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! 🙂

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MAKE A DRAMATIC ENTRANCE

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

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THEMED INTERIORS AND HOMEMADE DECORATIONS

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.

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DECORATING IN THE JAZZ AGE: EXPLORING THE DENISSON “BOGIE BOOKS”

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! 😀

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MAKE YOUR OWN VINTAGE DECORATIONS:

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.

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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.

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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

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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.
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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 party invitation

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

…what strange holiday foods to serve your guests…

…how to play ancient Halloween fortune-telling games…

…and much, much more! 😀

So, if you’re looking to add a dash of old-timey 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 throughout this month for tips, tricks, and fun tidbits about Halloween during the Roaring Twenties! 🙂

~*~

 

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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.

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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! 🙂

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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! 🙂

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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.

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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.
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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! 🙂

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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.

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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.

 

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C is for Cocktail: A Series of Links For You All

Toasting the cocktails with cocktails. How meta! ;)

Part of the cover for the 1922 edition of “Cocktails: How to Mix Them.”

 

Hello again, everyone! I’m about to go on vacation—again—so here’s a set of interesting cocktail-themed links for you to enjoy this week. Bottoms up! 😉

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Got some cocktail info to share? Please link in the Comments below!  🙂

 

 

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Dance ‘Til You Drop: New Vintage Photos of Grueling Dance Marathons Are Sad, Funny, and Everything In Between

1473 hour winners_sun co uk

Could you dance for 1,437 hours straight? This couple did—and they weren’t the only ones!

Starting in 1923 and lasting throughout the Great Depression, dance marathons were a major form of popular entertainment in America, with couples dancing weeks and sometimes months away in a desperate bid to win cash prizes, trophies, bragging rights, and a brief shot at fame—not to mention photos.

Last month, new vintage photos from the 1920s, 1930s and more appeared on UK news sites like The Daily Mail and The Sun. Each depict the intense, grueling and sometimes odd nature of these contests. One poor man even tries to shave while dancing! Check them all out below.

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1923 alseep on her feet

A series of couples compete in 1923, at the beginning of the endurance dance craze. Check out the poor lady on the far left who’s asleep on her feet!  Photo source: Mashable/Library of Congress

1925 charleston endurance competition 53 min

These 1925 Charleston dancers only lasted for 53 minutes straight, but they got the orchestra to serve them food, so that’s something, right? 😉 Photo Source: Mashable

asleep together awww 1930

This 1930 couple is nearly down for the count. Photo Source: Mashable

 

1930 annoyed lady

This lady from 1932 looks super annoyed at having to hold up her sleeping partner, and no wonder—this was her third partner, and she’d been dancing for 1120 hours! Photo Source: Mashable 

1934ish chicago giving up

Dammmn, that lady is ASLEEP. I think I can hear the snoring now! 😉 According to Mashable, this  charming couple is Frank and Marie Micholowsky. They participated in a 1931 Chicago marathon. Photo Source: Mashable

1931 bemused man with partner

While the fella above looks resigned, this one looks downright concerned about his lady friend. Another shot from 1931, supposedly. Photo Source: The Sun

they look exhausted yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but this couple looks exhausted. The crowd of spectators looks pretty large, however.  Photo Source: The Sun

 

1930 anna lawanick man on floor

Women weren’t the only ones to pass out on their partners. In this photo, dance contestant Anna Lawanick tries to support her partner, Jack Ritof, at a 1930 Chicago dance marathon. Photo Source: The Sun

lady in heels partner asleep

He’s asleep on his feet, and she’s still going—in HEELS! Photo Source: The Sun

fella shaving dance marathon

Check out the guy on the left—he’s having a shave! Photo Source: The Sun

that lady looks MAD yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but that lady on the far left is MAD at the cameraman. Another scene from a Chicago contest. Photo Source: The Sun

dance marathon with cots yr unknown

Not sure on the year here, but you can get a sense of the setup for these contests, with the dancers surrounded by spectators, judges, nurses, and a band—plus the resting cots on the edges of the dance circle, where contestants got 15 minutes to “sleep” or rest before staggering back onto the dance floor. Photo Source: The Sun

15 min cots with crowd

Here are more cots for the 15 minute rest periods, with a packed crowd. Photo Source: The Daily Mail UK

judge monitors dancers yr unknown

If your knees hit the floor during the dance marathon, you were disqualified. Here, a judge crouches down to monitor a couple who seem seconds away from being out of the running. Photo Source: The Sun

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EXTRA! EXTRA!

dance contest ad van winkles

An ad for an endurance dance marathon emphasizes the grueling nature of the “sport,” as well as encouraging the kind of voyeurism that comes so easily to reality TV. Photo Source: Van Winkle

Want to learn more about endurance dance marathons? Try this guest post I wrote about dance marathons, or check out this Daily Mail article, which also features a video of an actual contest. This blog post over at Blondie Cuts a Rug has a bit more history to it, however, and this Van Winkle’s post isn’t bad either.

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C is for Cocktail: This Summer’s WTTW Chicago History Cocktails Are For The Ladies

 

Last year, WTTW’s Chicago Tonight featured a series of cocktail creations based on Chicago history. This summer, they’ve brought them back—with a twist. Instead of Chicago politics, they’re focusing on Chicago’s historical leading ladies, starting with Bertha Palmer, the most famous Chicago socialite of the Gilded Age.

bertha palmer still

The lady herself. Photo Source: Forest Park Review

Despite being married to millionaire Potter Palmer, Bertha was very much a force of her own in Chicago, and she had a major hand in many of the things that make Chicago famous today. These include…

…acting as the President of the Board of Lady Managers for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, where she insisted that women have their own building, instead of a corner of an exhibition hall like Daniel Burnham wanted

…collecting vast amounts of French Impressionist paintings which eventually became the core of the Art Institute of Chicago’s collection—and popularized them with the entire world. This Renoir painting was her favorite, and legend had it that she traveled with it wherever she went…

…making the practice of “wintering in Florida” commonplace among those who could afford it…

…and many more! 🙂

You can learn more about Bertha Palmer’s Chicago legacy—and the sweet champagne-based cocktail WTTW whipped up in her honor—at Chicago Tonight’s blog. Check back with them all summer for more Chicago history with your cocktail!

BerthaPalmer_not a feminist cocktail

Bertha’s cocktail, the “Not a Feminist.” Photo Source: WTTW Chicago Tonight blog

And if you want even more cocktail recipes, you can check out last year’s list for a brief history lesson in Chicago politics! 😀

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What’s in a Name? 1920s Baby Names for Girls Rising in Popularity…Again!

1920s baby photo looking up

 

Ever met a Fern, an Opal, or a Zelda? Well, according to sites like cafemom, that might change this year. Roaring Twenties names for girls are back in vogue this year, and why not? There are tons of awesome Jazz Age names out there, and a lot of them deserve to come back—whether in real life or on the written page. So whether you’re trying to name a flapper or a suffragette in your historical fiction, check out this list of unusual 1920s names. Maybe you’ll find the perfect one for your character!

 

Looking to name a suffragette, perhaps? Bustle features girl names from the early 1900s with a feminist bent as well as ones from the 1920s.

If your novel or short story is set during the 1920s, however, it’s likely that your characters were born earlier. So, you’d want to look at names from the early 1900s, the 1910sthe 1890s, or the 1880s, depending on the character’s age. If you’re looking for something quick and period-appropriate for any of those times, however, you can’t go wrong with Mary or James. Both of them topped the list in America for over 100 years. Alternatively, if you want your character to stand out, you could try one of Mental Floss’ least popular baby names. 

 

 

How do you name your historical fiction characters? Share your process in the Comments below.

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