The Ladies' Tea Guild

Monday, October 31, 2011

Celebrate Halloween the Victorian way: with Parlor Amusements from Godey's Lady's Book!

Bobbing for apples. Image: http//
Of course, you could pull out the old washtub and get some apples for traditional apple-bobbing, you could hang an apple from a string and have your friends try to bite it without using their hands, or play other old-fashioned games tonight, (even if you're going out trick-or-treating), but why not create some science "magic" in your own parlor (or living room, or kitchen)?  Here are some of the safer-sounding "parlor amusements" from Godey's Lady's Book of 1855:

The magic whirlpool.—Fill a glass tumbler with water, throw upon its surface a few fragments or thin shavings of camphor, and they will instantly begin to move and acquire a motion both progressive and rotary, which will continue for a considerable time.  During these rotations, if the water be touched by any substance which is at all greasy, the floating particles will quickly dart back, and as if by a stroke of magic, be instantly deprived of their motion and vivacity.
Telling fortunes with apple peels.
Image: http//

Visible and invisible.—Write with a piece of French chalk on the looking-glass, wipe it with a handkerchief, and the characters will be invisible; breathe on it, and they will reappear; this change will take place a considerable number of times.  This is a curious fact, and at one time was considered a great secret."

You might be able to find camphor at a large pharmacy, or alternative medicine shop.  French chalk is tailor's chalk, which can be found in most sewing shops, or even the sewing section of your local Walmart store.  If you have glow-in-the-dark pens or chalk, or even white color pencils, you can make spooky pictures and decorations by drawing with them on black construction paper.

Fortune-telling games -- attempting to foretell romantic information -- were also a part of Victorian Halloween parties, both for children and adults, and there are several traditions that are still practiced by the young (remember junior high camp games?).  You can try to discern the name of your true love with an apple peel the old-fashioned way: take a red apple and an apple peeler, and peel all the skin off in one long piece.  Moving the peeler around the apple in a spiral motion, from stem to blossom end, is the traditional method.  Then, you take your long, unbroken apple peel spiral, and throw it up into the air and over your shoulder to land on the floor behind you.  The peel will land on the floor in a position that will hopefully resemble a letter of the alphabet (in script or cursive style); decide which letter your apple peel looks like, and that's the first letter of your true love's name!

Brew up a pot of spice tea, bake some apple or pumpkin scones, cookies or cake, and you'll be ready to have some innocent, old-fashioned fun!

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)