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The History Of Halloween Essay Topics

Selected Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources at the Library

The Library of Congress is home to an array of resources on the folk customs, fine art, pop culture, and literature of Halloween and Día de Muertos. Collections range from classic film clips from "The Bride of Frankenstein," "Nosferatu," and "Carnival of Souls" to recordings of storytellers spinning yarns about ghosts and witches. There is even documentation of spooky séances with the great Harry Houdini, iconic artwork of Edward Gorey, and the timeless poetry of Robert Burns.

Special Pop-Up Exhibition: Oct. 27–Nov. 1, 2017

The Library of Congress is presenting a host of tricks and treats with an autumn pop-up exhibition of more than 200 collection items that embodies seasonal traditions of fantasy and folklore. Making a variety of rarely seen collection items more accessible to the general public, "LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery" will show-and-tell the intriguing tales of Halloween and Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, through a variety of treasures representing a wide range of resources within the Library. Learn more »

The exhibition will be on display October 27-31, from 11am-4pm, and November 1, from 11am–2pm, in the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building. Free tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but are not required.

Learn More About It

Begin exploring materials at the Library of Congress on the topics of Halloween and Día de Muertos online. Here are some places to begin your journey:

Highlights from the Library's Collections


The general collections at the Library of Congress contain a multitude of books and publications that depict the Halloween, Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), and autumnal traditions that are celebrated in the United States and around the world. Search the Library's Online Catalog to discover a wide variety of materials relating to these traditions. In addition, some special collections are highlighted below.

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) and Magic
Master magician and escape artist, Houdini, died on Halloween. In 1927, the Library received 3,988 volumes from his personal collection on psychic phenomena, spiritualism, magic, witchcraft, demonology, evil spirits, and more. In addition, the McManus-Young Collection, numbering 20,000 items, includes publications and pictorial material relating to magic.

  • Harry Houdini Collection(Rare Book and Special Collections Division)
    Publications, scrapbooks, and other material relating to spiritualism and magic.
  • Variety Stage: Harry Houdini(digital collection)
    143 photographs and 29 related items of personal memorabilia that document Houdini's career.
  • Harry Houdini, Master Magician(Topics in Chronicling America)
    A sampling of articles from historic newspapers
  • McManus-Young Collection(Rare Book and Special Collections Division)
    A rich survey of illusion practices, conjuring, ventriloquism, fortune-telling, spiritualism, witchcraft, gambling, hypnotism, automata, and mind reading
  • Things Magical in the Collections of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division [PDF, 1.01 MB]
    An illustrated guide to the Library's magic collections by Leonard N. Beck

Literatura de cordel
Literatura de Cordel (literally “Literature on a String”) is a genre of chapbook literature native to Northeast Brazil. The genre takes its name from market stalls where chapbooks were strung on clotheslines for the perusal of customers. Cordel literature consists largely of popular poetry, which can be sung to folk tunes and illustrated by woodblock prints, line drawings, or cartoon art.


The Library's rich visual collections feature a wide variety of fine prints, photographs and other materials related to Halloween and Day of the Dead traditions and celebrations. Search the Library's Prints and Photographs Online Catalog (PPOC) to view a wide variety of visual materials celebrating these traditions.

Edward St. John Gorey (1925-2000)
The Edward Gorey Collection, comprising 802 items (467 books, 89 periodicals, 92 posters and theater-related materials, 147 items of ephemera, 7 works of art, and 25 reference documents) collected by Gorey expert Glen Emil, is now housed in the Library's Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913) and Calaveras
Posada was a Mexican illustrator known for his satirical calaveras (from the Spanish word for "skulls"). After his death, Posada's illustrations featuring skeletons would become closely associated with the mexican holiday Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Photographic Documentation of Halloween Traditions
Several collections housed in the Library's American Folklife Center feature Halloween traditions and celebrations.

  • Jai Williams Collection
    This collection documents the D.C. High Heel Drag Queen Race, a Halloween tradition in the Washington DC area (AFC 2016/016)
  • Pinelands Folklife Project Collection
    A field project undertaken in the 1980s, the collection contains approximately 80,000 photos, hundreds of which document Halloween traditions (AFC 1991/023)
  • #FolklifeHalloween2014 collection
    Photographs taken by a diverse cross-section of Americans that document local Halloween traditions.

Spirit Photographs
Can you take a photograph of a ghost? Claims of capturing a spirit with the camera lens were made as early as the 1850s, when photography was relatively new to the world. Learn more about the techniques employed by photographers to capture ghostly images, and view images from the Library's Prints and Photographs Division.


You can find plenty of titles in the Music Division’s coffers that tell of the lighted squash with which we celebrate All Hallows Eve. Printed music at the Library includes horror movie scores such as “Dracula’s Daughter Theme” (1936) and an assortment of Halloween-themed sheet music, including “When That Vampire Rolled Her Vampy Eyes at Me” (1917).

Tales of the Supernatural
The American Folklife Center has a wide variety of spoken-word recordings containing tales of the supernatural, as well as audio recordings of thousands of traditional folksongs, including many with supernatural themes. There are hundreds more such songs to be heard in the Folklife Research Center or AFC's online collections at loc.gov.

  • "The Hair-Raising Tale of 'The Witch Who Kept a Hotel',"Folklife Today Blog, October 24, 2017.
  • "Bessie Jones Tells a Spooky Story: 'Married to the Devil',"Folklife Today Blog, October 11, 2017.
  • "Spooky Stories for Halloween,"Folklife Today Blog, October 29, 2015.
  • Tales of the Supernatural(American Folklife Center finding aid)
  • Listen to a Ghost Story(collected by John and Ruby Lomax, American Folklife Center)
  • "Creatures of the Night,"Inside Adams Blog: Science, Technology & Business, October 31, 2012.


In silent films, the walking dead, vampires, and masked predators of 19th century novels came to life, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu created a new visual language. In the sound era, horror films developed an effective but familiar style, making later, innovative films like The Mask, The Masque of the Red Death, and Night of the Living Dead all the more frightening. The Library's Moving Image Research Center provides accesss to films dating from the early days of motion pictures to the present.

Film Series
The Library presents film screenings both in Washington, D.C. and at its theater in Culpeper, Virginia.

More About Films at the Library

Additional Resources

SPECIFIC PURPOSE:At the end of my speech, my audience should understand three important points of the history of Halloween.

THESIS STATEMENT:The three most important points of Halloween can be summed up by looking at its origins, how it came to include jack-o-lanterns and bobbing for apples, and how it is celebrated today in the 21st century with trick-or-treating and haunted houses.

When the leaves start turning different colors and falling off the trees, when the temperature starts falling and the sun starts setting a little earlier each day, it makes me think of Halloween.

Most people think all Halloween is about is dressing up and going trick or treating. It didn’t start out as a going door-to-door and getting candy event every October 31st. In fact, Halloween originated as a Celtic festival more than 2000 years ago.

When I was a kid, Halloween was my favorite time of the year. It wasn’t even because of all the candy and the dressing up, but for the overall atmosphere of it. I have always loved all things scary and fall has always been my favorite season so naturally every year I look forward to the end of October every year.

The three most important points of Halloween can be summed up by looking at its origins, how it came to include jack-o-lanterns and bobbing for apples, and how it is celebrated today in the 21st century with trick-or-treating and haunted houses.

I.Beginning somewhere around 800 BC, The Celts celebrated “Samhain”(pronounced “sow-in”), according to the book entitled “The Celts” by Nora Chadwick.

A. Samhain is a festival to recognize the end of summer.

1. The Celtic celebrated Samhain near the end of our month of October, which was the end of the year for them.

2. It often involved a big feast because it was the end of harvest also.

B. The Celts believed that the veil between this world and the next was thinnest at this time of year.

1. Friends and relatives who had died would often return, with their souls inhabiting an animal – often a black cat.

2. Black Cats have remained a symbol of Halloween even today.

C. In celebration of the recently completed harvest, Celts would give offerings of food to the Gods.

1. They often went from door to door to collect food to donate to their deities.

2. Also, young Celts would ask the townspeople for kindling and wood, and take it to top of the hill for the Samhain bonfire.

3. These are the two possible origins of the modern “trick or treating”

1. Sacred bonfires were lit on the tops of hills in honor of the Gods.

2. The townspeople would take an ember from the bonfire to their home and re-light the fire in their family hearth.

3. The ember would usually be carried in a holder, usually a turnip or gourd.

E. The Celts felt nervous about walking home in the dark on account of the evil spirits.

1. They dressed up in costumes and carved scary faces in their ember holders.

2. They hoped that the spirits would be frightened and not bother them.

3. This is why we carve pumpkins and children dress up for Halloween.

II. For the next eight centuries, the activities going on at the end of October began to change.

A. According to website “The Origins and History of Halloween”

1. Jack was mischievous Irishman that had tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree.

2. He then cut a cross symbol in the tree trunk, thus trapping the
Devil in the branches.

3. At his death, he was unable to again access to Heaven because of his meanness and the Devil would not allow him into Hell because of the apple tree incident.

4. He was forced to walk the earth endlessly but the devil took pity on him and gave him a

piece of coal to light his path.

5. Jack put the coal inside a hollowed-out turnip that he had been eating.

6. This is the reason we light “jack-o-lantern” pumpkins on Halloween night.

B. Apples were considered have long been associated with female deities, and with immortality, resurrection, and knowledge.

1. One reason is that if an apple is cut through its equator, it will reveal a five-pointed star  outlined at the center of each hemisphere.

2. This was a pentagram — a Goddess symbol among the Gypsies, Celts, Egyptians,

3. Unmarried people would attempt to take a bite out of an apple bobbing in a pail of water, or suspended on a string.

4. The first person to do so was believed to be the next to marry.

5. This is where the ritual of “bobbing for apples” originated.

C. All Saints’ Day was a holiday to recognize the saints who were without their own day, and to celebrate saints that the Church had failed to recognize.

1. It originally was held on May 13, but was moved to November 1, possibly to distract Christians from celebrating Samhain.

2. Halloween was originally called All Hallows’ Eve which means the evening before All Saints’ Day.

3. “Hallow” is an Old English word for “saint”

III.Starting in the 20th century through present day, Halloween has become a major folk holiday in

A. Trick–or-Treater’s go from door to door and collect candies, apples and other treats.

1. Halloween is the holiday when the most candy is sold.

2. It is second only to Christmas in total sales of any holiday.

B. Scares and spookiness are a big part of Halloween.

1. Local community organizations put on fundraising events like haunted hayrides, scary walks through the woods, etc. to raise money for their programs.

2. Privately-owned organizations take old houses or abandoned buildings, throw in a few scary monsters here and there to create a haunted house.

C. Hell or Judgment houses are a relatively new concept created by conservative Christian sects.

1. The earliest hell house appears to have been created by Rev. Jerry Falwell in the late 1970’s, according to the “Halloween Spooking, Christian Style,” American Atheists news release, 2001-OCT-27.

2. A Hell House consists of a group of horrific presentations within a type of haunted house where a customer walks through a sequence of scenes designed to create terror and revulsion.

3. The intent is to convert the unsaved public to Christianity and to promote certain conservative Christian beliefs like the wrongs of abortion, homosexuality, and sex before marriage.

4. The last scene is different, typically a portrayal of heaven where visitors are then asked to accept salvation by repenting of their sins and accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Having seen how Halloween in modern times has evolved from its humble beginnings as an end of the growing season celebration, it is interesting to see how much festivities centered around the 31st of October have changed over the last 2000 years. It has gone from an end-of-year festival around 800 BC to a time when kids go door-to-door around their neighborhoods dressed up like their favorite cartoon characters. Halloween is just a fun day for everybody. It can bring out the kid in all of us.

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