Artist collects classic decorations created with Halloween in mind


October 30, 1998|By Donna Abel | Donna Abel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

IT'S THE TIME OF YEAR for grimacing jack-o'-lanterns, crisp autumn nights, putting last-minute touches on costumes, and children eagerly awaiting the sound of candy dropping into their bags and buckets.

The spirit of Halloween fills the air, and one Mount Airy resident has a keen interest in this holiday.

Artist Charles Beck began collecting antique Halloween decorations and memorabilia 10 years ago. His treasures include a rare turn-of-the-century crepe paper and cardboard fireplace screen, candle lanterns, candy containers, crepe paper hats, and an array of postcards, some of which date to the early 1900s. Each Halloween, he brings out his collectibles and displays them in his home. The colorful and detailed items are a lovely reminder of days gone by.

"I always liked Halloween as a kid. The old decorations appeal to me because they are more aesthetically interesting and have a lot more detail than those made now. There's something unusual about them and you don't see that kind of craftsmanship today," says Beck. Beck's most striking items are hanging lanterns made of black pressed cardboard and orange tissue paper. Extremely delicate and made to be used and thrown away almost 100 years ago, a limited number exist in good condition.

From 1900 to 1920, lanterns in the shapes of cat faces, pumpkins or witches were made from papier-mache.

After 1920, cardboard was used to make the lanterns. The earliest and most valuable Halloween decorations were made in Germany and were imported to this country.

Beck says the "early Halloween lanterns were made to hold candles, so many of them burned up and people would just buy more. It's amazing that any survived at all."

Old costumes were commonly made from crepe paper, as were Halloween hats and fireplace screens. Many of these items are rarely found intact.

A little-known fact is that romance was a common theme linked to turn-of-the-century Halloween lore. According to Beck, it was believed that "if a woman looked into a mirror at the stroke of midnight on Halloween, she would see the face of her true love." Several of his antique postcards depict Victorian women gazing into mirrors in the hopes of seeing their true loves' faces.

Beck's collection of unusual and rare items, so detailed and delicate, are lovely reflections of a more innocent time. By stepping into his home, I stepped into the past for a brief moment and saw what Halloween must have been like nearly 100 years ago.

Harvest Ball

The Lions and Lioness Club of Carroll County, with the Carroll County Bureau of Aging, will hold their second Harvest Ball from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 7.

The ball will be held at Westminster Senior Activity Center, 125 Stoner Ave. in Westminster, and Mount Airy Senior Activity Center, 703 Ridge Ave., Mount Airy.

Attire is semiformal and light refreshments will be served. Admission is $2. Reservations with payment in advance for those 55 and older are encouraged. Information: Paul Garver at 410-848-4049 or 410-876-3363(Westminster Center) or Debbie Shindle, 410-795-1017 (Mount Airy Center).

Donna Abel's Southwest Neighbors column appears each Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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