By MELINDA NARRO
Fort Bend Museum Intern
For some of us, the most exhilarating part of Halloween is the illicit thrill of staying up late and pounding pavements after dark on a quest for fun-sized candy. There are some people, though, who crave a different, spookier type of excitement—the kind of hair-raising, spine-tingling jolt that can be found in scary movies, ghost stories, and haunted houses.
While we tend to think of Victorian-era America as a fairly buttoned-up, no-nonsense place, the mid-to-late 1800s witnessed a surging interest in all things supernatural. Writers (including Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker, and Edgar Allen Poe) populated their prose with monsters and apparitions, while the Spiritualist movement encouraged individuals to seek contact with dead loved ones through spirit photographers and séances. The Lone Star State was no exception to this trend, and residents’ appetite for the eerie was evident in Texas media by the time John and Lottie Moore settled in Richmond in the 1880s.
Tales of encounters with spirits appeared in 19th-century Texas press as both journalistic accounts and as fiction. For example, in 1889 a haunted house narrative titled “Dolph Heyliger,” penned by The Legend of Sleepy Hollow author Washington Irving, ran in serialized installments in three town newspapers.
Those more keen to learn about real-world phenomena could often find their fix in the same pages, nestled among more mundane stories about crops and commerce. In 1881, the Galveston Daily News broke from describing Richmond’s “copious rains” and Ennis' “abundance of peaches at market” to mention the hubbub surrounding a haunted house in Tyler where rocks fell from nowhere through the roof, knives and forks stood up on end and ran around, and various other objects mysteriously moved about the premises. Eight years later, Dallas’ Southern Mercury reported that the town of Sherman had a haunted house in a listing of statewide news; this chilling fact was placed unceremoniously between descriptions of the cotton yield in Wise County and Blanco County’s successful goat industry.
When Texas offered no frights of its own, local papers picked up stories of specters from as far afield as Alabama, Connecticut, and Colorado. If all this creepy coverage failed to satisfy, readers could further pursue the paranormal by attending advertised events such as an 1888 séance led by “noted spirit mediums” at El Paso’s Myar Opera House, or a one-night-only performance by “World-Famed Mind Reader” J. Randall Brown in Denison.
Whether your Halloween is tame or terrifying, we hope you enjoy a fun, safe holiday among good friends! And if you’re still looking for something special to do, there’s still time to get on board for either the Black & White Masquerade (Friday; ages 21+) or Miss Ivy's Spooktacular Halloween Party (Saturday; family-friendly) going on at the Fort Bend Museum this weekend!
Check out the Texian Market Days website for lots of additional information, and we’ll look forward to seeing you on Saturday at the Ranch!
By Melinda Narro
Fort Bend Museum Intern
Have you already picked a costume and mapped out your trick-or-treating route? Been limbering up your jaw to prepare for an onslaught of gooey sweets? The month of October is upon us, and with it comes everyone’s favorite night for all things sugary and spooky: Halloween. This year, the Fort Bend Museum will host a pair of special events to mark the occasion, with the eerily-decorated Moore Mansion serving as a setting for both. Guests aged 21+ can enjoy an evening of music, dancing, and libations at the Black & White Masquerade on Friday, October 28, while games, crafts, and tasty goodies for all ages await attendees of Miss Ivy’s Spooktacular Halloween Party on October 29. To gear up for the frightful fun, let’s take a look at how these festivities stack up against historical Halloweens here in Fort Bend County.
Although widely popular today, Halloween’s place in the pantheon of American holidays is relatively recent. With an eclectic ancestry blending ancient Celtic rites and later Christian traditions, the celebration made its way overseas and into the national consciousness with Scottish and Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s. However, two major components of our modern Halloween—candy and trick-or-treating—didn’t appear until much later; in fact, before the late 1940s, they played very little role in typical Halloween revelry. Instead, children and adults gathered for evening socials that featured themed décor, an array of activities, and belly-filling drinks and desserts.
In 1930, for example, guests at the Rosenberg American Legion’s Halloween soiree competed in Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Black-Cat before indulging in midnight coffee and doughnuts. Other area events offered similarly hearty fare, including chili and rolls, hot chocolate, and chocolate cake. Children attending the Richmond P.T.A.’s Halloween party boogied to live music and bobbed for apples “amid shouts of laughter, spattering water everywhere.” According to the Texas Coaster, kids also eagerly queued for a chance to enter “the old witch den, where a true Hallowe’en witch dwelt with her snakes, owls and bats and told fortunes.” Private homes and public facilities alike were adorned with “weird figures hung about the walls,” including ghosts, witches, black cats and bats, all illuminated by the “soft yellow glow” of jack-o’-lanterns.
If this sounds like a hair-raisingly good time to you, we think you’ll love the old-fashioned amusements the Museum has in store for October 28 and 29. For additional details or to purchase tickets, check out the Black & White Masquerade and Miss Ivy's Spooktacular Halloween Party event pages. And...stay tuned for a future post about Texans and the paranormal!
Funding has been provided to the Fort Bend History Association from Humanities Texas and the National Endowment for the Humanities as part of the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020.
Fort Bend Museum Staff