From Boos to Beaus: Scaring up Love In All the Right Places


Halloween wasn’t always scary; guys and gals once considered it a night of romance. Tricks and treats were designed for a very specific purpose–to find what the future held in the way of true love.

Almost every town held a Halloween dance for just this purpose.  Dances were held in schoolhouses, barns or churches. Guests were required to jump over a broom upon arrival to assure future happiness.  Masquerade balls were popular, too, but were mostly held in the east.

Apples played an important part at these Halloween parties,

but so did tin soldiers  

An article in the El Paso Daily paper in 1899 described the ritual of melting tin soldiers.  A young woman would then drip the melted tin from a spoon into  cold water. The tin would harden in all manner of shapes, thus foretelling a maiden’s future.  If, for example, the tin looked like a shoe, she would marry a shoemaker.  A ship meant her future husband would be a sailor.  If the shape resembled a hammer, no carpenter in the room was safe.

Bobbing for apples was a must, but with an interesting twist

The apples would each contain the name of a male guest.  A woman lucky enough to sink her teeth into a pippin would come up with more than just a wet face; she’d also know the name of her future mate.

Some enterprising hostesses who owned apple trees went one step further.  While the fruit was still green  they glued paper  initials of single males onto the apples.  When the apples ripened, the paper was washed off revealing green initials on the rosy cheeks.   Upon arriving at the party, female guests would draw an apple from the tub to find out the name of their dance partners.


I’ve got your number!

Another popular game involving apples required careful paring so that the peels were cut into one long strip. These were then thrown over the left shoulder.  The peel would curve into a letter of the alphabet on the  floor thus revealing the initial of a future love.

Peelings were also hung from barn doors and female guests given a number. If for example a woman received the number two that meant that the second male through the door would be the man of her dreams.


Another crowd pleaser–the cobweb game 

Guests were each given two bright colored threads attached to a cardboard heart in some remote corner. The threads ran through the room in an intricate manner. The idea was to unravel your thread by bobbing under a red thread or slipping through a tangle of green or blue threads until you reached the heart which named your partner for the night.

Say you’ll marry me in 30 seconds or less

Halloween games also included the game of Proposal.  Each woman had a stack of cardboard hearts and lemons.  The males had to go around the room and propose to each woman. He had thirty seconds to convince her to marry him. When the bell rang she would either give him a lemon for no or a heart for yes.  At the end of the game, the man with the most hearts won.

Today, Halloween conjures up visions of ghosts, goblins and things that go bump in the night.  Hope you enjoyed traveling back in time to when Halloween was just another word for love.

Anyone have a silly, funny or romantic Halloween memory to share?

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34 thoughts on “From Boos to Beaus: Scaring up Love In All the Right Places”

  1. Margaret, I loved hearing about all of the wonderful games that were played. So very interesting! Tin soldiers, apples with names, thread games, they were all great! We always had a little Halloween carnival at school when I was growing up and there was always bobbing for apples but no names, of course, and fortune telling was a big hit. Oh, what fun memories and what fun facts of the past. Thank you for your wonderful post.

  2. Wow, those are a lot of crazy matchmaking games! Sorry, no Halloween memory here, we don’t really celebrate it. 🙂

  3. That cobweb game sounds particularly fun. However, if I were the hostess, instead of the threads leading to a heart with a name on it, I’d have the young men pick a random thread at one side of the room while the young ladies chose one of the opposite side. All thread being the same color so there would be no cheating. Then, they would have to follow their criss-crossing threads until they met the person on the other end. Hmm…maybe a kiss or dance should ensue thereafter.

    Fun stuff, Margaret! You always come up with the neatest historical trivia.

  4. Hi Linda, yes I can see putting some of these in a story, too!
    Can’t you just imagine the Shananagans that must have gone on behind the scenes? Where love is concerned it’s better not leave things to chance.

  5. Hi Margaret, I’m baaaak! It has been ages since I’ve been on line. And this subject is truly a fun one. All these games sound like a lot of fun. But my recollection of a ‘trick’ was played here in my town of less than 1900 folks in the early 1950’s. We had the dubious honor of having two Houses of Ill Repute! One on each end of town. Well the one to the north was up on a hill and still boasted of having an outhouse in the back. On Halloween a few young people (mostly boys) decided to wake up everyone and tossed a stick of dynamite into the outhouse. They never asked if someone was in there, just hoped there wasn’t. Needless to say it made “a big splash” in the local paper.
    One other mention for everyone living in the LA area: Our Owens Valley is sending 100 MULES down there (walking) to commemorate the 100 years of the LA Aquaduct that took 100 mules to make it. They will end at the Spillway on November 11th. We have been watching them go through the valley and it is a sight to see all 100 strung out. 10 packers with 10 mules per string. They are following the aquaduct all the way south.

  6. Super enjoyable and informative post, Margaret! I love the green apple initialing. What great fun all these customs must have been. Halloween was always a time of fun for us as kids, and for my own kids. Nothing occult or satanic LOL. My baby grandson is gonna be an elephant, and the six year old, a Star Wars storm trooper. Amazing…we first saw Star Wars when his daddy was a baby, and now it’s all popular again. Or maybe it never left.

    I had a Halloween party when I was about eleven…I was Raggedy Anne.

    Happy “boo”-day to all. xo

  7. Hi Mary J–so glad that you’re back!

    I laughed at your Halloween story. I fear those boys would be in serious trouble today for playing such a trick. On top of all our other problems, we’ve lost our sense of humor.

    I live in the L.A. area so I’m going to check out those mules! What a great way to celebrate a historical event!

    Take care!

  8. Hi Tanya–and happy Boo back!

    You brought back memories of when my own children were young. I made my then eight year old daughter a Raggedy Anne custom including a red yarn wig. When my kiddies were young I made all their costumes because store-bought ones were so awful back. The costumes were later donated to a playhouse costuming department and are still used from time to time on stage.

  9. Hi Charlene,

    I loved the “Marry Me in 30 Seconds” game, too. It kind of reminds me of speed-dating.

    The man with the most lemons at the end of the game might have known better how to propose in the future–or maybe not.

  10. I had a stage i my life, young but not THAT young when I was really good at bobbing for apples.
    Here’s the trick.
    You’ve got to be really AGGRESSIVE.
    None of this delicate chasing around hoping not to get very wet.
    I mean you PLUNGE your head in that water.
    You TRAP that apple between the edge of the barrel and your teeth.
    You BITE.
    You TOSS the apple out.

    And when you toss the apple out you’d fling water everywhere (from your soaking wet hair/face/shirt/neck/whatever) but there was no time for anything else if you wanted to WIN!!!

    The idea being whoever gets the most apples out of the tub/barrel in some countdown amount of time wins right?

    I was good at it.

    It was hard on the hair and really hard on the apples.

    I don’t think I got invited to too many parties.

    I wonder why that was? 🙁

  11. We actually had a very strange Halloween tradition when we were kids. I was one of eight children. We lived quite a ways out in the country and didn’t go to town much. Sunday morning for church, that was about it. Mom went in for groceries but she didn’t take us. (shocker)

    So on Halloween we had neighbors right across the road, we’d go there. My grandma lived about three miles away. Did we go trick or treat there? I think so. Then we had one other neighbor about a mile away, an elderly couple, and we’d all go there, Julia and Harry, and we’d get hot chocolate. Not candy. Hot chocolate with marshmallows. They were sweet old people who were really good friends with my grandma, honestly more like friends of my long dead grandpa, it was an old quiet friendship that was sort of lapsed, but they seemed to like having us come over and we made an evening of it. All of us kids in their big, pretty old house, drinking yummy hot chocolate which was a real treat.

  12. Mary, you always make me laugh. I can just see you diving into the tub of water and coming up with an apple in your mouth–a trick I’ve never been able to manage. You can come to my party any day!

  13. Love this Margaret! Some great ideas for future stories. Sometimes I really envy the fun people seemed to have in the past. 🙂

  14. My husband was in the Air Force and we lived on bases when the children were young. The base community and neighborhoods are close knit with most people knowing everyone else. It was safe for the children to go out alone, but at least one parent usually went along and used the time to visit with friends. One year my husband took the girls Trick or Treating. It was chilly and my husband took a mug of something hot to drink with him. The girls were Trick or Treating. He was Trick or Drinking. Another year, one of our friends dressed as a scare crow and sat slouched in a lawn chair near his sidewalk. He looked like a stuffed prop. He would let the kids go up to the door to take candy from the bowl on the stoop. When the came back by, he would get up and walk toward them. I took the girls that year, and it was very effective.
    I miss those days. Well behaved children and nice visiting with friends. There were few problems and you didn’t have to worry about the children or their treats.

  15. Margaret, Sorry, I forgot to mention how much I enjoyed your post. I hadn’t heard of most of these traditions. It sounds like a lot of fun. Many of them could be copied today. I think the proposal game would be fun, at least for the girls. Too bad I am not involved with Scouts or other youth groups any more. It would be great fun to throw an old fashioned party with these games. I keep the idea for when my grandchildren get older.

  16. Hey Margaret. This was a fun read. never heard of any except the apple bobbing, but no notes or such. We never had trick or treat when I was growing up. But during WW ll we moved from our small town to Houston so daddy could work in the Shipyard. Guess I was about 10. So we did get to go out then. But I only remember one time. Everyone in our neighborhood was friends except an old crabby lady on one corner with a hotel. I think she just hated kids(or maybe life). So my older brother and a sister and brother friends of ours lived across the street. We went together and dad said “Do not bother Mre.(whoever) on the corner. Well my girlfriend and I walked in front of the boys. After we rounded the corner, we passed the side door, then the boys got there and opened the door and slammed. Well, my dad had followed us and made us go home where he spanked my brother and I. My dad was always fair, but not that time. I had no part in the door slamming, nor the other girl. So, the fun was over. The only time I remember until was 13.. We got to trick or Treat then. It was another small town in OK. but we lived in town. The bigger boys in town(some) used to turn the outhouses over. I never thought that was nice. One year my mom sat up all night with the yard light on, but iit still happened. My dad told her all it did was give them light to work with. worst happened in KS. when my husband was young. The older boys did that too. Well, one night they decided to tie a rope around one and drag down street. Well, there was an older man in the outhouse and they didn’t ck. Guess when they heard him hollering, they dropped the rope and drove away very fast, Said he was really bruised and scraped up, but no-one ever admitted who done it. (Horrible). By the way, I’m ready to Par-taay!

  17. Patricia, thank you for taking us back to more gentle times. I often wonder if we really were safer back then. We didn’t have the 7/24 hour news and a trillion cameras telling us otherwise, so how knows?

  18. Incredible! This blog looks just like my old one!
    It’s on a completely different subject but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Great choice of colors!

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