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Until Next Fall …

Well, it’s November. You know what that means:

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Photo by Andy Hay via Flickr.

Time to take the candle out of this pumpkin.

I hope your Halloween was amazing, and that this blog played some small part in your celebration of the season. It was nice to spend these last couple of months with you.

Enjoy the rest of your year. See you in September 2017!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Oh my gosh, y’all!!

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It’s already October 31st!

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First of all, HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

I still can't get enough of this guy.

I still can’t get enough of this guy.

Second of all, may I just remark that this Halloween Season went by way too fast? I didn’t even get to post everything I’d planned.

Well, don’t worry. The Skeleton Key will be back next September.

Whether you’ll spend your time today dressing up like your favorite monster or carving large orange squashes, here are a few things to set the mood.

  • Channel Zero might be Syfy’s more-sinister answer to Stranger Things. Right now the first three episodes are free to watch at the channel’s site. Looks promising. And toothy.

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  • Bitmoji has costumes now. Create your own avatar and dress him/her up for the day!
  • In the “real-life horrors” category, did you know that the world’s first human head transplant is scheduled for next year? Believe it.

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  • It’s heeeeere!! Pumpkinrot’s latest creation might be his best work ever. Just check out his breathtaking 2016 haunt, entitled “Night of the Strawman.”screen-shot-2016-10-31-at-1-21-26-pm
  • For a little regional variation from all across this scary nation, here is a list of the popular urban legends from sea to shining sea, by state.
  • There’s a creepy little Halloween game hidden in the Google logo today. It’s about as addictive as a bag of mini Twix.

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  • And how much candy would it take to literally O.D. on the stuff? About 1,527 pieces of candy corn, or 155 fun-size Snickers, according to the L.A. Times

I hope everyone reading this has a freakishly fantastic day today, and a spooky-fun evening tonight. Now get off the Internet and go enjoy your Halloween.

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Creepy Cathedral

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-2-16-27-pmThe annual “Halloween Extravaganza,” held at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York, never, ever disappoints.

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Imagine this place filled with Halloween. (Photo by the Yale Alumni Assoc.)

Though my photos below do not do it justice, here’s a little taste of what it’s like to attend the event.

You walk into an intimidatingly enormous Gothic structure. It has been lit and decorated to resemble a haunted sanctuary of evil. (Presumably the opposite of its atmosphere during usual daytime hours.)

Then you are greeted by a skeleton playing live cello.

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Even many of the attendees come in costume.

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You sit on a chair in the church’s enormous nave, beneath a soaring dome that is tall enough to fit the Statue of Liberty (no exaggeration), facing a projection screen.

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Soon, the church fills with organ music, loud and low enough to rattle your ribcage.

Then the silent film begins. This weekend’s selection was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). It is accompanied by the live organist.

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After the screening, the church slowly fills with a creeping fog. Soon, people in demon costumes that look like twisted Jim Henson creations start parading slowly down the aisles of the seating area.

They creep and lope erratically, interacting silently with the audience as they pass. The church gradually comes alive with sinister ghouls.

At the end of the parade, the organ plays a triumphant version of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and you exit underneath a giant spider boogying on top of the church’s rose window.

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You leave feeling as if you have experienced firsthand the lifting of the veil between the living and the restless dead. This is by far one of the best and most unique Halloween traditions.

Halloween History: Condensed

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.23.08 PMMany people who find out I’m obsessed with Halloween ask me about the history of the 3,000-year-old holiday. So I’m presenting a “condensed version” of that history here, for blog readers who might be curious but don’t want to read entire books on the topic.

I am not a historian. I have gathered the following information from some of the Halloween history books I like. My sources are listed at the bottom of this post.

I apologize for leaving out — in the interest of brevity — so many details these authors have diligently covered, but I hope you find this “quick history lesson” somewhat informative and/or interesting.

  • Pre-Christianity, the ancient Celts observed Samhain (pronounced “SOW-in”;  meaning “summer’s end”) in the fall. It was their New Year. They celebrated with bonfires and feasts, and slaughtered animals for winter meat. They believed that the spirits of the dead were more likely to enter the world of the living during this sacred “in-between” time, which straddled abundant summer and harsh winter.
  • Christianity spread throughout Europe, and paganism was condemned as demonic. Samhain was incorporated into the Catholics’ All Saints’ Day (referred to as “Hallowmas,” meaning “sacred festival”) and All Souls’ Day, sanctifying the holiday but allowing it to maintain its focus on celebrating the dead. It became popular for the poor to beg for food door-to-door in return for praying for deceased loved ones.
  • The word for OctoberScreen Shot 2015-09-15 at 11.23.26 PM 31, the day before Catholic Hallowmas, was “Hallow’s Eve,” a.k.a. “Halloween.” The date soon became its own standalone day of celebration, observed separately from All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1).
  • Beginning in the Medieval era, the plague gave birth to the Grim Reaper archetype, and paranoia about witchcraft sparked the persecution of witches, who were said to dance with the Devil. By then, the Catholics had officially outlawed paganism, but protestants defiantly kept celebrating.
  • Scotland and Ireland, fertile home of the Pagan rituals that led to many Halloween traditions, also continued to observe Halloween with bonfires. These were lit to help guide dead spirits home and to protect from witches and malicious fairies who lurked in the forests. Bonfires also offered a convenient way to dispose of the leftovers from autumn harvest. It was in Ireland that the first jack-o-lanterns were carved — using turnips rather than pumpkins — depicting frightening faces intended to scare off evil spirits.
  • Puritans were opposed to sinful Halloween (though not to witch-hanging; that was apparently wholesome), but other colonists still believed in magic and told ghost stories. Thanks to the Native Americans, farmers discover a better gourd: the pumpkin. screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-06-51-pm
  • Irish immigrants came to the U.S. and brought Halloween with them. It spread as quickly as germs in a plastic mask. Within decades, American Victorians were reveling in the holiday: throwing parties, establishing the first seasonal decorations, and donning costumes. Halloween fortune-telling games became wildly popular, especially for young adults looking for their soulmates.
  • By the mid 1900s, Halloween morphed into more of a child-centric holiday featuring candy and spooky G-rated games, plus door-to-door costumed visits. Though there were treats, tricks were also common, as many children pulled pranks on their neighbors. In fact, the earliest parades and “haunted houses,” held at community centers like gyms and churches, were attempts to keep tabs on kids and reign in their mischief.
  • Thanks in part to good-ol’ American marketing and advertising, by the 1970s, Halloween had become a huge phenomenon in the U.S., with TV shows, products, and commercial goods devoted to the holiday. As artistic representations of Halloween in media and film became increasingly sophisticated, they also became scarier, attracting more adult fans in addition to the already-hooked kiddie crowd.
  • Nowadays, Halloween is more popular than it has ever been. The holiday has started catching on in farther corners of the globe and is becoming a worldwide phenomenon. screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-4-10-55-pm

Sources: Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween (L. Morton), Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History (L. Bannatyne), and Death Makes a Holiday (D. Skal).

Images via the 365 Days of Halloween Tumblr.

Skymall-oween

Remember that quirky Brookstone knockoff catalog you see on airplanes? The one that sells high-tech (but somewhat low-brow) inventions like these?

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And wildly unique gifts like these?

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Three available!! One for every Maroon 5 fan on Earth.

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With the same ubiquity as Bibles in cheap motel nightstands, Skymall magazine can reliably be found in the seat pockets of most every U.S. airplane. Right next to the airsickness bags.

And guess what? Right now they have Halloween products.

Here is a smattering of their October offerings online.

Martian-tini, anyone?

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Not just for Halloween! Also perfect for pre-teen boys’ bedrooms everywhere!

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I legitimately like this giant lawn spider web.

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And this grim reaper wall sculpture.

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My favorite product might be this pewter figurine of a skeleton reclining in an open casket.

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But hilariously, Skymall decided to spin the product as a “catch-all dish,” lest it seem like a frivolous purchase devoid of usefulness. And they did so by ‘Shopping some purple accessories into the image. (Thank goodness. I finally have a place for my purple Tic Tacs!)

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I’m still undecided as to whether “Resing” is a misspelling of “Resting” or of “Resin.”

Keep the myth alive in your neighborhood with this peeping Sasquatch!

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Or any of these other Bigfoot-related products (which are legion … and often strangely not categorized in the site’s Halloween section).

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Two questions: 1. Do you need a costume? and 2. Are you a Poison fan??

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Shirt includes tattooed arms, white graphic tee, vest, and chest hair. Note: The product description is quick to remind potential buyers that the shirt “works great as an everyday shirt to stand out from the crowd.” (I’d say that depends on the crowd.)

I leave you with the inexplicable 30-inch “Tasmanian Devil Statue,” which is featured on the front page of the “Halloween Decor” section of the website … because it looks like a massive subway rat, I guess?

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And let’s be real: on what other holiday can they push this thing?

Thank you, Skymall, for reminding us that Halloween is the holiday when truly anything goes.

The Art of Strange Words

This visual dictionary of obscure English words by the Project Twins includes many dark and morbid terms, plus it showcases some clean, effective graphic design skills.

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See more eerie work by the talented duo here.

Masked Madness

And now, ladies and gentlemen, on this beautiful late-October day, I would like to introduce you to a photographer that I despise.

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I hate him because he’s so talented.

Joey L. has taken exactly the type of beautifully eerie neo-Meatyard costume photos I dream about taking. Every year I awkwardly drag my camera downtown with me on Halloween night, getting it tangled up in my costume, only to end up with blurry snapshots.

He disgusts me because he took these on Halloween. In Brooklyn. With real people wearing real costumes. And they’re sublime.

So go ahead. Bask in the visual glory of Joey L.’s incredible photographic abilities.

That bastard.🙂

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View the whole series here.

All images from the artist’s website.