-made items into their decorations. Photo Source: 1920 Bogie Book

1926 bogie book table decs plus menu cutout

These 1926 table suggestions, as well as a menu, feature some interesting centerpieces. Source: The Bogie Book (1926), pg. 10

1926 bogie book candy holders cutout

These candy holders get weirder and weirder… Photo Source: The Bogie Book (1926), pg. 15

…But table decorations are only part of the meal. You still need the most important part: the food! 🙂


Step Two: Set Your Halloween Menu

In the past, Halloween parties were considered highly informal affairs, where “normal” dinner rules were suspended in favor of serving simple foods that could be eaten while playing a game or dancing. As a result, most celebrations included the following foods:

  • Pumpkin was always on the menu in some form, often as a pie or custard
  • Apples and nuts (particularly walnuts and chestnuts) were always on the table somewhere. Besides being tasty and easy to eat, they could also be used to play a large variety of fortune-telling games
  • Apple cider was a traditional offering at most tables, as was coffee
  • Doughnuts were also pretty common, with candy coming later on. Candy was often part of each guest’s place setting, presented in a cute holiday container of some kind
  • Sandwiches, rather than elaborate dishes, were a mainstay throughout the early 20th century even for fancier parties, with many different and unusual fillings
  • Orange and black foods, particularly carrots and mushrooms, were frequently served for their festive color rather than anything else (after all, your food had to match your decorations! 😉 )

Most of this food was presented buffet-style as well. Since most parties emphasized boisterous group games, fortune-telling, and dancing, it made sense to give guests foods that were easy to eat while doing something else. The fact that a lot of these foods could also be used for many fortune-telling games (the apples and chestnuts in particular) was an added bonus for the host.

Suggested holiday menus of the time reflected this kind of informality as well. While the earlier menus were slightly more elaborate due to the tastes of the time period, there is a definite trend towards simpler and simpler fare as things progress. Note the relative simplicity of the following holiday menus, from 1904 to 1926…

For a 1904 children’s party:


Chicken sandwiches.

Baked apples, jellied with whipped cream.

Doughnuts, gingerbread animals.



Jack-o-lantern surprise.”8

Decorated apples were part of this 1907 Halloween menu:

“There was chicken salad, served in apples made into jack-o-lanterns, sandwiches of finely chopped chestnuts, with mayonnaise, ham sandwiches, sweet cider…and coffee.”9

For a rustic Halloween party in 1910, this menu was suggested:

“…the menu should be as simple as possible, with piles of doughnuts on old fashioned blue plates…bread and butter sandwiches, old time pumpkin pies…tankards and pitchers full of cider. Coffee may be served, too, if desired…if a salad is served, place it in the hallowed out head of a cabbage.”10

For an “informal” 1915 Halloween party:

“Creamed chestnuts in ramekins.

Peppers stuffed with veal.

Hot rolls. Celery.

Apple salad with cheese wafers.

Pistachio charlotte russe. Walnut cake.


For a 1915 Halloween luncheon, things get a bit fancier:



Creamed oysters in cases.

Curried eggs in rice.

Chicken breasts with Italian chestnuts.

Potato croquettes.

Orange sherbet.

Plum salad.

Cheese straws.

Sunshine ice cream and cake.


By the 1920s, however, things were even simpler, with sandwiches becoming a common menu item. Note the large amount of sandwiches in the following 1920 menus from one of the Dennison Bogie Books:

“Chicken pie

Stuffed apple salad

Nut bread sandwiches

Hot gingerbread



“Vegetable salad

Brown bread and cream

Cheese sandwiches

Pumpkin pie


Cider.”—1920 Bogie Book

This menu from 1922 is also pretty simple, and still includes sandwiches:

“Cold Ham

Potato Salad




Doughnuts, Cider.”—-The Bogie Book (1922), pg. 10

A suggested Halloween buffet supper from 1926:

“Cream cheese and nut sandwiches.

Preserved ginger sandwiches.

Cold meat.

Potato salad.



Ginger Ale.

Salted nuts.”—The Bogie Book (1926), pg. 10

But just because your menu was simple, that didn’t mean you had to skip out on the presentation! Many vintage Halloween recipes have a strong playful element to them, like sandwiches with little cat faces, tiny pumpkin cakes, and other fun decorative elements. See what I mean by checking out the unusual recipes below.


Step Three: Get Cooking! Vintage Halloween Recipes

What shall we serve at the Halloween party this year? It must be new and different, yet at the same time appropriate to the occasion. Unique refreshments, with something in the nature of a surprise, are being sought by every hostess who is planning to entertain on Halloween,” writes Alice Fewell in volume 24 of American Cookery, circa 1915.  Such surprises abound in the following vintage recipes, which could easily add an element of whimsy at your own party table.



Unlike today’s parties, Halloween parties of the past rarely featured appetizers or dips. Instead, meals would start with soups and salads, often presented in a festive manner. Here are some fun examples:


This Halloween Salad from  The Good Housekeeping Hostess involves hollowing out a cabbage, decorating it with cloves, and filing it with an apple and nut salad similar to a Waldorf Salad.


The Tribune’s own Jane Eddington (whose recipes have appeared on this blog before) contributed this simple egg salad with a “devilish” twitch in 1921:


Eddington contributed another recipe for a black bean soup, in keeping with an orange and black color scheme.

“Thin slices of carrots cut in fancy shapes” would also be an appropriate garnish, and in keeping with the orange and black theme.13


As Tribune reporter Sally Lunn notes, “an appetizing salad could be made in the semblance of a witch’s face,” if one was clever with their ingredients.14 “The black hat” could be “a triangular shaped piece of toast…spread with caviar,” and “a slice of tomato spread with cream cheese and marked with green pepper” could make the face.15



As evidenced in the menus earlier, what constitues an “entree” in a vintage Halloween menu is a bit up for grabs. While sandwiches predominated, cold-cut meats and even barbecue were potentially on the menu as well. One popular way to jazz up any food item, as was hinted at in Eddington’s Witch Salad, was to “devil” it by adding some kind of hot spice to it. Eddington cautions against this, however, saying that “all of these things are more or less indegestible or injurious. Too hot dishes call too much blood to the surface of the stomach” and cause stomach ache.16 If one must have something spicy, Eddington recommends “horseradish sandwiches, small but not too biting” instead of adding something like Cayenne pepper to a dish.17 One example of a “deviled” food, however, follows in this 1921 recipe:

Sandwiches, which were easy to eat and could be filled with all kinds of sweet and savory spreads, were a popular item at any vintage Halloween supper table. Besides being easy to make for busy hostesses, they could also be decorated in fun ways to add to the festivities. Here are a few vintage sandwich options:

Chestnut Sandwiches: Roasted chestnuts were a popular Halloween item, seeing as they could be used to predict future lovers in certain fortune-telling games, so it’s no surprise that they’d also end up in a sandwich. This 1916 recipe is a good example of this kind of sandwich:

Cinnamon Sandwiches: Selected for their “dark” color, cinnamon sandwiches were to be toasted quickly to be soft in the center and crispy on the edges. The filling consisted of powdered sugar, “one part cinnamon to eight of powdered sugar,” which was sprinkled over buttered toast and then combined into a sandwich. Cinnamon drop candies were sometimes added as well for extra flavor, or as a decorative element, like for making a “face” on the bread.18

“Deviled” Cheese Sandwich Filling: This cheese filling was submitted to the Tribune by a school principal, and actually sounds pretty good. You could probably make something similar today with Velveeta, I imagine. The recipe is as follows:

1 pound of soft yellow cheese

2 to 3 well-beaten eggs

1/2 cup of cream

Salt, pepper, and paprika

  1. Mix the cream and eggs together, then grate the cheese and combine in a pot.
  2. Put contents over stove and cook until melted.
  3. Remove from stove and add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste.
  4. Pour into a jar and allow to cool. Should have a consistency of “soft butter” and should keep for 1 week if refrigerated.19

Deviled variation: Add “a little mustard,” some red pepper, or “some grated horseradish” to make the filling “sharper,” if desired.20

“Fortune” Sandwiches: Simple sandwiches, such as brown bread and butter ones, could be made to tell fortunes in different ways, either by cutting them into different shapes to stand for different outcomes (for example, a ring-shaped sandwich might stand for the next person to wed, just as finding an actual ring in a Fortune Cake would stand for the same), or by wrapping them in papers with fortunes written on them, such as “health, wealth, happiness, good luck, wisdom,” or “long life.”21



A multitude of sweet items adorned past Halloween tables, from apples to sweet chestnuts to candy, popcorn balls, cake, pumpkin pies, doughnuts and cookies. It would be impossible to list all the recipes I’ve found for all those here, but here are a few of the more interesting ones.


Popcorn balls were a common offering at Halloween, particularly at children’s parties. The recipe for these balls comes from a 1915 volume of American Cookery:


Eddington recommended this dessert, which is essentially a baked “sweet” apple that’s been deliberately browned on the top, as “an eminently appropriate child’s dish.”222 Interestingly, while she wrote an entire article on how to organize a children’s party with this apple at the center, she never actually explains HOW to make them, though she says that recipe is quite old and ultimately English in origin, while also popular in New England.23 I dug through a number of vintage cookbooks and couldn’t find a recipe, but The Guardian has one on its website that could be modified in vintage ways.

Jane Eddington, for example, suggests that the baked apples should be served on a stick in order to appeal to children. In one article, she suggests adding “marshmallow decorations” to the apple.24 In another, she suggests inserting “a stick of red clove candy” while the apple is still hot, so it will melt and “flavor” the dessert, and then top it all with whipped cream, in an attempt to remind a child of a caramel apple.25 Either way, they sound pretty good.


halloween cakes 1915 american cookery

Cute, aren’t they? 🙂 Photo Source: American Cookery, Vol. 20, c. 1915, pg. 216

These little nut cakes seem fairly easy to make and are also very festive, given the small almond-paste pumpkins and the variety of different food coloring used:

halloween cakes 1 american cookery 1915



Naturally, I just had to end this post with some drink recipes! 😀 Only one of them is actually a real drink, sadly, but both of them are pretty interesting—and one of them involves lighting stuff on FIRE! 😀 😀 😀


Sadly, this isn’t something you can actually drink, but it still sounds pretty cool, especially if you’re going for an eerie party effect and you like fire. Check this out:

“Cut the skin of the mandarin oranges around the middle, turn up the upper half, forming a cup, loosen skin from lower half without removing fruit. Fill cups with brandy and alcohol and turn out all the lights, have room dark, and set fire to the contents of the cup just before guests enter dining room. The one whose cup out-burns the others will have a year of good luck.”26


This odd recipe comes from an ad for A&P, which was promoting coffee as part of one’s Halloween celebrations. As a result, they offered this bizarre cider recipe, which involves…hot coffee! I can’t decide if it’d taste good or not. What do you think?

I wish I had some alcoholic drinks to offer you all for your vintage party, but none of the archives I dug through mentioned any of them—even the pre-Prohibition ones! 😦

I figured there’d at least be a punch recipe, but there was nothing. So, if you guys have any favorite Halloween cocktails to recommend, I’d love to hear them! 🙂


Works Cited:
1. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 27, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174409793?accountid=3688.
2. Ibid.
3. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 25, 1914. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173828514?accountid=3688.
4. Farrar, Addie. “Hints for Halloween Frolics; Informality the Chief Mark.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173504792?accountid=3688.
5. “Goose and Barn Parties make Fun for the Halloween Guest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 27, 1907. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173360001?accountid=3688.
6. Krecker, Ada M. “Household Hints.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1904. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173206314?accountid=3688.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid.
9. “Goose and Barn Parties make Fun for the Halloween Guest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 27, 1907. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173360001?accountid=3688.
10.  Farrar, Addie. “Hints for Halloween Frolics; Informality the Chief Mark.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173504792?accountid=3688.
11. Whitaker, Hazel. “How to have Fun on Halloween.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1915. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173964083?accountid=3688.
12. Ibid.
13. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 27, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174409793?accountid=3688.
14. Lunn, Sally. “Halloween is Grand Time for Giving a Party.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 25, 1929. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181039554?accountid=3688.
15. Ibid.
16. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 25, 1914. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173828514?accountid=3688.
17. Ibid.
18. Eddington, Jane. “THE TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 26, 1919. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174531865?accountid=3688.
19. Eddington, Jane. “TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1920. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174726835?accountid=3688.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 27, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174409793?accountid=3688.
23. Ibid.
24. Eddington, Jane. “THE TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 23, 1921. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174864091?accountid=3688.
25. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 27, 1918. https://search.proquest.com/docview/174409793?accountid=3688.
26. Eddington, Jane. “The TRIBUNE COOK BOOK.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922),Oct 25, 1914. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173828514?accountid=3688.
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Hallowe’en How-To: Decorate Your Home for Halloween With Vintage Flair

“A paste-pot, some orange and black cardboard and crepe paper, white and black ribbon and a lively imagination can produce wonders in the way of creating a spooky atmosphere” for your Halloween party, assured Tribune reporter Sally Lunn in a 1929 article.1 Using these humble materials, anyone can make impressive Halloween party decorations—including you, dear readers! 🙂



Halloween Greetings Haunted House

This lovely 1910 Halloween postcard recently sold on cardcow.com. The message on the back reads: “How are you [?] and how are the Hobgoblins? Look out for a box of Hallowe’en tricks for the children.–Maura.” Cute. Photo Source: cardcow.com

Halloween parties in the early 20th century were all about giving your guests a thrilling, fun, and atmospheric experience—and for many, that began right at the front door. Here’s some advice from the Tribune regarding how to decorate your home:

“A unique way to decorate the house is to have nothing but pumpkins for lights when the guests first arrive, with a witch in the hall or on the stairs to direct the guests where wraps may be removed…”2

Or instead of jack-o-lanterns, why not try greeting your guests with nothing at all? Remember those elaborate invitation instructions I mentioned in my previous post, where the guests had to keep their invitation a secret and not speak to one another? Well this is what they found when they arrived to the party:

“…the side door…seemed to open of itself, no one appearing. They filed in silently through the dark hall, one by one, into a little ante-room, where only one person was at a time and where each was given a card. From here they passed into the dining room, where the light was so dim that they were just able to find the first chair to hand without recognizing any of their companions. No one said a word, no one knew who else was there.”3

Most parties, however, had some kind of spooky greeter to guide guests into the home. For one children’s “ghost party,” guests were admitted by:

“…a figure draped in white with a white mask over her face, who silently pointed to the stairs; when they reached the top of the stairs another ghostly figure pointed to the rooms where they were to leave their wraps.”4

Some hosts got a bit more creative. One reader who wrote in to the Tribune described his notable entry into a Halloween party, with tons of great sensory details:

“The house was dark except for a couple of jack-o-lanterns on the porch. On entering, one shook hands with a ghost with cold, clammy hands. On going farther, a multitude of hands reached out and tripped you, shapes flitted about here and there, and a vacuum cleaner in an adjoining room made a weird noise which was…startling…”5



Spookiness isn’t everything, though. Maybe you’ve decided to go with a themed party instead, rather than trying to scare your guests. If you’re doing that, then to be truly vintage, you’d better be sure all your decorations match! Check out this elaborate description of a harvest-themed Halloween party that was held in a barn in 1910:

“The floor of the barn was a roomy one, and had been swept clean…Across the entrance was hung a row of lanterns imitating witches’ heads, that were most effective when lighted. Gay bunting and flags, branches of brilliant autumn leaves, standards of corn, and sheaves of wheat, piles of rosy red apples, and yellow pumpkins were so placed about the walls and floor as to give the barn a festive appearance, while the entire place was lighted by paper lanterns imitating pumpkin jack-o-lanterns, and hanging from a small tree that was placed in each corner of the big room a rustic log lantern glowed comically at the guests.”6

Not all Halloween parties were elaborate themed affairs, of course. Most people (i.e., not the rich) had much more low key parties where the decorations were a hodgepodge of store-bought and homemade.  This exhaustive 1915 list of decoration ideas contains both kinds of items, and gives a pretty good idea of what a middle-class Edwardian parlor might have looked like during Halloween:

“Decorations next! Let them be as grewsome as your imagination, assisted by suggestions, can conjure up. Pumpkin and skeleton lanterns furnish the proper amount of light for such an evening….spider webs…are easily constructed out of white cord and from these made spiders should be suspended. Just stuff crepe paper spider shapes with cotton and use hat wire for their legs….buy some 5 cent fish globes. Hold over a lighted kerosene lamp and blacken inside. Draw grotesque faces in them by rubbing off the soot. Light by dropping in an electric bulb, and the result will be weird enough for the bravest. A marvelous witches’ cauldron can be made from twigs and a real black kettle. Cover the electric light with red paper and by the least stretch of imagination you can feel the warm rays. Instead of the regular curtain drapes, use yellow cheesecloth…besides the pumpkins, witches, cats, and spiders, apples form a needed article both for decorative and entertainment purposes.”7

adult party halloween masks Edwardian definitely

This Edwardian era Halloween party features some nice table decorations, some odd costume choices (what the heck is on that guy’s head on the left?), and a lot of commercial decorations in the form of streamers and paper lanterns. Photo Source: Vintage Everyday

As you can see from the photo above, during the 1910s many party-givers started incorporating new commercial items, like paper lanterns, into their Halloween decorating, often combining them with older staples, such as in the following example:

“The mantel in the first room was decorated with yellow crepe paper covered with black cats and owls, and piled with ears of corn. Queer little Halloween figures were placed amongst the corn. The mantel in the other room was draped with Halloween paper napkins, at each corner were two small pumpkin lanterns, and scattered over the mantel were more of the queer little figures…”8

donnelly creepy party favor

This little creature certainly fits the “queer figure” bill. His little basket was probably meant to hold candy. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

It would take until the Jazz Age, however, for the mass-produced decorations to really take over in a new and crazy way.



By the 1920s, people were already bemoaning the lack of originality in Halloween decorations. “There is little novelty in decoration for Halloween parties,” whined a Tribune reporter in 1922, “for no one seems to want to depart from the traditional jack-o-lanterns, black cats, witches and others that hold revel that night.”9 The stereotypical imagery of Halloween, it seems, had become old hat in a relatively short amount of time, largely thanks to the “Golden Age of Postcards.

“The spirit and imagery of Halloween in America has never been so vividly documented as it was during the first decades of the twentieth century, thanks to the popular medium of picture postcards” wrote David J. Skal in Death Makes  a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween.10 During the Golden Age of Postcards (roughly 1907-1915), an explosion of Halloween postcards flooded the public’s imagination with jack-o-lanterns, black cats, witches, goblins, ghosts, skeletons, bats, and more—and helped to cement them as Halloween icons for decades to come.

Halloween Witches

This vintage postcard from the early 1900s features a black cat, witches, an owl, bats, and a jack-o-lantern—all things which are now considered icons of Halloween. Photo Source: cardcow.com

By the mid 1900s, then, not only did everyone agree what kinds of things should be part of your Halloween decorations, but you could also buy a number of them commercially, rather than making everything yourself. This Tribune ad gives an idea of what you could buy at the store to decorate your Halloween party:

mendel bros halloween ad

This Mendel Brothers’ ad from the Chicago Tribune features many different kinds of pre-made decorations that are sure to “lend a goblin-like air to the home” for party-givers. Photo Source: Chicago Tribune Archives

Not everyone wanted a stereotypical Halloween party, though, especially during the Roaring Twenties, when novelty and elegance was all the rage. So, for those people—and anyone else who shared an unholy love for crepe paper—there were The Bogie Books, which were chock full of suggestions that could turn your humdrum Halloween party from this…

kids halloween party omg candles pumpkin center

A drab Edwardian affair. Photo Source: Vintage Everyday

…Into this! 😀

1920 bogie glamorous jazz age art deco with stairs

Check out that dramatic staircase entrance! Photo Source: The Bogie Book (1920)

This flapper-riddled insanity is courtesy of Dennison Paper Manufacturing Company, which began producing Bogie Books in 1909,. An innovative combination of craft magazine and product catalog, Dennison’s Bogie Books offered suggestions on how to use their paper products—crepe paper, printed paper items, napkins and so forth—to decorate homes, parties, and yourself for Halloween.11

Filled with images of “sophisticated flappers with bobbed hair cavorting in decorated ballrooms,” the Dennison books are fun to look at, if not always realistic.12 Check out these design plans for ballrooms, clubs, and other large spaces, transforming them with tissue paper, crepe paper, cardboard die-cuts, and other flimsy stuff into strange, colorful things:

1920 bogie ballroom combo attempt 1

These ballroom suggestions are from the 1920 version of Dennison’s Bogie Book.

1922 bogie halloween ballroom full

This intensely orange ballroom is from the 1922 version of The Bogie Book.

1926 bogie book ballroom full orange

By 1926, they’d toned things down quite a lot, it seems. Source: The Bogie Book (1926)

1920 bogie club balcony

This 1920 design is for a club set up. Source: The Bogie Book (1920)

But ballrooms and clubs weren’t all you could decorate with Dennison products. There was also your house–and everything in it, too! “Furniture and other accessories may…easily become the most interesting part of the decorations,” says The Bogie Book of 1926. “The floor lamp, radio speaker, davenport, chairs, mirrors, scrap baskets, umbrellas and even brooms and dry mops can be utilized as foundations for all sorts of interesting and grotesque decorations.” I mean, just see how much flair this Halloween stuff adds to your home decor. Here’s the fireplace:

1926 bogie creepy pumpkin man living room fireplace

I don’t think I want that thing siting by my fireplace, thank you very much. Source: The Bogie Book (1926).

Or try this lovely couch set up:

1926 bogie pumpkin couch

Ugh, creepy clown/rag doll things under the couch! Source: The Bogie Book (1926)

And don’t leave your household objects out of the fun!

1926 bogie mirror man ears

This make-up mirror is now a “bogie man.” Source: The Bogie Book (1926)

1926 bogie wtf pumpkin dec

Make sure no one goes near your speakers EVER AGAIN with this godforsaken thing. Source: The Bogie Book (1926)

1922 bogie living room photos cropped

These photos show some possible living room and foyer designs. From the 1920 Bogie Book.

You could even do themed parties, if you wanted, though they were a little stranger than one might expect. Check out this page from the 1926 Bogie Book, which features a “pirate’s den” that looks literally nothing like one:

Thanks to their strange mix of glamorous Gatsby-esque parties and homegrown crepe paper nightmares (that loudspeaker/pumpkin-cat-bowtie thing is just no), Bogie Books are still popular today. Considered “classics of their kind,” and they are “highly prized by collectors,” if websites like this are any judge, and originals still sell for a pretty penny.13

Unfortunately, the images they depict have little to do with historical reality. Party depictions like this one…

halloween party art deco dennison maybe

Another 1920 Bogie Book depiction.

….are much more fantasy than reality. Such parties, Skal notes, look like a “posh harlequinade that Jay Gatsby might…throw at East Egg,” where guests “slouch around in forced, art-deco poses…and everybody makes a grand entrance”.14 All their costumes are “the obvious work of professional designers, apparently under the influnence of Erte. Nonetheless, three quarters of a century before Martha Stewart, Dennison effectively marketed the fantasy of a perfectly controlled and perfectly stylish Halloween within the reach of everyone”15—provided you like crepe paper, of course. 😉

Either way, they’re still really fun to look at—and they totally work for inspirational purposes! 😀



While you can always buy vintage reproductions or actual antiques to give your Halloween party a vintage look, it’s actually easier to add vintage flair in other ways. Most of it comes down to design choices, really, rather than expensive materials or any extensive prep.

kids party halloween crepe paper streamers Edwardian maybe

Clearly, these Edwardian children have mastered the art of crepe paper. Source: Vintage Everyday

Here are some ways to give your party a nice vintage look without breaking the bank:

  1. Get yourself some black and orange crepe paper streamers. As I’ve said in other posts, the Jazz Age had an unnatural love of crepe paper. Embrace this right from the start, and you’re well on your way to creating a vintage look for your Halloween party.
  2. Put jack-o-lanterns everywhere—lighting the path to your door, sitting in your windows, or on your porch. Use white pumpkins too, and be sure to paint scary faces on them with black paint.16
  3. Make a “beware” sign, or some other kind of appropriately spooky sign, with a similar style to the fonts on vintage Halloween postcards, or even borrow a phrase from one to paint on your sign, and be sure to put it by your door or fence.17
  4. Drape white sheets over objects near your windows to make them look like ghostly figures.18
  5. ….Or try any of the crafting ideas in the Tribune articles I’ve mentioned earlier! 🙂

If you do nothing else, however, I suggest taking a look at the Dennison Bogie Books, mostly because they’re fun, and full of vintage imagery you could easily adapt to something else. Unfortunately, not all of them are free (some jerk even got the copyrights to one of them somehow and is selling it on Amazon), but a decent chunk of them are available free online. Try these links:

The 1920 Bogie Book

The 1922 Bogie Book

The 1926 Bogie Book

There’s also this list of different Dennison decoration books, with other holidays besides Halloween, and all from different years.

Best of luck with your vintage decorations, dear readers! 🙂


Works Cited:
1. Lunn, Sally. “Halloween is Grand Time for Giving a Party.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 25, 1929. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181039554?accountid=3688.
2. Burr, Agnes R. “Altractive Plans for Halloween; “Little Devil” Party the Latest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173444613?accountid=3688.
3. Krecker, Ada M. “Household Hints.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1904. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173206314?accountid=3688.
4. Pancoast, Hazel Thomas. “Ideas for Halloween Party that Will Delight Young Folk.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173520981?accountid=3688.
5. W, H. K. “Parties.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Mar 03, 1929. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180962537?accountid=3688.
6. “Goose and Barn Parties make Fun for the Halloween Guest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 27, 1907. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173360001?accountid=3688.
7. Whitaker, Hazel. “How to have Fun on Halloween.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1915. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173964083?accountid=3688.
8. Pancoast, Hazel Thomas. “Ideas for Halloween Party that Will Delight Young Folk.”
9. Burr, Agnes R. “Attractive Plans for Halloween; “Little Devil” Party the Latest.”
10. Skal, David J. 2005. Death Makes a Holiday: a Cultural History of Halloween. Living Sacrifice Book Co., p. 37.
11. Ibid, p. 43.
12. Morton, Lisa. 2013. Trick or treat: a history of halloween. London: Reaktion. p. 173.
13. Skal, p. 43.
14.  Ibid.
15. Skal, p. 45.
16. Paull, Marion. 2014. Creating your vintage hallowe’en: the folklore, traditions, and some crafty makes. London: CICO Books. p. 58.
17. Ibid, p. 59.
18 Ibid.
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Hallowe’en How-To: Make A 1920s Vintage Halloween Party Invitation

come black cat invite dennison

Looking to make some vintage invitations for your Halloween party this year? Then follow these steps, and you’ll be stuffing those envelopes in no time.


Step One: Pick Your Party’s Theme

Does your party have a theme, like ghosts, witches, or devils? If so, your invitations better match—and the more original they are, the better!

Originality was important because by the 1920s, your Halloween party would have had some pretty steep competition. From the Victorian age through the 1920s, Halloween was a popular holiday with adults rather than children, and many clever hosts and hostesses competed among themselves to throw the most unusual, fun, and memorable Halloween party with the most guests—and they all started with the invitation.

The invitation offers the first chance for real originality,” counsels The Bogie Book (1926), and a smart host or hostess wouldn’t pass up the chance to get their guest’s attention right away with a unique and eye-catching invite. Here are three sample invitations with different themes, based on actual Halloween parties from the 1910s:

For a “ghost party,” “send out your invitations in the shape of skulls made of stiff white paper with the writing in red ink.”1

For a “devil” party, use invitations illustrated with “little red devils,” which matched the devilish decorations, devil party favors, the red lighting, and the “spicy” foods served.2

For a “bat” party, make “bat-shaped bits of black cardboard” and write the invitation in white ink.


Step Two: Homemade or Store Bought?

The early 20th saw an explosion of commercial products for Halloween, including party invitations. During the early 1920s, there were two major companies that made these products: the Dennison Manufacturing Company in Framingham, MA, and the Beistle Company in Shippensburg, PA. Dennsion in particular was well-known for its Halloween products, thanks to the annual catalogs they released in the form of The Bogie Book, which offered guidance for hosting Halloween parties while promoting their products.

Check out some vintage Halloween party invitations below:

cute cat invite vintage

Photo Source: shewalkssoftly.com

creepy invite

Creepy! Photo Source: shewalkssoftly.com

halloween invite dennison cauldron

A Dennison invitation from the 1920s. Photo Source: Pintrest

boo invite bestile

This Beistle invitation is from the early 1920s. Photo Source: halloweencollector.com

black cat invite

Photo Source: Picssr.com

dennison die cut black cat.jpg

Another Dennison product. Photo Source: Pintrest

beistle invite with verse.jpg

This invite was made by the Beistle company. Photo Source: vintagehalloweencollector.com

For those who could not afford completely pre-made invitations, there were always Halloween-themed gummed seals and cardboard cut-outs. Just like with Christmas wrapping paper in the 1920s, gummed seals and colorful cut-outs were easy ways to add a bit of flair to an otherwise plain note card. Here is a selection of such cut-outs from the Dennison Paper Company’s ever-popular Bogie Book (1926):

sample commerical invites bogie book_cut down

As the advertisement states, these are sample invitations that could be made from combining seals and cut-outs in different ways. Photo Source: The Bogie Book (1926), page 3.

Gummed seals were also popular. When wet, they could be affixed to objects as if they were stickers. Here is a sample of a real 1920s box with the original seals, also a Dennison product, which apparently sold for around $227.

These Stanley’s Everyday Seals are also Halloween themed:

black cat gummed seals

Photo Source: Picclick.com

These pumpkin Dennison seals come from 1922:

pumpkin gummed seals

Photo Source: Pintrest

Besides seals, cardboard cut-outs were also popular decoration aids. Check out this gorgeous box of vintage Dennison cut-outs, each one in its own little sleeve:

box of dennisons seals and cut-outs vintage

A box of vintage Dennison’s Halloween cut-outs. Photo Source: Pintrest

devil cut out

This sleek devil cut-out would have been most appropriate at the “Little Devil” party. It’s also on sale at Etsy.

black cat scream seals.jpg

A Dennison cut-out. Photo Source: halloweencollector.com

Of course, you could also make your own invitations from scratch, as many hosts did for smaller parties. Here are some ideas from the Chicago Tribune:

“…cut from yellow cardboard tiny pumpkins, and with water color paints indicate their stripes and stem. On one side letter the invitation, and on the other a grinning jack o’ lantern face.”3

“…use cards of the usual size, with a little black witch flying through the air on a broomstick stenciled in one corner, while in the lower opposite corner the witches’ black cat arches his back and waves his tail. These little figures should be in solid black.”4

You could even make a little themed booklet for the invite. As the Tribune describes,

“one clever hostess sent out little booklets, on the cover of which stood a gayly painted witch. Above her, lettered: ‘Would’st know thy future?’ And below her: ‘Look within.’ And inside was found the little invitation, which certainly might be construed as a part of future good times.”5

There were even “freaky” invitations that would require your guests to use a mirror to read them:

“Even the invitations should ‘smack’ of the coming event. Yellow pumpkins, black cats with green eyes, or those freaky, button faced cards with the invitations written backwards to be read on a mirror…”6

No matter what kind of invitation you made, however, the tone of your invite was the same. As Lesley Bannatyne noted in her book Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, by the early 1900s Halloween had transformed from its superstitious Old World roots into a “friendly, harmless, and cheerful holiday, more fun than frightening,” and party invitations reflected this—mostly through rhyme!7


Step Three: Pick Your Rhyme

In order to make your Halloween party invitation truly vintage, it simply must rhyme. Early 20th century Halloween invitations and postcards were full of spooky rhymes that usually gave the reader a hint about what kind of party they might be going to. Many made references to fate as well, since early Halloween celebrations often involved fortune-telling games that predicted romantic couplings. Here are some fun vintage examples you could easily rework for your own invitations:

“Come at the witching hour of eight

And let the faeries read your fate;

Reveal to none this secret plot

or woe—not luck—will be your lot!”8

verses 1922 dennison

The inside of this 1922 Dennison wicked witch card has a cute verse on it. Photo Source: Worthpoint

If you’re hosting a Halloween dance, try this one from The Bogie Book (1926):

“At Hallowe’en a dance I am giving,

Come mingle with the dead and living;

For I’m inviting spooks as well,

Who will impart a magic spell.” (The Bogie Book (1926), pg. 9)

This unusual verse was actually used as an invite in 1917 for a “successful…progressive witch party” on Halloween, according to the Chicago Tribune:

“Ye warlocks of ye old kirk,

Werricoes and evil spirits,

And a’ things that gang by nicht,

Commend ye to assemble

In witches’ garb

At the hour of 6,

At _____________

To feast from

The boiling cauldron of

Snakes, toads, and vermin rare;

There’s naught else that can compare.

So scrape your feet on the witches’ mat

And come at the sign of the black cat.”9

These verses were suggested for use at a “ghost party,” where everyone would come dressed in white sheets, pillow cases, or domino masks:

“Your spirit is requested to be present at a convention of ghosts to be held Halloween at the home of _______.”10

“Come prepared to hear your doom and wear the insignia of the order of ghosts—a white domino mask or sheet and pillow case.”11

For a devil-themed Halloween party:

“If you want a hot time, come to my Little Devil party.”12

One hostess threw a very mysterious and elaborate Halloween party in 19XXX wich started off with this strange invite, which was double-sided. The front read:

“Come spend with us a happy nicht

And crack a joke together.”13

…And the back side came with specific instructions:

“1. Please keep your invitation a secret.

2. Please be at the side door at 8 o’clock.

3. Reveal your identity to no one.

4. Do not speak until the clock strikes 0.”14

These instructions for a Dennison invite, circa 1922, would also be appropriate:


Step Four: Send Them Out!

Now that you have your invitations made, you need to send them out to your guests. But when, exactly, should you do that? Good thing we’ve got tons of period etiquette guides to tell us how! 🙂

Regarding party invitations, The Encylopaedia of Etiquette (1922) by Emily Holt says that invitations should be issued “as early as twenty days before the date fixed upon, and never later than ten days before.” All invitations, whether “given at any season of the year,” should be “engraved on white letter sheets, or on large, heavy, white bristol board cards. Script or block lettering is preferred…when for any reason engraved invitations are not to be had, they may be written, in a clear hand, on sheets of white or gray note paper.”

Once your guest gets the invitation, they should respond “within twenty-four hours,” advises “Dame Curtsey” in Dame Curtsey’s Book of Etiquette (1909).


Where to Get Your Own Vintage Invites:

If you want your own vintage invites but don’t want to make them yourself, you’ve got three options: buy reproductions, buy unused antique cards, or get some made with a retro vibe.

For reproductions, the stationary section of The Vintage Halloween Store is a great place to start.

Antique cards are a little harder to come by, and it can be rare to find enough of them for actual invites. Marcin Antiques offers an entire collection of vintage Halloween memorbelia for sale to start with, and there’s always Ebay and Etsy of course. However, if you plan to buy antique Halloween collectibles on Ebay, you should definitely read the FAQ over at Mark Ledenbach’s Halloween memorabilia blog, halloweencollector.com, where he describes how to avoid unscrupulous dealers. This post at halloweenmagazine.com tells you about other places to find and purchase antique Halloween products.

But if all you’re looking for is a retro vibe for your invitations, there are tons of modern printing outlets who can create vintage-style invites without a gummed seal in sight. Check out retroinvites.com, Zazzle, cafepress, Etsy, and Pintrest for retro takes on Halloween invites.


What about you, dear readers? Have you ever made or received a really fun or unique Halloween party invitation? If so, what was it like? Please share in the Comments below!


Works Cited:
1. Farrar, Addie. “Hints for Halloween Frolics; Informality the Chief Mark.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173504792?accountid=3688.
2. Burr, Agnes R. “Attractive Plans for Halloween; “Little Devil” Party the Latest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173444613?accountid=3688.
3. “How the Fashionable Peter Pan Collar is made. Quaint Ideas for the Hostess to use at the Halloween Party.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 10, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173473175?accountid=3688.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. Whitaker, Hazel. “How to have Fun on Halloween.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1915. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173964083?accountid=3688.
7. Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. 2005. Halloween: an American holiday, an American history. Gretna, La: Pelican Pub. Co. p. 119.
8. Ibid, p 111.
9. Stewart, Esther W. “Progressive Witches’ Party Will be Lot of Fun for Halloween.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 09, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173478127?accountid=3688.
10. Farrar, Addie. “Hints for Halloween Frolics; Informality the Chief Mark.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 23, 1910. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173504792?accountid=3688.
11. Ibid.
12. Burr, Agnes R. “Attractive Plans for Halloween; “Little Devil” Party the Latest.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1909. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173444613?accountid=3688.
13. Krecker, Ada M. “Household Hints.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Oct 24, 1904. https://search.proquest.com/docview/173206314?accountid=3688.
14. Ibid.
Posted in holiday post | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Hallowe’en How-To: A Crafty Miniseries for October 2017!

halloween party art deco dennison maybe

Photo Source: A page from The Bogie Book, sourced from Pintrest


Hello everyone!

Lately I’ve noticed a big uptick in last year’s Halloween post, How to Make a REAL 1920s Halloween Costume. So, in light of that, I thought it might be fun to do a short mini-series on how to throw a vintage Halloween party! 🙂 Each Wednesday this month I’ll post something you can do to make your upcoming Halloween party even more vintage. By the end of the series, you’ll know…

how to make a rhyming vintage party invitation

the best way to decorate your home for a truly vintage Halloween

…what strange vintage holiday foods to serve your guests…

…and more! 😀

So, if you’re looking to add a dash of old-time magic to your Halloween party this year—or you just want to know what Halloween parties were like back in the early 20th century—then check back with me each week this month for tips, tricks, and fun tidbits about Halloween during the Roaring Twenties! 🙂



Posted in holiday post, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

C is for Cocktail: Shrub, the Temperance Cocktail You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

When thinking about cocktails, do these lovely ladies ever spring to mind?

lips that touch liquor

They look like fun, don’t they? 😉 Photo Source: Old Picture of the Day

Probably not! But did you know that the fine ladies of the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement are a big part of why one of the world’s oldest cocktails—the shrub—is seeing a resurgence in bars today?


A Brief History of Shrub, America’s Forgotten Cocktail:

rasp shrub1

A jar of raspberry shrub. Photo Source: Barman’s Journal

What is a shrub, you ask?

Well, in basic terms, a shrub is a fruit syrup mixed with vinegar that can be used to flavor drinks, alcoholic or not. The word shrub comes from the medieval Arabic word sharab, which means “drink” or “beverage,” and is etymologically related to sorbet, sherbet, and syrup (Diestch 22). At that time it referred primarily to a sweet non-alcoholic drink made of “preserved herbs, flowers, spices and fruit juices” simmered with “honey…and…sugar to form a thick, sweet concentrate” (Hall 49). Over time, this evolved into drinks flavored with sugar, rosewater, and lemon juice, plus “perfumed tablets” of many different flavors (Diestch 27).

Considered by some to be “the world’s first soft drink,” sharab changed into something new when Western European traders and sailors got hold of it in the seventeenth century. Combining a vinegary syrup of “citrus and sugar” with “rum or brandy,” sailors trasnformed shrub into an early form of punch (Deistch 27). This form of shrub was “served aboard trading ships and naval vessels” to ward off scurvy by giving sailors a dose of vitamin C—and to mask the taste of bad rum rations, as well as smuggled rum (Deitsch 27). Much like Prohibition booze, rum during the early 1700s was often made with industrial leftovers from the sugar production process, and usually tasted awful, so anything to mask the taste was welcome (Deistch 28-29).

Shrub reached American shores in 1716, when the Knights of the Golden Horseshoe carried shrub as part of their supplies from Virginia (Diestch 29-30). It quickly caught on big-time in Colonial America, with luminaries like Ben Franklin, Martha Washington, and Thomas Jefferson all crafting their own recipes (Ben liked orange shrub, Martha’s recipe calls for Cognac, and Thomas loved peaches).

But another kind of drink, known as “fruit vinegar,” was also becoming popular at this time. By the early 1800s, the rum or brandy-based shrub existed alongside “quick” fruit vinegar recipes that mostly consisted of “steeping fruit in vinegar for a long time, and then straining it off” and adding sugar (Diestch 36). Besides helping to preserve fruit in a time of limited refrigeration, these vinegar syrup recipes were seen as useful in helping to slake the thirst of those fighting off fevers or colds (Diestch 37). The New London Family Cookbook (1808) by Duncan MacDonald claimed that “raspberry vinegar…is one of the most useful preparations that can be in the house, not only as it affords a refreshing beverage, but being of singular efficacy in complaints of the chest” (Ibid).

By this point in history, then, shrub could refer to one of two kinds of drinks: a vinegar-laced fruit syrup mixed with “sugar, water, and other ingredients,” or “a blended drink made of fruit juice, sugar, and a spirit such as rum or brandy served cold and diluted with water” (Diestch 22). Over time, however, these terms would become interchangeable. By the 1800s, cookbooks referring to raspberry vinegar and raspberry shrub often meant the same thing, and by 1909 people were using “raspberry shrub” and “raspberry vinegar” to talk about the same beverage—which was understandable, seeing as the recipes for each were becoming much the same (Diestch 45).

This didn’t mean shrub’s alcoholic version was gone forever, though. Cocktail recipe books for bartenders from the late 1800s and early 1900s still contained a handful of alcoholic shrubs, mostly punches—and they rarely explained how to make the “shrub” part, which meant it must have been fairly common knowledge for bartenders. For example:

It was the recipes for non-alcoholic shrubs, however, that were the most prolific—and eventually became the most popular. By the 1840s, one saw “fewer and fewer boozy shrubs in cookbooks…and more of the vinegar-based versions” (Diestch 40). Here are some examples of typical recipes:

Shrub was also seen as a good drink for children. Patty Pans (1929), a delightful vintage cookbook geared towards children, encourages them to make their own shrub, and a 1922 guide for What to Serve at Parties lists “raspberry shrub” as part of a children’s party menu, right above “honey sandwiches of graham and white bread.”


Others, however, saw something else in shrub: an alternative to wine. Lydia Maria Child, author of The American Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to Those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy (1838), deliberately mentioned raspberry shrub as a frugal alternative to wine that homemakers would be wise to adopt:

“Raspberry shrub mixed with water is a pure, delicious drink for summer; and in a country where raspberries are abundant, it is good economy to make it answer instead of Port and Catalonia wine.” (Childs 82)

Shrub found its true home, however, with Drys during the Temperance Movement. The drink “appealed greatly to Temperance-Era drinkers,” who could enjoy their “winey” flavor while still avoiding alcohol (Diestch 45). They could even point to Biblical passages that featured vinegar-based drinks, such as when soldiers offered Jesus “soured wine” during the Crucifixion, as a basis for championing their new drink. And it was so tasty, it had the possibility of converting Wets as well. As Jane Eddington pointed out in a 1919 Tribune article, current cocktails didn’t have that much alcohol in them to begin with, so cutting it out might not change much in the end:

“…charged water plus delicious and hauntingly flavored sirups, with fresh fruit for a garnish, will replace many of the mixed drinks which have often been but a little more than this anyway…a cherry or olive can just as well be at the bottom of the glass as when a pony of brandy or whisky, and the lemon “horseneck” does just as well for a temperance drink as for the other sort.” (Eddington, B3)

While the Temperance Movement embraced shrubs, once Prohibition ended and soda became the teetotaler’s drink of choice, shrub pretty much disappeared from public memory, bars included—until 2006, when food critic Eric Felten mentioned them in an article about barbecue cocktails for the Wall Street Journal. “The notion of putting any sort of vinegar in a drink may be counter-intuitive,” Felten wrote, “or even off-putting. But remember that cocktails generally strive for a balance between sweet and tart. In most drinks the tart comes from limes, lemons or other citrus; the vinegar in the Shrub serves the same purpose” (Felten, P10). He also mentioned Tait Food Farms, which has been producing its own bottled shrub mix since 1987, as a place to try some.

Then, two years later, reporter Toby Cecchini wrote an article for The New York Times about a “plum vinegar with soda” at Thai restaurant Pok Pok that was “a revelation: shockingly refreshing, tart and fruity, able to stand up to food and cleanse the palate like wine without being cloying. It seemed like the first truly adult non-alcoholic drink I’d ever had”—and adding booze to it didn’t hurt any, either (Cecchini, M2). He loved them immediately, and not only started making them himself, but “fobbing off bottles on puzzled friends,” encouraging them to try it for themselves (Ibid).

His article led to a bar-tending explosion. Thanks to Cecchini’s enthusiastic embrace, today you can find shrubs on cocktail menus across the country. Bartenders like them because they’re an easy way to add a lot of complex, interesting flavors to a drink—and today’s drinkers like them for much the same reason.


Screwy for Shrubs:

Another enthusiastic early adopter of shrubs is Michael Dietsch, whose book Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink For Modern Times, overflows with unalloyed joy for the vinegary things.

He first fell in love with them on a particularly hot day at the 2008 Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans, when he had a cocktail composed of cachaça (a Brazillian liquor akin to rum), raspberry shrub, lime, and ginger ale. The drink was “balanced and refreshing,” with a tang that had him coming back for more (Dietsch, 15).

Then in 2010, two years later, his interest deepened—a lot. And just like Toby in 2008, he…

“…went on a shrub-making frenzy. I made shrubs out of every type of berry I could find, plus peaches, apricots, nectarines, and cherries. I had so many shrubs in the fridge at any given time that it was hard to fit anything else in there. My wife would open the door and a bottle of shrub would nearly tumble out onto the floor. She’d shoot dirty looks and sardonic comments my way…[but] those shrubs helped sustain her through her pregnancy when she couldn’t drink alcohol.” (Deistch, 16)

Ever since then he can’t seem to get enough of the damn things. Shrubs, he claims, are an amazing thing, simultaneously “an adult beverage” and “a soft drink,” and wonderful regardless of their alcohol content—especially during the summer (Deistch, 17). As he points out, “vinegar is incredibly good at quenching your thirst when it’s hot out. Research shows that sour-tasting beverages…are better at stimulating salivation than are other drinks. A wet mouth helps you feel hydrated even after you’re done drinking…[and] stimulates the appetite” (Dietsch, 15-16).  Shrubs were also easy and fun to make: almost any type of fruit and vinegar could be used, leading to all sorts of interesting flavor combinations, and all you needed was a jar, some fruit, some vinegar, a lot of sugar, and a dark room to shove it all in. What could be easier than that?

But vinegar and fruit? Ugh. Sounds like drinking salad dressing!

And yet, there he was, singing their praises throughout the whole book. His enthusiasm made me wonder. What if shrubs were just as awesome as he said, and I was missing out on something that would make my cocktails really zing?

So, I decided to give it a try.

Time to make shrub! 🙂


Making Shrub, Round 1:

Now, before I begin my shrub making adventure, let me first explain that making shrub involves a few key decisions: what kind of fruit to use, what kind of vinegar to use as a base, and whether to make it hot or cold—all of which will affect the taste of your shrub. The outcomes for these various decisions are explained in detail here at Serious Eats, but just know that there’s more than one way of going about making a shrub.

Personally, however, I wanted an authentic, vintage shrub-making experience, and I didn’t care if it took weeks, either—so I turned to Deitsch’s beautiful book.

After flipping through Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink For Modern Times, I settled on his recipe for “Strawberry Pepper Shrub” as a good place to begin—mostly because I had a lot of strawberries in my fridge at the time, and a lot of pepper in my cabinet. It also sounded rather enticing. He described the flavor as follows: “On your first sip, the main flavor is strawberry, but as you swallow the shrub, the pepper startles the back of your tongue and lingers, subtly, on the finish” (Dietsch, 168).

Sounds pretty good, right?

His recipe is as follows:

1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) strawberries, hulled and quartered

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

1 cup apple cider vinegar

  1. Place strawberries, sugar, and pepper into a large jar. Tighten lid, and then shake to combine.
  2. Place in refrigerator. Allow to macerate for at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.
  3. Add vinegar, tighten lid, shake, and return to fridge for an additional 2 days.
  4. position a fine-mesh strainer over a small bowl and pour the mixture through to remove the solids.
  5. combine strained syrup with vinegar. Whisk well to incorporate any undissolved sugar.
  6. pour syrup-and-vinegar mixture into a clean mason jar. Cap it, shake it well to incorporate any undissolved sugar, and place in the refrigerator for a week before using (Ibid).


VERDICT: Godawful! :p

Whatever I made, it wasn’t shrub—more like salad dressing. Instead of the pleasant taste of strawberries, all I got was pepper and vinegar. Ugh!

What had I done wrong? I wasn’t sure, but I decided to try again.

Round 2:

So I went out and bought more strawberries. I mashed them up this time, thinking that releasing more strawberry juice might help the flavor. I also added more sugar, hoping it might soften the tang of the vinegar as well.

VERDICT: Even worse than last time! 😦 

Not one of my changes worked. The whole thing was pepper and vinegar with barely a hint of strawberries, worse even than drinking salad dressing.

I’d failed twice now, but I was determined to succeed. Maybe it was time to switch recipes instead…?

Round 3: SUCCESS!!!

By this time I was out of strawberries, so I decided to try raspberries instead. Their natural combination of sweet and sour, plus the fact that most of the vintage cookbooks I’d looked at usually only featured raspberry shrub, made me think it was probably the best choice. So, I looked for a simple, decent modern recipe. Emily Han’s excellent book Wild Drinks and Cocktails (2015) had a few shrub recipes, and they looked easier than Dietsch’s ones, so I picked out a simple one for Raspberry Shrub and gave it a go.

Her recipe was like this:

2 cups raspberries

1 cup Champagne vinegar

1 cup red wine vinegar

2 cups sugar (I added some extra, feeling leery from last time)

  1. Place raspberries in bowl and crush with fork, then transfer to sterilized jar
  2. Pour vinegars into jar, making sure all raspberries are submerged
  3. Wipe down and cover jar and store in cool, dark place for 1 week, shaking daily (I stored it in my basement, and only shook it every other day. The lack of shaking didn’t effect the outcome much it seemed)
  4. After 1 week, strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and discard solids. Combine mixture with sugar, seal, and refrigerate for 1 week, shaking daily to help dissolve sugar (Han, 100).

VERDICT: Excellent! 😀

This shrub was terrific, with the right balance of sweet and tangy—though I did modify it slightly by adding probably 1/4 a cup of extra sugar, and letting it sit for a few extra days, in an attempt to let the flavor get stronger. Neither of these things were detrimental, however. While it had to be shaken quite a lot before use in order to dislodge my extra sugar, which tended to settle, it tasted great, with a very nice combination of bitter and sweet—and got even better when I added gin! 😀

Basically, I added 1 ounce of gin to 1 ounce of shrub, added some water, and a lemon peel—and I was not disappointed. I’m not a huge fan of gin either, but the shrub made it palatable for me.

FINAL VERDICT OVERALL: If you’ve got some time on your hands and are looking for a new addition to your cocktails, you should give shrub a try! And if you don’t feel like making it yourself, vendors like Shrub & Co offer all kinds of shrub in all kinds of fun flavors. Seems like Dietsch and his fellow boosters are right after all: shrubs are good! 🙂


What about you, dear readers? Have you ever tried shrub? If not, would you? Or does the idea of mixing vinegar and fruit with booze disgust you to the core? Please Comment below! 😀

I’d love to see your recipes, or hear what you think of this unusual, vintage drink.


Works Cited (i.e., Those Not Linked To Directly):
Dietsch, Michael. 2016. Shrubs: an old-fashioned drink for modern times.  Countryman Press.  Purchase here.
Han, Emily. 2016. Wild drinks and cocktails: handcrafted squashes, shrubs, switchels, tonics, and infusions to mix at home. Purchase here.
Felten, Eric. “PURSUITS; Leisure & Arts — how’s Your Drink? Barbecue’s Best July 4 Beverage.” Wall Street Journal, Jul 01, 2006, Eastern edition. https://search.proquest.com/docview/398980924?accountid=3688.
Cecchini, Toby. “Dropping Acid.” New York Times, Nov 09, 2008, Late Edition (East Coast). https://search.proquest.com/docview/433976253?accountid=3688.
Posted in C is for Cocktail series, drink recipes, term origins | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Resource Spotlight: The Stag Cookbook Revisited

stag cookbook cover cropped stag

Remember that screwy cookbook I posted about as part of my Resource Spotlight series, The Stag Cookbook For Men? Somewhere between an actual cookbook and an elaborate joke, it collected recipes from famous men of the 1920s in an effort to shore up manly cooks who have wilted “under a fire of feminine raillery and sarcasm” regarding their attempts at making food.

Well, today I found out—thanks to Fritzi Kramer’s terrific blog, Movies Silently—that not only was The Stag Cookbook written more or less as an exercise in pettiness and spite, but it had a mate, too!

See, it turns out that The Stag Cookbook wasn’t well-received by members of the opposite sex, to the point where a group of women got together and published a response: Favorite Recipes of Famous Women. Not only were most of their recipes actually edible (unlike most of the ones in Stag, says Kramer), but they were often witty, too. Take, for example, Zelda Fitzgerald’s recipe for “Breakfast,” which is reminiscent of the many ridiculous Stag recipes I noted in my own post:

“See if there is any bacon, and if there is ask the cook which pan to fry it in. Then ask if there are any eggs, and if so try and persuade the cook to poach two of them. It is better not to attempt toast, as it burns very easily. Also in case of bacon do not turn the fire too high, or you will have to get out of the house for a week. Serve perferably on china plates, though gold or wood will do if handy.” —-Favorite Recipes of Famous Women

You can read all about Favorite Recipes of Famous Women—and get more dirt on The Stag Cookbook For Menover here at Movies Silently.


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The Fix Is In: Capone’s Rigged Roulette Wheel Rediscovered


fully restored table


“$2,500,00 DAY SPENT ON OPEN GAMES IN CITY” declared a Chicago Tribune headline in 1928 in bold type, bemoaning the rising gambling epidemic within the city’s confines. “Chicagoans freely and openly indulge in all the pastimes of chance known to the betting world,” wrote an anonymous Tribune reporter. Gambling dens of all types, from “bare walls and pine board tables” to places with “luxurious fittings, studded roulette wheels, [and] handsomely lighted green tables,” had sprung up all over the city, ready and waiting to ensnare unsuspecting rubes  (“List 215”). “There is a gambling den within easy walking distance of every home,” claimed the Tribune, with competition so fierce between establishments on the Loop that big dens paid runners to stake out the entrances and exits of their competitors, “soliciting trade as the players come and go, and offering better odds, a squarer deal, and anything that comes to the mind in the hope of inducing them to leave the play they were playing to patronize the runner’s establishment instead” (Ibid). Thanks to the illicit pleasures of gambling, “thousands of individuals of moderate salaries are finding it difficult to pay their rents and their food bills,” with women in particular being drawn to the tables, eager to “risk their husbands’ earnings” by throwing money meant for “grocery bills and baby clothes” into “the gambler’s till” (Ibid). 

It turns out those housewives might’ve been cheated out of more than just baby clothes and groceries, however.


In 2016, game restorer Alexander Walder-Smith of The Games Room Company got a surprise while refurbishing a 1929 roulette table from Chicago: two tiny buttons disguised as screw heads just underneath the lip of the table.

screws from table

The false screw buttons on the bottom of the table, within easy reach of the croupier. Photo Source: dailymail.co.uk

Connected to tiny wiring channels that led to pressure pads and tiny pins, it turns out the false screws were part of an electrical circuit—one that was in the house’s favor.

A set of 1929 Ever Ready batteries concealed in a hollow leg directly underneath the wheel provided the power for the trick. “Packed so tightly” that “anyone rocking the table who was unhappy with their hand wouldn’t hear [them] rattling around inside,” the batteries completed an electrical circuit that, when the croupier pressed one of the screw buttons, cause two tiny pins to rise along the wheel. Then “the ball would travel round the rim of the wheel and would hit the pin which could cause it to drop into part of the wheel the croupier wanted the ball to fall into,” explained Walter-Smith. That way, the house could win anytime it wanted—and more money went into the mob’s pockets.



batteries in table leg

These 1929 batteries were found inside the false table legs, wrapped in newspaper. The newspapers plus the batteries show the table was operational from 1929 to 1931, towards the end of Prohibition and the height of Capone’s power in the Outfit. Photo source: getsurrey.co.uk



While there isn’t a direct, proven link between this particular table and Al Capone—it spent a decent chunk of its life in a farmer’s barn in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, after all—the money that was generated by the rigged table undoubtedly made its way back to his syndicate. Capone’s Outfit was heavily involved in gambling rackets throughout Chicagoland in the late 1920s, and Capone often personally oversaw their operations as well. In the early days of the Cicero operations, Al was “more of a hands-on supervisor,” according to Jonathan Eig in his book Get Capone. Al was one of two men who “held the only keys to a strongbox containing records from some of Cicero’s biggest gambling halls,” and he “inspected the books almost daily” (Eig, 316).

This level of personal involvement was also revealed in Capone’s 1931 tax evasion trial when prosecutors called on the Reverend Henry C. Hoover, who’d raided a Cicero gambling joint in 1925 with a crowd of reformers, to testify to what he saw there. Not only did one of his followers distinctly hear Al say “I’m the owner of this place,” but the Reverend saw him “taking the money out the till and putting it in his pockets” (Kinsley, 2). Meanwhile, Capone tried to make a deal with the Reverend. “Reverend, can’t you and I get together—come to some understanding?…if you will let up on me in Cicero, I’ll withdraw from Stickney,” he offered.  The Reverend didn’t take him up on it, of course. 😉

While the Reverend’s testimony didn’t make much of an impact, the revenue books taken from Capone’s gambling operations had a big impact on his 1931 trial. According to ledger books from Cicero, gambling dens like the Ship generated roughly $500,000 in a twenty-four month period, each bet and payoff carefully tabulated by accountants hired by each den (Eig, 295). During 1924 through 1927, those same houses made $25,000 to $30,000 a month in profits (Ibid, 317). Yet, while the figures were substantial, there was no way for the prosecutors to directly tie it to Capone’s income directly—until they tracked down the accountants who’d made the notations and got them to testify. Their words about the money, where it went, and who owned the establishments were vital in putting Capone behind bars once and for all.


While the Games Room Company was very reluctant to let their intriguing find go, they sold the rigged table to “a very well known person” in the United Kingdom for more than $5,000. “I’m sure he will be playing tricks on his friends,” said Walder-Smith of his client, who he claimed had “a great sense of humor.”

And if that’s all he does to them with that table, then those folks are getting a much better deal! 🙂


Want to see how the rigged table worked in real time? Check out these explanation videos below, including demos of the restoration and how the pins worked:



…Or check out this video over at Popular Mechanics.


Works Cited:
“LIST 215 GAMBLING JOINTS.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Mar 24, 1928. https://search.proquest.com/docview/180918988?accountid=3688.
Eig, Jonathan. 2011. Get Capone: the secret plot that captured America’s most wanted gangster. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Kinsley, Philip. “5 WITNESSES ACCUSE CAPONE.” Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963), Oct 08, 1931. https://search.proquest.com/docview/181256759?accountid=3688. p 1-2.


Posted in 1920s criminals, 1920s gambling, Al Capone, video post | Tagged , , | Leave a comment