Ghosts of Halloween Past

From the Kennedy children to cross-dressing witches, a gallery of costumes and trickery in mid-century America

halloween-top2.jpg

Archive Photos/Getty Images

Jack o' lanterns and haunted houses, broomsticks and black cats -- these images are so synonymous with October that it's easy to forget Halloween wasn't always on the American calendar. Our Puritan ancestors knew about Samhain, the Celtic spirit festival, but they didn't exactly approve of it. It took two million Irish immigrants fleeing famine in the 1840s to bring All Hallows' Eve stateside. (Back in the Old Country, they'd been in the habit of carving jack o' lanterns from potatoes, but they willingly made the switch to pumpkins.) 

A hundred years later, in the mid-20th century, Halloween was a major American holiday. The religious overtones were gone, but the costumes and pranks remained, along with an eerie thrill of mysticism. These photos, courtesy of LIFE.com, capture some of the now-ubiquitous Halloween traditions that were becoming mainstream then: trick-or-treating, haunted houses, party games, and ghost stories. 

RELATED PHOTO GALLERIES AT LIFE.COM:

Presented by

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz is The Atlantic's digital features editor. More

Jennie Rothenberg Gritz, an Atlantic senior editor, began her association with the magazine in 2002, shortly after graduating from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She joined the staff full time in January 2006. Before coming to The Atlantic, Jennie was senior editor at Moment, a national magazine founded by Elie Wiesel.

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Best 71-Second Animation You'll Watch Today

A rock monster tries to save a village from destruction.

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew

More in National

Just In