An 1873 New Hampshire Halloween

The Mirror and Farmer newspaper (Manchester NH) published this story on 15 November 1873, page 8 HALLOWEEN AT BRENTWOOD — A correspondent of the Exeter News-Letter gives the following account of the celebration of Halloween by some young ladies in Brentwood:

“In spite of modern civilization–that ruthless foe of credulity and superstition–a party of Brentwood young ladies determined to celebrate Halloween in true Scottish style under the direction of a bona fide Scotch woman, whose ancestors had held the night in strict observance among the hills of Scotland. Accordingly they assembled, last Friday evening, and inaugurated the ceremonies by eating an apple with the greatest solemnity, when each proceeded singly, bearing a lamp, without a word or laugh, which would break the charm, to a distant chamber, where she would behold her future husband.

Print from St. Nicholas [serial] by Mary Mapes Dodge, 1873. Internet Archive.

The first three damsels declared themselves satisfied with what they saw, but it was with difficulty that the fourth and last could be persuaded to go. However, she met with a success unprecedented, as far as we know, in the history of supernatural manifestations; for she not only beheld an apparition, but actually brought him down stairs, where they “tripped the light, fantastic toe” till the lady, at least, was weary.

“The test of rings, griddle cakes, saucers &c., were next brought forward with the most brilliant results. The Scotch woman next took an egg and breaking it in a glass of water, showed to each one, by the figures formed there, a glorious future of wealth, splendor and success. This was an eminently satisfactory performance; for if the first egg didn’t work well, the last one was sure to! Not far from midnight, when witches, elfs, and goblins are supposed to be especially abundant, these maidens might have been seen, lamps in hand, digging up small pieces of turf in the back yard.

“We suppose this right also had a lucky termination, judging from the shouts and laughter with which they replaced the turf the next morning. Upon being questioned at the breakfast table, however, they were forced to confess that, although each experiment was highly gratifying in itself, there was little gained in comparing results!

“They parted, wishing Hallowmas eve came oftener, if it always brought as much fun.”

In order to understand the references in the story above, I am providing additional details.  My source is Harper’s Young People magazine, Vol 6, 1885.

ALL-HALLOW EVE, or Halloween, is so called because it is the vigil of All-saints Day–a high Church festival in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches–but the sports and customs for which it has become famous have nothing to do with Christianity. They are really of pagan origin; and as nuts and apples play an important part in Halloween frolics, it is like to have come from the fact that the first of November was formerly the festival of the goddess Pomona, when the summer stores were opened at the approach of winter.

It has also been known as “nut-rack night” and “cake night”– the later because in some counties in England it is a very old practice to “have seed-cake at All-hallows, at the end of what seed-time.” In reference to this Tusser writes:
“Wife, some time this week, if the weather holds cleere,
An end of what sowing we make for this year;
Remember you, therefore, though I do it not,
The seed-cake, the pastries, and furmentin’ pot?”

While in Staffordshire peasant girls go from house to house a-souling, begging of the farmers’ wives:
“Soul, soul, for a soul cake;
Pray you, good mistress, a soul cake.”

These being triangular sweet cakes, so named in honor of All-souls Day. Goldsmith, in The Vicar of Wakefield, speaks of “religiously cracking nuts on All-hallows Eve.”

Many of our charms come from Scotland, where in addition to apples, nuts and cakes, they add a bowl of soured oatmeal porridge, called “sowens,” to their Halloween supper; and of this every one must taste if he wishes good luck during the coming year.

The spacious kitchen of an old manor-house was usually the scene of these quaint revels. Nuts were named for particular youths and maidens, and placed on the grate or range, and as they snapped apart or burned quietly, the amount of affection was determined. Or perhaps they were thrown into the fire, where those that burned brightly denoted prosperity to the owners during the coming year, but those that turned black and crackled betokened misfortune.

From the ceiling was suspended by a string a stick two feet in length, on one end of which was stuck an apple, and on the other a small bag of sand. The string was twisted so that the stick revolved rapidly, and boys and girls with their hands tied behind them took turns in running up and trying for a bite of the apple. Nine times out of then round would come the bag of sand, striking them in the face, greatly to the amusement of the company.

“Bobbing for apples,” in a tub of water always causes great sport, and little lads will duck and duck again, particularly if a silver dime is stuck in one of the apples as a prize. Girls generally prefer spearing them by holding a fork high in the air, and dropping it prongs downward into the water, when, if they succeed, they may choose their valentine.

Another favorite charm was to set three saucers in a row, one containing pure water, one soapy water, and the other empty. Blindfolded, a girl was led up to these, and was told to dip her left hand into one. If by chance she touched the clear water, she would marry a bachelor; if soapy, a widower; and if the empty saucer, would never marry at all. This was repeated three times, the position of the dishes being altered each time.

At one party I remember great fun was had over a blazing platter of snapdragon, when we burned our fingers and tried our tempers in snatching hot figs from the flaming alcohol, in each of which was concealed a poetical fortune written on a slip of paper.

A mound of flour containing a ring was another test of the evening. The flour was pressed tightly together so that it was firm and compact, and armed with a large knife, each cut a slice from the white loaf. The boy or girl gaining the ring was supposed to be the one who married first. I can’t say, however, that it proved a very true prophet.

Melted lead poured into cold water, together with a little imagination, will show most wonderful things; while if there is a cabbage patch near the house, an amusing charm is for the older boys and girls to be blind-folded and go out hand in hand to pull up cabbage stumps. Lots of fun and dirt will be the result. One girl may return with a small crooked stalk to which a great deal of mould adheres, denoting a short, misshapen, but rich husband, while a boy holds up a long, slender one with little soil about it, and is told he will marry a tall, thin bride with no fortune.

It is an ancient Scottish custom to light great bonfires on Halloween, and carry blazing fagots about on long poles; but in place of this American boys delight in funny grinning jack-o’-lanterns made of huge yellow pumpkins with a candle inside. Any lad skillful with a penknife can carve the eyes, nose and wide mouth with huge teeth that seem like those of a veritable goblin when they appear suddenly at a window or adorning a gale post.


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Ghastly and Ghostly Halloween Stories Gleaned from Old New Hampshire Newspapers

New Hampshire’s Haunted Halloween History


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