Sometimes It Was Called “The Five and Dime” or “The Five and Ten”
Back prior to the 1960s, one could go to the 5 and 10 store for all sorts of things. This is before the day of WalMart. This slim booklet was promoting Woolworths before the proliferation of dollar stores. I had fun looking through the list of what you could buy for 10 cents or less.
1910 F.W. Woolworth Co. booklet is from my ephemera collection
For ten cents, one could get some curtain rods, some candles for the dining table or a dresser scarf. It reminds me that back in the day, women spent quite a bit of time sewing for the home and their families.
Woolworths sold the needles and thread, the pillow pieces to be assembled, material to make curtains, plus lace and ribbons to decorate those.
Did you see the plastic cowboys and Indians at the top of this page? That was what we gravitated to while Mom shopped for household needs. The little plastic figures provided us with hours of fun in the sandbox in our yard.
Vintage plastic western figures that you could buy at the dime store back in the Good Old Days.
Here’s a YouTube video that looks back at a five and dime that is open today, although there isn’t much you can buy for a dime now. It still has the old candy counter at Berdine’s 5 & Dime Store – Harrisville, WV.
It’s been years since I dressed up for Halloween. That’s why I wanted to find the perfect costume. Nothing too skimpy, but I wanted it to be a bit flirtatious.
A gypsy costume appealed to me as I have fond memories of dressing in Mom’s ruffled skirt and decking myself out in her costume jewelry. My mother, Gail Lee Martin, put her creative flair into creating great Halloween costumes for her children each year. It’s something you can assemble yourself if you have a full skirt in your closet and lots of jewelry. You can also buy one if you aren’t feeling creative.
Being a gypsy for Halloween was popular in my childhood as you could assemble the outfit from things you had around the house. Add some of Mom’s red lipstick and some rouge and I felt I was the most glamorous gypsy ever.
Here I am with my best friend, a pair of gypsies ready to go trick-or-treating. Virginia Martin on the left and my friend, also named Virginia. We both attended IXL School in Arkansas City, KS back in the 1950s.
Now I could be a grown-up gypsy with real gold bangles and a sexy off-the-shoulder blouse. I could even get a crystal ball and entertain all my friends by telling their fortune.
This costume filled the bill with the colorful layers just like a real gypsy would have. Since I have super-short hair, I’m going to add a wig with long curly hair to arrange artfully cascading across my bare shoulders.
Quality: Many of the gypsy costumes available were too bare or too flimsy, obviously made of sleazy inexpensive fabric. This one gets raves from those who bought it. They say it’s a much higher quality than you usually get in a Halloween outfit. I can see from the picture that I’m going to really like it.
Finding the Right Wig
To my mind, a gypsy ought to have luxurious, long curling dark hair. You can opt for auburn but I wouldn’t go with blonde. Black or brunette is best.
When I was little, we raided Mom’s jewelry box for dangling earrings, gold chains and pearls and bangles for our wrists. Chances are you have some gold chains and pendants that you could combine to feel like a gypsy.
If you don’t have the right “gypsy look” jewelry on hand, take a look at what I’ve found. These are so fabulous that you’ll keep them for wearing with other outfits through the year.
I searched Amazon for jewelry for belly dancers, gypsies, fortune tellers and these were my favorites.
Gypsy costumes have been popular for generations. My mother had a photo from 1930 that showed her parents, Clarence and Ruth McGhee, in their homemade gypsy costumes. Ruth was a good seamstress and likely she sewed these up on her Singer sewing machine.
They wore their costumes to a Halloween party in Teterville, Kansas.
My grandparents, Ruth and Clarence McGhee, dressed as gypsies for a community Halloween event.
Back in the 1920s and 1930s when Gail Lee McGhee was growing up, Halloween was celebrated in a simpler way than today. Since she lived in an oil field camp in the Flint Hills of Kansas, there was no door-to-door trick or treating. A community Halloween party was held at the Teterville School with adults and children wearing costumes.
Looking Back at Halloween Fun by Gail Lee Martin
Gail wrote about her clown costume that her mother made for her and her sister and about the fright she had when she saw her mother and father in gypsy costumes. The party games included bobbing for apples. You can read her story below. It was featured on the Our Echo website and before that was published in the Kanhistique magazine.
I recently went to the local Wal-Mart store to get some groceries and was confronted with all kinds of ghosts, spooks, black cats, and goblins; pretty, ugly, and unique Halloween masks, and a multitude of noisemakers. My mind took an instant spiral back to our Halloweens through the years.
The local community in northwestern Greenwood County, Kansas where I lived with my parents, Clarence and Ruth McGhee and my older sister, Melba, in the early thirties was made up of people who worked in, around and for the oil companies, in search of the flowing ‘Black Gold’. The two major school districts, Nolar and Teter, were the center of the community’s entertainment. First, one elementary school, then the other, would have some sort of amusement. Everyone would attend, no matter which district they live in even if they didn’t have children attending school. They had box suppers, programs for holidays, and put on plays. My acrobatic team performed on the stage one time but that is another story.
The first year I remember was when someone decided to have a masquerade for Halloween to be held at the Teterville school up on the big hill. I was happy with the clown costumes Mother made for my sister and me. They were so cute and showed my mother’s imagination and sewing skills. I never heard anyone mention that Mother and Daddy were going to wear costumes. In my six-year-old mind, I probably thought it was just kid stuff. So when I first saw them dressed as Gypsies, I didn’t know them. I was one scared little girl and clung to my older sister, Melba, the only familiar object in sight.
Other Halloweens I remember were fun parties at home. For many years we lived in an oil field housing development called a camp, which the Phillips Petroleum Company furnished for their employees. Mother would decorate our front room with pictures of black cats and witches cut out of black paper and invited all the neighborhood children. We played many games and had refreshments of hot cider and cookies. I remember one activity that was a wild, wet, and fun for most everyone. That was bobbing for apples. I wasn’t very good at this game but some of the boys with big mouths were excellent.
After Clyde and I were married we lived mostly in the country. Home and school parties still prevailed. “Trick or Treat” hadn’t even been thought of yet. Imagination played a big part in dressing up for Halloween, as masquerading was referred to. Sometimes a character from a favorite book would be the inspiration or just a fancy piece of jewelry would lead a small child to be a princess or maybe a South Seas islander.
Planning costumes at our house always started with a rummage through an old barrel filled with an odd collection of clothes. In this were out-of-style dresses, suits, old jewelry, even feathers, and pieces of fur and leather. Grandpa’s old long johns and Grandma’s flannel nightgown found a home in there too. Some favorite costumes were kept for years, appealing to the next generation of children.
In later years ghosts became popular, sheets and pillowcases in the linen closet became endangered. For some reason, witches were never popular in our family. Probably the difficulty in fashioning the tall hat had something to do with that. Remember the waxy big lips? Our children became intrigued with them in 1959. Such a simple thing that changed your looks and made everyone laugh.
Our son, Owen loved to play ’cowboys and Indians in the 50s, and his favorite outfit was a leather vest and fringed chaps with a ten-gallon hat–well perhaps a five-gallon would be a better description. It did have a leather neck strap so it didn’t blow away in the strong Kansas winds. Owen wore this outfit long after Halloween was forgotten. It was the one he was wearing when he was riding a saddle strapped to a high board fence and the saddle slipped and threw him in the dust breaking his arm when he was six years old.
Thirty-five years later Owen appeared on the streets of El Dorado looking like a sheik dressed warmly for a cold Halloween night.
Our daughter, Cindy, carried her love of masquerading over into her adult life as a paying hobby of a puppeteer. Dressed as ‘Whiskers the Cat,’ she performed for children’s parties for a few years in the 1980s. My sister’s cat, Whiskers, probably was Cindy’s role model, since he always acted like a real live Halloween cat.
In 1957 our family moved south of Arkansas City and our children attended a country school called IXL Elementary School. That year the city celebrated the 25th year of the Arkalalah Festival. This fun time is always held on Halloween, and IXL decorated a float that depicted a large greeting card with four students in fancy dress to represent the school. Our oldest daughter, Susan, a fourth-grader, was chosen to be one of the four. The girls were dressed alike in pastel yellow satin and net–a memory to treasure, even in an old black and white photo.
A kaleidoscope of colorful costumes of my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren shows that at least time hasn’t changed our family’s imaginations. I see pictures of an Indian, clowns, a princess, and just plain old spooks. Pictures certainly are worth a thousand words.
(This was published October 1993 in Kanhistique magazine. I was paid more for the pictures printed than for my text).
Decorations from the time included carved pumpkins and black cats. There was none of the zombies and gory costumes that are seen today.
Retro Black Cats Can Be Scary or Cute
Many people collect vintage Halloween items. They make great decorations for a Halloween party or for the Halloween season. They show up on eBay and if you’re the lucky bidder, you can decorate with Halloween cats too.
The designs have been reproduced on tote bags and t-shirts as well. I’ve collected a sampling of the best here for your review.
There are many Halloween collectibles dating back to the early days of the 1900s. Besides black cats, I’m partial to the sturdy cardboard jack-o-lanterns. Once in awhile you’ll find some of these at an estate sale or maybe in your grandmother’s attic. Check out the background on these and the value with these books.
Several of Gail’s daughters and a number of grandchildren like to cook. Here’s a recipe invented one autumn day by her oldest daughter who had a craving for cookies. If you love pumpkin flavors in the fall and want an easy baking project, try this recipe.
Susan’s Easy Pumpkin Drop Cookies
1 yellow cake mix
1 can pumpkin
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. allspice
1/4 t. cloves
Mix all together and drop by teaspoon onto greased cookie sheet. Bake 350 degrees until when touched doesn’t leave an impression.
Susan shared this recipe via email and I’ve saved it for 9 years. I’m getting that fall craving for pumpkin-flavored foods so I might have to get out the spices and a mixing bowl to give this recipe a try.
Pumpkin Drop Cookies (photo from Pixabay) – You can add macadamia nuts or craisins, but those aren’t really necessary.
She said that she was taking the cookies over to the folks so she wouldn’t have them around the house tempting her. Mom and Dad enjoyed visits from their daughters and looked forward to their daughters’ cooking and baking binges.
“Sister Karen must have been in the same mood as she took them beans and ham. It is hard to cook for one.”
Last Child in the Woods book cover (courtesy of GoodReads)
What a frightening concept: nature-deficit disorder. I remember summer days turning up rocks in the creek to find crawdads, and wandering through woods and pastures under the hot Kansas sun. Because of those experiences and my parents’ interest and encouragement, I care about animals, plants, and the state of the planet.
There’s a concern that children get too little time in nature these days. This results in nature-deficit disorder. Are today’s children missing all the relaxing time exploring nature? If their exposure to nature is television documentaries and carefully orchestrated trips to a petting zoo, will they bond with nature? There’s no question that electronic gadgets occupy too much of their time and has consequences beyond short attention spans and weight gain.
YouTube video on Nature Deficit Disorder and the importance of giving children time in nature.
Nature Deficit Disorder could result in generations who care little for the environment. That would be a truly disastrous situation. Here’s some reading for parents and grandparents about how to ensure children have the opportunity to be lovers of nature.