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October2006
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Trick . . . Or Treat?

Halloween, Oct. 31, is probably the one day of the year when being deceitful is actually acceptable. From dressing up as your favorite ghostly being to pulling pranks on your friends, all bets are usually off! Perhaps that’s why fortune tellers and magicians are a staple at any local Halloween carnival.

Keller in his latest mystery. 1897 Halloween figures peering from behind a tree. 1959

In fact, Oct. 31 shares the day with another rather ominous event – the anniversary of Harry Houdini’s death (1926). A master trickster himself, Houdini was also committed to exposing the fraudulent methods of supposed mediums who claimed to communicate with “the beyond.” A special section on Houdini in the American Variety Stage collection in American Memory features more than 170 photographs and related items of personal memorabilia that document his career. American Variety Stage also features theater playbills and programs, sound recordings, motion pictures and playscripts.

His predecessor Harry Kellar (1849-1922), the “Dean of American Magicians” shown in the poster above, was famous for his self-decapitation effect and advancing the levitation illusion. Search the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) for “Harry Kellar” to uncover his numerous magic posters and photos of him with Houdini.

If no tricks up your sleeve, donning fangs and cape or pointed hat and broomstick is certainly de rigueur. The custom of dressing in costume and soliciting candy can be traced back to the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, when food and drink was left out to placate roaming spirits and demons out and about for the night. Through the centuries, people began dressing as such incarnations, performing antics in exchange for these treats. Thus, the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. Learn more about the origins of the devilish holiday by visiting the American Folklife Center.

America’s own folklore is full of its own spirits and spooks. Search American Life Histories, 1936-1940, for ghost stories that will surely scare you silly.


A. Keller in his latest mystery. 1897. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC4-12759 (color film copy transparency); Call No.: POS - MAG - .K44, no. 7 (C size) <P&P>[P&P]

B. Halloween figures peering from behind a tree. 1959. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction information: Reproduction No.: LC-USZC2-495 (color film copy slide)
Rights status not evaluated. For general information see "Copyright and Other Restrictions..." (http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/195_copr.html). Call no.: Unprocessed in PR 6 CN 315 [item] [P&P]