Halloween in the Great Depression

Halloween in Rural Tennessee during the Great Depression: M.H. Well, they tell us this during Halloween, and you wouldn’t go out on Halloween because there’s some guy riding this horse, and his head’s been cut off, and he’s still alive, and there would be blood squirting out his throat. He had us scared to death, so we wouldn’t go out on Halloween night. Of course, we were little kids, but we were in before dark. ME: I’m familiar with that story from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, which was written by Washington Irving. It’s uh, a popular story about Halloween, and it’s exactly as you said, a headless horsemen would at night ride around. M.H.: Yeah. Well actually we wouldn’t do much during Halloween. Sometimes, uh, the older ones would be more likely to go out and turn over an outhouse. You know, our toilets were outhouses. Sometimes, they would go to someones house, and take apart a buggy, disassemble it, and put it on the very top of a barn. So, things like that, but that was very rare. ME: So, a horse carriage? Or a wagon? M.H.: Well, not a wagon, that’s too heavy. You know, a small carriage, a two-seater, that’s what they used. This was the Great Depression, in the ‘30s, ’35 or somewhere like that. But one thing about it, was we always had food because we raised it, and we traded it. We didn’t have a penny to our name, but we managed to live.


M.H. recalls her experiences concerning Halloween, and the events that went along with it. In those days, of the Great Depression, Halloween was very much unlike what is conventionally observed by most Americans today. It was also still in it’s early stages of being embraced by the country as a whole, although M.H.’s family included some Irish immigrant backgrounds, which implies that the original context may very well have been relevant by the way of that heritage.

I tend not to do much for Halloween these days, although growing up, I would don costumes, usually simple ones, and costumes that did not imply anything too frightening. I did not dress up as paranormal beings, but more along the lines of a soldier, a cowboy, Batman, or some other thing. What I do remember, is that me and my family went to a church Harvest Festival, which purposefully deemphasizes the paranormal elements associated with Halloween, such as ghosts, witches, vampires, and others. In more recent years, my taste in costumes has consisted of merely adding on a hat to my head, from my  felt hat collection, a hobby of mine.


For further reference: Irving, Washington. Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Vol. X, Part 2. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1917; Bartleby.com, 2000. <www.bartleby.com>.