Throwback Thursday: Halloween in Boston, 100 Years Ago

Not much has changed since Boston residents dressed up like cats (boring) and went out to parties.

What did Halloween in Boston look like 100 years ago?

Not all that different from how it will look Friday night, as it turns out. Some might say it looked eerily similar! (They would be wrong.) Consider a Boston Globe article from November 1, 1914, that begins:

Ghosts and hobgoblins, witches and black cats, jack-o’-lanterns and fiery cauldrons—all were much in evidence in Boston hotels and cafes last evening, where Halloween with all its accompanying grotesque features, was observed in much the usual manner.

Plus ça change…. Even 100 years ago, people went to big parties. Boring people dressed up as cats. And young newspaper reporters were forced to write meaningless stories documenting a holiday that happened every year. This one reads as if the reporter just gave an account of his party hopping that night:

“One of the most elaborate displays was in the Georgian Cafe in Park sq., which fairly exhaled a Halloween atmosphere—to say nothing of an orange-colored light, visible from afar … The Winter Garden at the Hotel Westminster was the scene of another lively Halloween party … Healy’s Cafe made much of Halloween, serving an elaborate special supper and decorating the room in harvest fashion.”

Halloween has its origins as a religious festival, so it has been around for centuries, of course. Its modern-day celebration got a boost from Irish immigrants through the 19th century, who brought the tradition of dressing up and going house to house to ask for money. Boston, formerly a Puritan stronghold that rejected Halloween celebrations, came to embrace the day, in part thanks to its immigrants. A Globe writer alluded to its Irish origins in an 1884 column, writing “The thoughts tonight of many an Irish boy and girl will go bounding over the crests of the Atlantic’s stormy billows as they revert to the joyous sports and merry-making customary in the ‘ould dart’ on that October evening, the last one of the month, that precedes the religious festival of All Saints Day.”

Of course, some things have changed in the century since Halloween revelers gathered at Boston parties. Back then, there were probably fewer “slutty pumpkins.” Horror movies have gotten a lot better. They didn’t spend all week Instagramming #TBTs to their costume from last year. But hey, when you turn out to the party dressed as a sexy black cat this year, know that you’er part of a holiday tradition that stretches way, way back.