Hidden History: Congenial ghosts haunt Osage County socialites’ Halloween parties

“If a girl walks down the cellar stairs backwards peering into a mirror, she will see reflected therein the likeness of her future husband.”

By Wendi Bevitt

The year 1902 brought society’s newest fad to the east coast just in time for the Halloween season – the ghost party. Ghost parties were proclaimed as the “next best thing since ping pong” which had made its arrival 20 years prior. These parties were to herald the beginning of the Halloween season for the next few decades, making their appearance in Kansas in the middle of the decade.

Both young men and ladies would attend most times with the intention of making love connections. According to syndicated entertainment columnist Madame Merri, these parties would be announced by elaborate invitations either containing masks for the attendees to wear, or suggesting a costume to wear upon arrival to ensure unbiased matchmaking.

The host’s house or public venue would be decorated for fall or Halloween. Nellie Craig, of Osage City, hosted a ghost party decorated with jack o’ lanterns and fall leaves. Ethel Kelley, of Burlingame, transformed her parents’ spacious new barn into a “veritable bower of rustic beauty”, serving refreshments of apples and doughnuts, pumpkin pie and coffee. Some parties could even be decorated with just a simple white sheet for the table covering and candles to light the room.

Ghost party activities included dancing and Halloween games such as passing spooky items – a mechanical bug, a potato stuck full of toothpicks, a piece of fur, a Japanese snake, a piece of ice, a wet glove filled with sand – all thoroughly chilled for 12 hours.

C.S. Oliver, of Burlingame, held a party that included spooky activities in the cellar and attic. These parties also perpetuated superstitious games, such as one portrayed in the Charlotte News, Oct. 31, 1902, that suggests on Halloween, “If a girl walks down the cellar stairs backwards peering into a mirror, she will see reflected therein the likeness of her future husband.”

The evening would conclude with the final opportunity to pair men and women together with a special activity. Ethel Kelley’s party held an auction where the men could buy a costumed girl who would either be a “persimmon, lemon or a peach”.

Columnist Madame Merri suggested other coupling opportunities, such as at the hour of departure the young men were led to a window box, where as many cabbages as ladies present would be growing. The cabbages would be pulled and on the root would be the name of the lady the gentleman would protect from witches and goblins on the way home.

“They dance so gaily into the night, causing such a wonderful sight. But watch out, you might get a fright, at the ghost party.”

Ghost party drawing from Charlotte News, Oct. 31, 1902.

wendibevitt2016bWendi Bevitt is owner of Buried Past Consulting LLC. She has lived in Osage County for 18 years and her research interests include Osage County Civil War veterans and Osage County history.

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