Halloween 1906 – A Progressive Dinner”

halloween-1906Today is Halloween, a holiday that was celebrated in 1906–but with a different twist than today. According to a recent article in The New York Times, and a post from a blog of the Smithsonian Museum, Halloween at the beginning of the 20th Century was as much about romantic love as it was about ghosts and goblins. Although boys and young men were involved in playing tricks or pranks on their neighbors, the practice of trick or treat would not become popular until the late 1920s.

Instead, most young men and women, at least those in small towns like Norwalk, would attend parties hosted by the young women in their homes. The women would treat their guests to a meal and the young people would entertain themselves with dancing and games. As with most social events of the day, activities at Halloween parties were a way for young men and women to flirt and gauge the suitability of potential romantic partners while under the watchful gaze of their parents.

The games especially were a great way to get acquainted. Some are snap-applefamiliar today, like bobbing for apples. A variation of that game popular at the time was called “Snap Apple,” where boys and girls would attempt to bite an apple suspended from the ceiling by a string. The first to succeed would be the first to marry. Another game involved the host hiding a dime, a ring and thimble in mashed potatoes or a similar food. The guest who found the ring in his portion would be destined to marry soon, the one with the thimble would spend his or her or life alone, and the lucky one to get the dime would have good fortune. Of course, one would imagine that an unwary or impatient guest could end up needing dental work.

On Halloween night in 1906, Norwalk was busy with these parties. The next day, the Norwalk Reflector reported on eleven such gatherings. One of these was a “progressive party” held by the X, Y, Z, Club, a social organization of eight or nine young women, five who were members of the Class of 1907: Carrie Spurrier, Irene Bragdon, Harriott Wickham, Inez Adams, and Ruth Jenkins. These social clubs were common in the day. Young women would plan parties at members homes and invite young men to attend. The Norwalk Reflector reported that Harriott Wickham hosted a “Cobweb Party” at her home for the “X, Y, Z Club” on Friday, September 21.

According to the Destination: Austin Family blog, in a “Cobweb Party” strings were routed from room to room throughout the house, crossing often to create a tangle, or web. Participants would each be given one end of a string and would follow it throughout the house, meeting other party goers where the strings crossed. At the other end of the string would be a small gift, or the name of the partner who would escort he or she to dinner.

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Carrie Spurrier

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Irene Bragdon

To begin the “Progressive Party,” on Halloween in 1906, the “X, Y, Z Club” members and their guests, a total of eighteen young men and women, met home of Carrie Spurrier on Walnut Street. Where on Walnut I don’t know. According to my research, in 1909, Carrie lived on Elm Street, but apparently had moved there from Walnut Street sometime between 1906 and then. Irene Bradgon, another senior student, helped her entertain the guests. Here the party enjoyed the first “course” of the evening’s meal followed by dancing and games.

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Sophia Harkness

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Harriott Wickham

After a suitable time had passed, the young people left the Spurrier house and walked down Norwood Avenue to the corner of Benedict and Summit, and then on Sophia Harkness’s home at 31 Hickory Street. Sophia was not in the Class of 1907; at age 18, she must have graduated the year before. Harriott Wickham, who lived catty corner behind her at 32 Summit Street, assisted.

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Inez Adams

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Ruth Jenkins

The next stop was the home of Inez Adams at 31 Oak Street, an eight minute walk of a half-mile. Inez lived with her step-father Martin Callum and her mother Estelle. She was assisted by Ruth Jenkins, who lived only three minutes away, about three blocks.

 The journey to the final two stops of the “Progressive Dinner” was a bit of a hike—a mile and a half to be exact. According to the Norwalk Reflector, the party arrived “in due time” at the home of Bessie Fox at 219 West Main Street.  The last course was at the home of Sarah Joslin at 117 West Main Street, about ten minutes back down Main Street toward downtown. (Sarah and Bessie were not members of the Class of 1907 and I assume that, like Sophia Harkness, they were Norwalk High School Alumni.) After a final course of their holiday meal, one would assume desert, the party broke up and made their way home.

Can you imagine how this evening played out? I see a large group of young men and women strolling the streets of town from home to home, chatting, teasing, laughing–perhaps quarreling at times. Then I imagine them in parlors, drawing rooms, eating, dancing and playing games, while amused parents and other family members listened from the kitchen. Can you see it, too?

 

Sources

In addition to the links to online sources, I consulted the November 1, 1906 edition of the Norwalk Reflector for accounts of the previous evening. The links to WeRelate Wiki person pages for the five members of the Class of 1907: Carrie Spurrier, Irene Bragdon, Harriott Wickham, Inez Adams, and Ruth Jenkins contain sources about them and their families.

 

 

 

 

 

Norwalk, Ohio High School Class of 1907

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Norwalk High School Class of 1907: Front Row: Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff. Second Row: Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Harriott Wickham, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt. Third Row: Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French. Fourth Row: Homer Beattie, Florence Bascom, Alice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Cleo Collins.

How many times have you come across an old family photo, but have no idea of the identity of the people in it? Unfortunately, too often our ancestors neglected to scrawl identifying information on the backs of their photos. Fortunately for me, my grandmother Harriott Wickham (second row, third from left in the photo above) understood how important it is to record names of people in her photos for future generations. She not only preserved this photo of her graduating class, she also recorded her classmates’ names on an accompanying scrap of paper.

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Old Norwalk High School

The members of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 are no more. But in their day, at the beginning of their adult lives, they were full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. As I gazed at their faces, so serious, yet so full of life, I wondered who they were and how they lived their lives? I decided to find out.

Not only had my grandmother recorded the names of her classmates, she kept a diaries during those years that describe many of them and tell of her interactions with them. Unfortunately, the diary for her senior year is missing, but she did preserve one for May 1908 to May 1909. From it, and from information I gleaned from research, I began to form a picture of these young people and their families; of where they came from and how they spent their senior year–and the rest of their lives.

What did they do? In small town America of the early 20th Century, young people went to balls, hung out at the library, formed societies, performed in plays and concerts, and played basketball (both boys and girls). They had séances and house parties and spent their summers in cottages on Lake Erie, lazing away the days and dancing at “The Grove” at Ruggles Beach at night.

Who were they and their families? What stock did they come from and how did they spend their lives after graduation? Because I have their names, I’ve been able to answer some of those questions. One of the young men in the photo became a U.S. Senator, but the rest of the the class led ordinary lives: some did not do well, some of them had successful careers. But each one of them has a story I want to tell.

Using my grandma’s diaries and research on the internet, I’m continuing to flesh out the stories behind these faces. Over the next year, I’ll post what I’ve learned–and what I don’t know. I ask your help as I take this journey: to correct my mistakes, and to add your stories to the tale of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907.

 

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

Who Are They?

The Norwalk High School Class of 1907 included my grandmother, Harriott Benedict Wickham, and twenty-five other students. Who were these other pupils? Well, here is a class roster:

Ruth Jenkins, Irene Eline, Irene Bragdon, Myrtle Woodruff, Lillian Smith, Eugene Bloxham, Arthur Young, Carrie Spurrier, Robert Venus, Ruby Hoyt, Sarah Barnett, Fred Osborne, Nina Humiston, Earl Sinclair, Florence Davidson, Inez Adams, Stephen Young, Fred French, Florence Bascom, Homer Beattie, Slice McCammon, Sheldon Laning, Edna West, Harry Holiday, Harriott Wickham, and Cleo Collins.

Just names–for now. Over the next year, I will endeavor to breathe life into them: to discover what kind of people they were, who their families were, and what world they inhabited one-hundred and ten years ago.

I have a small treasure of photos to get me started. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Like this image from a long ago theater production of the Class of 1907, for instance.

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Who were these young people? What theater production were they in? I do not know the answers–yet. Let’s find out together.

 

 

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