Halloween, as celebrated in the United States today, is a holiday focused primarily on children. In the Victorian era and the first decades of the 20th century, however, Halloween’s focus was less on kids, candy, and trick-or-treating than on the romantic desires of young, single men and women.
In particular, one the most popular forms of “romantic” Halloween entertainment enjoyed among youths one-hundred years ago involved the use of fortune-telling to determine the identity of one’s future spouse. An October 31, 1914, article in Philadelphia’s Evening Public Ledger, with the charming title “Frivolous Follies and Fancies Fantastic that Fascinate Halloween’s Maid,” outlines some of the common fortune-telling and divination rituals used by young men and (especially) women on Halloween to determine their true love.
A number of these rituals, which usually took the form of parlor games used to entertain guests at Halloween parties, involve the recitation of a rhyming verse. For example, the “Rose Test” requires a young lady to twine the stems of two roses—one for herself and one for her lover—while reciting the following verse:
Twine, twine and intertwine,
Let my love be wholly thine.
If his heart be kind and true,
Deeper grow his rose’s hue.
If she is truly loved, her lover’s rose will grow a deeper color.
Another game requires guests to go outdoors, pluck a strand of hair from their head, and let it go. The direction in which the strand blows indicates the direction in which their future husband or wife lives. For the divination to work properly, the following words must be recited:
I pluck this lock of hair off my head
To tell whence comes the one I shall wed.
Fly, silken hair, fly all the world around
Until you reach the spot where my true love is found.
A third game, this one also designed to reveal a party-goer’s future spouse, involves walking backwards in the moonlight while gazing into a looking glass (mirror) and repeating the following lines:
Round and round, O stars so fair!
Ye travel and search out everywhere;
I pray you, sweet stars, now show to me
This night who my future husband (or wife) will be!
“Frivolous Follies,” along with many other newspaper articles documenting the celebration of Halloween in the U.S., can be found through Chronicling America, a searchable database of American newspapers published between 1836 and 1922. The database, a collaboration between the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, celebrated a major milestone earlier this month with the posting of its 10 millionth page.
Chronicling America offers a nearly inexhaustible resource for teachers, students, and literary researchers, who—in addition to tracking down Halloween rhymes and stories!—can use the database to:
- identify a range of literary works and styles (e.g., types of Civil War poetry), by authors known and unknown, published across a wide range of time periods and geographic locales;
- map connections between literary works and the historical events that shaped or inspired them; and
- trace the publication history of literary works, including the ways that specific works spread across the country through reprinting and circulation.
From the Catbird Seat has featured content from Chronicling America in a number of our blog posts, including the following:
- Edgar Allan Poe and “The Raven”
- Dude, It’s Still National Poetry Month?
- Tinker to Evers to Chance
- Bayard Taylor’s “National Ode”: The “Crowning Success” of Philadelphia’s Fourth of July Centennial Celebration
- RMS Titanic: The Poetic Response
These posts offer but a small glimpse of the many literary tricks and treats awaiting you in Chronicling America, and we hope you’ll take the time to delve into the database yourself to uncover additional goodies.