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To-night is Halloween!

By Claire Johnson, Newspaper Project Intern

Halloween Header ImageHappy Halloween From the VNP! In honor of the spookiest of holidays, here’s a look back at how Richmonders of the past celebrated Halloween.

Richmond Dispatch 10:30:1897

For young women at the turn of the century, Halloween presented an opportunity to glimpse into the future and see the face of their husband-to-be by completing one of several complex rituals. The Richmond Dispatch on October 31, 1897 described one such ritual, performed at or near midnight on Halloween. Wearing her hair loose down her back and barefoot, the curious young woman must light a candle, and descend down her basement stairs backwards. As she walks, she repeats a stanza from Robert Burns’ 1743 poem, “Green Grow the Rashes:” “Auld Nature swears the lovely dears, Her noblest work she classes, O: Her ‘prentice han’ she tried on man, And then she made the lasses, O!”At the bottom of the steps, after turning around twice and taking ten steps, she looks over her shoulder into a mirror. If she is going to be married, she will see the reflection of her husband in the mirror.To-night is Halloween! Throughout the city, in the house of rich and poor alike, its joyful customs will be observed.

The same article explained the soothsaying powers of “ducking for apples.” The instructions begin in a familiar way for those of us who bobbed for apples at harvest festivals or Halloween parties as children: fill a vessel with water and add apples, then close your eyes, lean in, and try to get one. Here, 19th century ducking for apples diverges from the modern incarnation of the game. According to the superstition, those who successfully picked up an apple with their teeth three times in five minutes would dream of their future spouse that night.

On November 1, 1896, the Richmond Dispatch published a poem titled “Girls on Halloween,” which detailed more of the practices girls … read more »

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