Halloween seems to get a little creepier every year.Severed hands crawl across front porches, blood-thirsty clowns lurk around corners and skeleton animals emit electronic howls.
It wasn’t always like this. A trio of Lewiston women can see the evolution of the holiday in their vast collection of vintage Halloween memorabilia.
“Halloween was different when we were young,” said Russie Hastings of Lewiston, who began collecting Halloween antiques with her sister, Judy Hoffman, in the 1980s out of a sense of nostalgia. Hastings’ daughter, Leslie Smith, joined them in hunts through antique stores and thrift shops and now shares their passion for collecting.
Hastings, 75, and Hoffman, 76, grew up in the Lewiston Orchards and still live in the same neighborhood where they trick-or-treated as children in the late 1940s and early ‘50s.
Back then, it wasn’t about going to as many houses as possible, they recall. People would stop and visit longer with neighbors, eat homemade fudge and popcorn balls and attend parties. Often the homes the sisters visited were festooned with decorations from the 1920s and ‘30s. These included paper mache pumpkins, highly prized in their collections today.
Every October, Hoffman displays her paper mache pumpkin collection on her fireplace mantel. Because they were meant to be illuminated by candles, many were destroyed by fire. Hastings bought her first paper mache pumpkin at a Value Village thrift shop in Seattle in the 1980s for 75 cents. Today it sells online for anywhere from $100 to $150, she said.
“It’s not about the money,” Hastings said. “It’s about what you like.”
Back in the ‘20s the holiday was focused more on adults, the women said. People threw parties and bought books on throwing Halloween parties. Exchanging Halloween-themed penny postcards was popular. The illustrated postcards cost a penny to send in the early 1900s.
“It was like sending a text today,” said Smith, 55.
Today some are worth more than $100.
Halloween parties at schools and homes were popular when Hastings and Hoffman were young and party favors, paper plates, hats and napkins were mass produced and disposable. Both women have many of these things in their collection. Pictures of witches, cats, owls and pumpkins are common. Other party favors, like noisemakers, were made of metal and are more likely to be found in good condition today. In the 1950s, manufacturers began using plastic, which is generally where their collections end.
The women also collect antique Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations. What sets Halloween decor apart, they said, is that compared to Thanksgiving there was a lot of it but unlike Christmas, it was not made to be passed down. While it can be hard to find they never plan to stop looking.
“You always find something you don’t have or in better condition that what you had,” Hoffman said.