Halloween Celebrations on the Historic Campus
I took a break from researching my sustainability project this week and focused my efforts on my favorite holiday: Halloween! Late October certainly has a notorious reputation in certain parts of Michigan, but I was curious to see how (and if) students on the historic campus celebrated Halloween. I could not find many records of university sanctioned events, but scrapbooks in the University Archives yielded a few Halloween invitations in the shapes of pumpkins, black cats, and witches. One invitation to a banquet in 1916 reads, “The witches dance behind the moon in shadowy array; the tomcats their weird pranks and yowl the night away; the owls screetch out their ghostly songs with the glad break of day; we beg that you will come along and join the merry fray.”
An invitation to a party hosted at Peoples Church in 1915 states, “On Halloween the pumpkins grin, the night owls prance, the tomcats scream, the witches dance, and all is eerie, leery skeery. But come and help us celebrate, below you’ll find the time and date. We’ll try to make the evening bright and cheery.” Both invitations are hand written and signed with female names. It appears as though women were throwing the best Halloween parties on the historic campus!
I looked through all the October volumes of the M.A.C. Record (1896-1942) and found only one mention of Halloween festivities, a summary of a party in 1904 hosted by President and Mrs. Snyder. The scene sounds ripped from a Vincent Price movie: “Jack-o-lanterns grinned down upon the ghostly company, sheeted and masked, which glided about the darkened rooms. The spectral crowd groaned their applause as they listened to the history of the festival, to strange, uncanny tales and weird music. A skeleton dance won their highest approval.”
A play called Hallow’en Revels (1898) – Three witches gather to discuss Halloween entertainment under the cover of thunder and lightning. The third witch asks, “What sayest thou of the Hallowe’en play, sister, what provence is it to be held in?” The second witch responds, “At the Michigan Agricultural College, three miles west of Okemos.” The first witch quips, “What sayest thou? Why that’s the place I fell into last week when my broom-stick broke on that pesky comet.” The witches name several faculty members, who are to be represented by animals during the night’s entertainment (President Snyder is to be a sheep while other professors are represented by pug dogs and porcupines!). Each professor must stand trial before the witches and was charged with a variety of offenses ranging from “climbing a tree” to “boisterous conduct on the streets of Lansing.” One witch concludes the introduction to the play with this summary of the performance: “Oh, mostly jokes on teachers, students, departments and the like, and lastly, a sort of hellish combination of all the devils and evils on the Campus.” The play appears to be a roast of campus figures and college life, set to the backdrop of a Hallow’en party and trial scene.
Author: Amy Michael