The Halloween tradition goes back centuries. Originally, the Celtic celebration was called All Hallow’s Eve, and it occurred the night before All Saint’s Day on November 1st. It was a Harvest Festival of sorts, and the Celts honored their gods for their goods to get them through the winter.
For the Celtic people, winter meant the death of all that surrounded them; the trees turn to skeletons, the ground is frozen, and all lies dormant in a tomb of cold for the next few months. And for the Celts, November 1st was their New Year. It is the ending of seasonal abundance and the transition into darkness – the thinning of the veil.
As the veil thins, the portals between two worlds are opened. It allows the spirits of the dead, the fae folk, and other mystical travelers to enter back into “our realm” to cause mischief and hauntings.
To hide from the lurking supernatural beings, the Celts would don masks and dress in costumes as disguises. Tada! Happy Modern Day Halloween!
When the Romans invaded Great Britain, they usurped some of the Celtic traditions and incorporated them into their own. The Romans were big on Saints, who are all dead, so it became All Saints’ Day and All Hallow’s Eve.
When the colonies were settled by Protestants, the tradition was not exactly popular. But they did continue to celebrate the harvest.
As the beliefs and customs of different European ethnic groups and the American Indians meshed, a distinctly American version of Halloween began to emerge. Neighbors would share stories of the dead, tell each other’s fortunes, dance and sing. Colonial Halloween festivities also featured the telling of ghost stories and mischief-making of all kinds. (History.com)
And perhaps the time in history most devoted to these traditions is the Victorian era.
The Ghosts of the Victorian Era
For many, the Victorian Era means Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, the Fox Sisters, and the invention of the Ouija Board. It was a macabre time full of irony. Women were covered from neck to ankle, but all were determined to peel back the curtain on the dead. Or the “undead” if you’re on the Stoker literary train.
And it was during the Victorian Era that the Spiritualist Movement began. The Spiritualists encouraged people to reach out to the dead for guidance and comfort. They incorporated mediums and séances into their practices, and in a time of Yellow Fever, Small Pox, and the Civil War, folks were desperate to communicate with their loved ones who were taken so quickly and tragically.
Though Texas often feels like an island, removed from the rest of the country (by choice), the great state was not immune to the Spiritualist Movement. In fact, Spiritualism was huge in Texas. (insert one of your “everything is bigger in…”)
As the Spiritualist Movement grew in popularity and became a part of the culture, all things dead, eerie, and macabre were the zeitgeist of the times. Newspapers began reporting hauntings in homes and buildings, as well as recaps of weekend séances.
The Houston Post in 1905 dedicated an entire page to some strange happenings inside a home:
Haunted House of Kickapoo: On a Spot in East Texas Famed Throughout the Land – Strange Experiences of a Traveler Who Spent the Night There.
In 1889, Washington Irving, famous for writing The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, wrote a haunted house piece called Dolph Heyliger. Three towns in Texas, including San Marcos, ran the story as a series in their newspapers.
McDougall’s Opera House in Denison, Texas, advertised a “One Night Only Special Attraction” on February 5th, 1888, featuring World Famous Medium J. Randall Brown.
And as we moved into the Edwardian era, the mystery and intrigue of séances and mediums were still spreading feverishly. Bayard Veiller’s play, The Thirteenth Chair, about a murder and a fake Irish medium named Madame LaGrange, was made into a film, three times, once starring everyone’s favorite goth, Bela Lugosi.
Spirit Walkers, Ghost Talkers, and skeptics weren’t going anywhere. The Victorian Era had made the paranormal normal.
Texas Ghost Hunters, Beware
Our little Central Texas town, Taylor, was, in fact, a big part of the Texas Spiritualist Movement, though a bit late to the dead-talking game in comparison to the rest of the country.
In 1922, just above an article on how to stop itching, The Taylor Daily Press recaps the weekend’s Spiritualist’s Mass Meetings at the City Hall Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The packed audience listened to Dr. J. S. Maxwell, president of the Texas State Spiritualist Association, discuss the phenomena of Spiritualism.
Dr. Maxwell sighted cases where communication with the dead was experienced not only by Spiritualists, but by “men who started an investigation in hopes of proving Spiritualism a fraud.”
It is such men that are bringing you in a closer understanding of this phenomena, and I advise those of you who do not want to become Spiritualists do not begin investigations.
A Halloween Ghost Tour Tradition
Ghost stories were no longer relegated to only being told around campfires. Dickens brought them around the Christmas tree, and Spiritualists brought them to the daily pages of our newspapers. Today, we see them on Travel Channel every other night between Bigfoot sightings and alien abductions. But for some reason, the stories and lore become even more spooky as we near All Hallow’s Eve.
These days, Haunted House attractions are open for weeks before and even after October 31st. Chain retail stores begin loading shelves with plastic smiling pumpkins and bats with LED lit eyeballs before Labor Day’s barbecue weekend has commenced. Many of us are considering next year’s disguise, or costume, during our November 2nd hangover.
And because you are reading this on a Ghost Tours website, you, too, are into the chills and thrills that Ghost Stories provide. A good Ghost Tour will have you wanting to know more about those things that go bump in the night. Or, at the very least, appease your inner goth kid.
If you’re in the Central Texas area, join us on October 23rd in Taylor, Texas. Spell Caster Ghost Tours is partnering with Black Sparrow Music Parlor and Greenhouse Craft Foods for a Southern Gothic Halloween: a night dedicated to the South’s most macabre history, paired with a 4-Course Supper.
And if you’re looking for something fun to do that doesn’t entail asking strangers for Type 2 Diabetes, then come out on a Ghost Tour with Spell Caster!