These days, Halloween decorations run the gamut from garish and gory—decapitated rubber heads and smashed arms sticking out of car doors—to cheap and cheesy—fake cobwebs and tree-hung ghosts. But Halloween decorations made before the 1950s aren’t nearly as heavy-handed. Instead, they are subtly insidious and deeply weird. The old school decorations often feature haunting figures in twisting contortions, sporting leering smiles. Their bodies are crumpled up or stretched and their faces seem off and unsettling. Many of the pieces are downright demonic. Although these vintage decorations are rare, there is a small group of people who spend a great deal of time and money hunting them down.
“Most—but not all—of the Halloween items that collectors go after today were made by three basic sources: two American companies, Beistle and Dennison, and various German artisans who made holiday items to be imported to the USA between the two World Wars,” explained Jason Walcott, a dedicated collector of old-timey spooky stuff.
These companies, back in the early part of the 20th century, weren’t making Halloween decorations for kids. “Back in the 20s and into the 30s, if you were going to have a Halloween party, it would be adults throwing the party for other adults. They didn’t want cute decorations,” said Mark B. Ledenbach, proprietor of Halloween Collector and author of Vintage Halloween Collectibles. “They wanted something that would be unsettling and memorable for adults.”
And that unsettling nature is the common theme in these classic decorations. Each piece seems to be a study in devious grins and perverse, impish nature. And for the collectors I spoke to, that’s the whole point. “I think I am drawn to their darkness,” said Brenda McNeilly, “in particular the ones from the golden era of Halloween. [Back then] the party favors and lanterns were less benevolent, and more malevolent in design and intent.” These pieces, coming from rural Germanic towns and Germany itself, evoked a kind of creepiness that we don’t see in today’s decorations.
But collecting at this level isn’t cheap—some pieces fetch more than $5,000. As Mark said, “You have to have some financial resources to truly delve into vintage Halloween.” When I asked collector Cynthia Vogel if she ever had to sacrifice anything for her Halloween collection, she told me, “There have been years where I have purchased items for the collection that precluded me from doing other things such as vacations that most people would find enjoyable. But for me, acquiring a piece on my most-desired list is far more fun than any vacation I could ever imagine.”
All the collectors I spoke with were careful to point out that collecting Halloween decorations is an art. And at this level of collecting (we’re dealing with pros here) they don’t purchase anything without inspection, meticulous grading, and a confidence that they could flip it to recoup their investment. As Brenda puts it, “I always make a conscious effort to pay no more than what I believe is a “recoverable price” for a top flight, museum-quality item.” While some collectors don’t purchase at all, “All the advanced collectors, they want what you have and you want what they have. If you can work out a trade, that’s much more satisfying than money, which feels kind of mercenary,” said Mark.
When people on the outside come to a collector’s house, they generally have a whole lot of questions. “When it comes to Halloween memorabilia, most non-collectors look at me and say, ‘Really?’” said Cynthia, “and then they begin to speak about their own pleasant childhood memories of Halloween. A lightbulb begins to shine and understanding begins to show.” For a lot of non-collectors, seeing is believing. “People just don’t get it until they see it,” said Jason. And as Mark said, “There are people who collect and people who don’t collect. I was always one of the collectors. If you’re not a collector, there’s nothing I can say to you to interest you in the collection, except to maybe throw out a value here or there and say, ‘Look at this piece of cardboard. Did you know that this cardboard is worth $2,000?’”
Prices on these decorations always generate a lot of interest from outsiders. A quick search I did on eBay for “Beistle Halloween” produced results with lots of cheap reprints and some staggering asking prices for originals, like a rare Halloween Lamp for almost $1,600. The value of these pieces comes from their rarity. Halloween decorations weren’t preserved as carefully as those of other holidays. “No one cared about Halloween back in the 20s and 30s,” Mark told me. “So if you threw a party, unlike Christmas decorations that were passed down and lovingly curated, on Halloween no one did that. So they were just ripped down and thrown in the garbage.” Cynthia described, from that rarity, a broader appeal, “Most people, even if they are not collectors, appreciate the historical value of the items we collect.”
After speaking with these collectors, I was impressed with the level of passion and dedication they give to their hobby, but not surprised. For some people, collecting in all its forms (baseball cards, vintage cars, old pornos) can be “a means of control to elicit a comfort zone in one’s life, like calming fears or erasing insecuritm.” wrote Mark B. McKinley for the National Psychologist. “Some people collect for investment… some collect to expand their social lives, attending swap meets,” and “for some people collecting is simply the quest, in some cases a life-long pursuit that is never complete.”
Whatever the motivation, collectors love to collect. When asked what she would say to people who don’t understand her hobby, Brenda told me, “They don’t have to, and that’s OK. It’s my strange little obsession, and that’s how I like it.”
‘You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.”
That appears to be the theme of the fifth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the most successful TV series about zombies since C-SPAN covered the Reform-party convention in 2000.
It’s a grim yet compelling drama that at times prides itself less in creative writing than in inventive ways to dispatch the ambulatory deceased. But so far, this is probably the best season since the first. It is also the darkest by far, and for the same reason: It has now dawned on the show’s heroes (and writers) that while zombies are a constant danger, humans are the real enemy.
That is because man is the only the monster there is — or ever was.
There is no shortage of exotic monsters in the imaginary bestiary of man. There are dragons, balrogs, banshees, and basilisks. The problem is that they don’t exist.
And of course there was a time when we mistook real beasts for monsters, and understandably so. But we now recognize them as simple creatures simply doing what they must (though watching a cat play with a mouse sometimes gives me doubt). Sharks are terrifying, but they are not evil.
Evil requires the ability to choose good. Absent choice, evil isn’t evil, it’s just stuff that happens. If you fall into a shark tank, you are not the victim of evil. If I push you in, well, that’s a different story.
The zombies of The Walking Dead might as well be a metaphor for Ebola or earthquakes or meteor strikes. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, zombies must feast on the flesh of the living. Only fools curse the sun for setting.
But man is something different. He is a creature with the power of moral choice, the only creature in this life with that power. That is why I loathe attempts to liken anything other than other instances of genocide to the Holocaust. Comparing it to a disease or to global warming is a moral-category error that borders on Holocaust denial.
Similarly, it always bothers me when opponents of the death penalty say, “We’re talking about taking the life of a human being,” as if this hadn’t occurred to supporters of capital punishment. Of course we’re talking about a human life. If we weren’t, what would be the point?
You often hear that one shouldn’t call men “monsters,” because to do so “dehumanizes” them. This is nonsense. What makes child rapists and murderers monsters is their humanity. The Islamic State is monstrous, too. Saying so doesn’t dehumanize them. It does, however, imply that we shouldn’t spend a whole lot of time trying to reason with them.
This season of The Walking Dead is so good because it is finally asking the right question: What does it mean to be a human? The protagonists of the show recently encountered a group of survivors who’ve concluded that survival is the only thing that matters, and so they follow the example of zombies and start eating humans too. They rustle up their fellow men and women and turn them into cattle. When their victims plead, “You don’t have to do this,” it falls on deaf ears, just as it would if you said to a hungry polar bear, “Let’s talk about this for a minute.”
Except the victims are right. The murderers don’t have to do it. They choose to do it. And that is what makes them the only real monsters on the screen.
Originally, a monster wasn’t understood as a horrible beast. “Monster” comes from the Latin monstrum and the verb monere, meaning “to warn” or “to instruct.” A monster, technically, was an omen of evil to come. One could say that the zombies in The Walking Dead are true to this older understanding of the term, for they are harbingers of the evil that emerges in the living.
It’s Halloween season, and that gives me some license to talk about zombies. But the truth is that the lesson of the show is an eternal one, because the evil in men is baked in and eternal. Forget that the capacity for evil lurks in all of us and life will find a way to remind you. This reminder can be found daily in the headlines — for those with eyes to see it.
Found at National Review.
The War That Didn’t End All Wars
What Started in 1914 — and Why It Lasted So Long
Read this interesting article HERE.
After a 10-year journey of some seven billion kilometres, the Rosetta mission is now heading towards its next major milestone – setting the lander Philae on a comet.
Eight Most Absurd PC Police Halloween Rules
Go ahead and dress like someone from a different culture—if you want to carry on a “deadly system of oppression.”