Halloween is Coming…Beware!

Posted on October 18, 2016 by Kimberly Roblin in

Young Girls. HM Wantland, circa 1905, Stillwater. 2000.005.5.49. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

 

Full disclosure—I live for October. A few precious weeks of mild weather (in theory), scarves worn by choice not bone-chilling necessity, lightweight sweaters, festivals, football, and chili. It’s the anchor of autumn, the warm fuzzy, comfort-food equivalent of seasons; but it’s not all pumpkin spice and caramel apples. An ancient holiday casts a long and dark shadow.

The signs first appear in late September as retail and residential worlds are possessed by the Orange & Black. Merchandise materializes on supermarket shelves drained of their everyday items. Candy of all kinds and quantity. High-end Ghiradelli. Snickers. Kit-Kats. Humble Tootsie Rolls. Even Peeps, no longer an Easter exclusive. All packaged to themed perfection. There are cookies, cake mixes, tea towels, aprons, pajamas, decorations, movies, and more. Across town, pop-up costume and novelty shops haunt strip-malls. Jack-o-lanterns lurk on neighborhood porches. Tidy homes descend into cobwebs and fabricated negligence. Horror movies stalk the television. There can be no mistake. Whether you love it (like me) or hate it—Halloween is coming.

Aiming for the perfect combination of fun and fright, we customize it according to our personal fear factors. Some go hard-gore and terrifying. The darker and more sinister the better, but not me. I’m old-school—Bing Crosby in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Dracula, black cats, witches, and a rock-torn cobble church. I appreciate the subtlety of Halloween, its ability to transform the mundane into the mysterious. Everything is a bit creepier, a bit eerier. Take the following photographs from the Dickinson Research Center. They’re not send-you-screaming scary, just slightly spooky and unnerving. Cue the ominous music, turn down the lights, and let the spirits move you. Happy Halloween!

 

 Click the images to enlarge.

Mrs. Maxwell’s Rocky Mountain Museum Series, Colorado Building. Circa 1875, Denver. RC2007.047. Photographic Study Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Remember The Sixth Sense?…I see dead animals. Everywhere. Forty-four to be precise. No disrespect to pioneering naturalist and taxidermist, Martha Maxwell.

Selz Shoes Advertisement. HM Wantland, circa 1900, Stillwater. 2000.005.5.51. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
This photo makes neither me nor my feet glad. And for the record, the feet don’t look glad either. They look manic.

Young Girls. HM Wantland, circa 1905, Stillwater. 2000.005.5.49. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
“Come and play with us, Danny.” If this quote doesn’t conjure Jack Nicholson and “red rum” then you need to see The Shining.

Street Carnival. HM Wantland, circa 1903, Stillwater. 2000.005.2.0315. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Lean closer. A little closer. I’m not sure what is atop the carnival wagon. A giant baby? A bat boy? Either way it’s disturbing.

Fran on the Wheel. Holmes, 1898, Iowa. 2000.005.5.54. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
A double exposure created this ghostly image of a spectral bicycle ride.

Mrs. Wantland in HM Wantland Studio. HM Wantland, circa 1905, Stillwater. 2000.005.2.0254. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
It’s small. It’s a clown. And it’s terrifying. Presumably the old-fashioned way of tempting children to smile though I’d wager it produced far more tears.

Wantland Family. HM Wantland, circa 1905, Stillwater. 2000.005.4.124. Robert C. Cunningham Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
The china dolls in the front row alone are enough to make the cut. But look closely. In what might be the all-time creepiest version of “Where’s Waldo,” can you spot the item that appears in both this photo and the one above? Hint: it’s small and it’s terrifying.

Frank Davis on Satan. Devere Helfrich, 1959, Redmond, Oregon. 81.023.15082. Devere Helfrich Rodeo Photographic Collection, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
In rodeo, every day is Halloween. The Grim Reaper. Tomb Stone. Frankenstein. Black Widow. Widow Maker. Gray Ghost. Dark Demon. Bulls and broncs have names worthy of their reputations. Some cowboys even played their odds against the cloven hooves and horns of Satan. No souls at stake, just pride and well-being.

 

About Kimberly

Kimberly Roblin is Curator of Archival and Photographic Collections at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. For the native Oklahoman, sharing western history through research, exhibitions, and publications is much more than business. It’s personal.