Over the past few years it seems that everyone has gone 1920s crazy, thanks largely to the film remake of The Great Gatsby and the new silent film, The Artist. The Jazz Age/Roaring Twenties/Gangster Party has replaced the Early 90s Party and flappers are a dime a dozen at any Halloween party. I think that interest in any bygone era is the cat’s meow (and how!) but I’m pretty sure many who have hopped on this fashionable trend think women wore fringe mini dresses, feather boas, and beaded headbands exclusively. They just wiggle into the mass produced costumes from a Spirit Halloween and never go any further. I find that total baloney.
As I mentioned last week, I’ve been looking through several 1920s Halloween books that offer the latest fads in costumes, decor, games, and party tips. It’s simply amazing what one could accomplish with crepe paper, die cuts and paste! Now if I saw someone walking around in an authentic, homemade 1920s costume this Friday, it would be entirely copacetic and I would be crazy jealous. I dream of recreating a vintage 1920s Halloween party including forcing everyone to arrive dolled up in a handmade costume of 90% paper. And not just any paper, crepe paper.
Our modern Halloween holiday began at the turn of the century when costumed dances were held in order to distract youth and thus (hopefully) prevent vandalism. It was at this point that the Dennison Crepe Paper Company hatched the most brilliant marketing plan ever. Beginning in 1909, Dennison began publishing a “Bogie Book” filled with Halloween party costumes, decorations, menus, and party games. All of course could be created using Dennison’s crepe paper, die cuts, and gummed seals. Hand-crafting all of your party favors out of paper was cost effective for the consumer and made Dennison a household name.
Fortunately for us, the 13th Annual Bogie Book from 1925 (Many sites that offer this book list it as being from 1920 but text inside mentions the previous edition as 1924 so this is obviously from 1925.) is readily available on the internet for free in PDF form. I read through this inspiring book this past weekend and wanted to share some of the highlights.
1925 Dennison Crepe Paper Company’s Bogie Book
“Hallowe’en, the night of October thirty-first, is the one time of all the year when an opportunity is supposed to be given for looking into the future and having one’s fate settled for the coming twelve months.” The book’s pages are filled with wonderful illustrations of homes, halls, clubs, and decorations that have been “…planned so that the busy hostess may achieve the most delightful and unusual results with the least outlay of either time or money.”
I think the most amazing part is the elaborate instructions that are given to ensure you can properly recreate every “Pumpkin Doughnut Clown”, “Ghostly Prize”, “Pumpkin Boy Nut Dish”, or “Autumn Leaf Cricket”. (A “cricket” is a small metallic noise maker. I absolutely had to look that one up.) You need not fret over how to properly “spiral” your wire (steel knitting needle) or what to hang your crepe paper moss from (natural branches) because it is all explained. Paper waitress outfits are described for church suppers and apples are suggested for hanging alongside streamers but be sure to “have the apples quite high up or your guests will be tempted to eat the decorations.”
The “Old Man Autumn” imagery (pictured above is the “cricket”) is the greatest loss to modern-day Halloween decorations if you ask me.
That ghost is pretty terrifying. It looks part alien. Also, I have always longed for a witch pencil party favor.
For party activities, dancing is number one on the list unless of course you’re having a card party. Dances should be interspersed with ghoulish games of devilish divination! One incredibly spooky aspect of the dancing is leaving the choice of partners entirely up to chance and fate. Numerous methods are listed including having guests wear sashes (men) and head scarves (women) adorned with various die cuts and/or colors and matching up for dances, blindfolding guests who walk zombie-style towards the other sex and dance with the first person they grab, and blindfolded “ghosts” matching up partners. Most games include foretelling your fate for the coming year and your matrimonial future. My favorite game is “The Cup of Fate” which involves filling three saucers with milk, water, and vinegar. A (surprise!) blindfolded guest reaches out and whichever liquid they dip their finger into first determines their fate: milk promises a happy marriage, vinegar means your future spouse will have a “sour disposition,” and water means “single blessedness is in store.” I guess back then your only options in life involved a good marriage, a bad marriage, or a happy single life.
The book also includes “stunts” that are staged throughout the night using different party guests with the main event being the telling of a ghost story:
The story continues on introducing the audience to his “victims” which include the ice man, coal man, radio bug, and Miss Flapper de Jazz. Props are used to illustrate the various murders and the lights go out right on cue. A thrilling evening, indeed!
Costumes begin with a muslin foundation and crepe paper is then attached to this base. (Crepe paper basically dissolves in water so you really will be thankful for this under layer if you get stuck in a downpour or if you fall into the barrel while bobbing for apples.) Again, all costumes are easily created with Dennison products but if you need in-depth costume instructions you only need write to the “Service Bureau” and include the costume number you wish to replicate.
The book continues on with some Thanksgiving and autumn party decorations but I will get to those in a few weeks. The end of the book includes the materials you will need to create all of the decorations and the prices are pretty incredible. A sheet of plain crepe paper that was 10 feet long and 10 inches wide set you back 15 cents, while the decorated crepe was 25-30 cents. Crepe paper moss was 30 cents a box and a package of 40 foot streamers was available for $1.50. Even today you can even find authentic vintage Dennison crepe paper on Ebay and Etsy if you’re lucky. Of course it costs a lot more than it did in 1925.
Here are a few other 1920s Halloween costume and decor images from various sources: