In the Hissing of the Witches and Other Ghostly Sounds

Perkins Halloween 1925

Primary Boys wearing Halloween masks which they themselves, 1925

Primary Boys wearing Halloween masks which they themselves made from suggestions of their teacher in manual training. Some of the masks are paper bags; others, paper shells.

October 16, 2018

As reported in the 1925 Perkins Annual Report, Halloween was a holiday taken with an ardor that would have been hard to beat by the boys at Perkins. Jack-o-lanterns were made from home-grown pumpkins “on which the teachers had marked the outlines for cutting.” Eight boys, who were “experienced in plastic work and eager to make something novel and grotesque” were given clay to make a mask based on the contours of their face to which “horns, large ears or bulbous noses” could be added. These were then covered in paper mache, shellacked and painted white by the two boys with some vision. The final touches included “red and black lines and spots for clown, demon, faun or rascally effects" added by the teacher who also trimmed the mask.

Students dressed in Halloween costumes

Primary boys' Halloween celebration in 1925. The boys pose with homemade "grotesque" masks and  jack-o-lanterns. Some wear costumes and one boy is draped in a white sheet. 

According to upper school student Robert Rosenbloom, the festivities began at a half past seven, when “a hand bell, which was the signal to begin, was rung, and we boys took sheets and put them over us and went into the dining room, where the party was to be, and had to shake hands with the Witch.” He describes ducking for apples, eating donuts hanging from a string and shockingly, trying to “get pennies from a pail of water which was charged with electricity.” There were games and an auction where unwanted items were tied up in a bundle and auctioned off using peanuts instead of money. The festivities ended with cider, snacks, and a ghost story. 

Perkins upper school student Albert Piccolo gave an account of that of that party as well. Piccolo would go on to lead and serve the Rhode Island Federation of the Blind. He writes wonderfully of the events, food, games, and seriousness of costume that marked this event. Piccolo’s account is as follows...

The party at Moulton was a very good one. It commenced with an excellent supper. The menu had such delightful dishes as bats'wings, witches' brew, fairies' delight and other unique dishes which were very puzzling to the youngsters. We were then brought before three witches who advised us in a dimly lighted room. The next thing was an apple-eating contest which was conducted by placing an apple on a chair, and everyone who tried to eat the delicious fruit placed himself in a kneeling position and folding his hands behind him proceeded to eat the instrument through which our first parents sinned. Next very tempting doughnuts were placed six inches apart hanging above the door and a group of eight young gentlemen looked very undignified, biting at each others' heads or swallowing a wholedoughnut in one choking gulp. A cracker race followed. Two teams consisting of six members on a side were organized and each was given a large cracker; each of the two captains began by trying to eat the dry cracker and as soon as he could whistle the next in line started. In the attempts to whistle as his signal, sandstorms sometimes arose. Fortunes were told in various ways, and then a play was given by some of the cottage boys, who wore extravagant costumes. In the hissing of the witches and other ghostly sounds a Hallowe'en aspect was given to the occasion. The actors in their different costumes of white sheets, black robes, with large curious hats with pictures on them went about their acting like some cast presenting to a more serious audience "The Merchant of Venice."

Cider, nuts, candy, popcorn, cake and doughnuts were distributed, and every one acted as if he had been on short rations for a month. More fortunes were told and after some singing we happily retired, it being nearly half-past ten. We spent a very pleasant evening indeed, and our only regret was that Hallowe'en comes but once a year.

Albert Piccolo

Primary boys in a Halloween parade, 1925

Primary boys lined up in a Halloween parade, 1925. Most boys are in masks, a few are covered with a sheet, or other costume and all seem to be holding something, primarily jack-o-lanterns. The boys are in the courtyard of the lower school.