Trick or Treating in the Roaring Twenties: Marcus French’s Halloween

toothy pumpkinEighteen years ago on Halloween, the Cotsen Children’s Library opened its doors to the public.  This year, we’ll commemorate both occasions with a letter written by Marcus French, one of the most amusing and vivid of the child authors in the collection.

Some years back Bruce C. Willsie ’86, one of RBSC’s most generous donors, presented to Cotsen this delightful archive of thirty illustrated letters Marcus wrote to his big sister Eleanor when she was away at school between 1925 and 1927.  Marcus formatted all the news that was fit to relate–and fair amount that wasn’t–as if it were appearing in a Pathe newsreel.  Over the next few months I’ll be running a series of Marcus’s letters.

In 1926, ten-year-old Marcus wrote Eleanor a long letter on Halloween–four pages of news accompanied by four pages of pictures within borders of seasonal imagery he drew himself.  The first picture shows his cat Jock being run over by a motorcycle he tried to chase (maybe a classic Harley-Davidson?).  Don’t believe the bit about Jock losing a leg–he was just bruised.

page 1The inside double-page spread is a rogue’s gallery of Marcus and his friends in their Halloween costumes: Marcus as a clown (how appropriate…) Vedder as a pirate “with bandages and sword,”  William as a ghost, and Mike in a stovepipe hat and mask masquerading as a desparado Abraham Lincoln??  The boys had to wait until the rain stopped to go trick-or-treating, or as Marcus put it “make some calls,” and “have some fun,” that is, make mischief. They tore apart a big wooden frame and threw the pieces on porches, broke milk bottles, and rang doorbells and ran away.  “We didn’t get any pies,” Marcus reports sadly, raising the interesting question of, were homemade baked goods handed out to children making calls on Halloween night in lieu of Reese’s Pieces and other packaged candies?

page 2The significance of the news on the facing page is unclear, but it doesn’t look like a serious account of what was going on in the wider world.  Probably just a local newscast.  What do you suppose Marcus is doing in the upper right hand corner?  Turn the page to find out.

page 3

Do the dog and cat look identical or are my eyes going?

On the back page is an illustration of William heaving a plank on someone’s porch, yelling at his accomplices, “Hey cheesit kids,” with Marcus joining in, “Cheesit run kids.”   Spelling and punctuation were not Marcus’s strong points, but a lexicographer might be interested to know that a kid in Montgomery County, New York, during the 1920s used that expression to signal that it was time to beat it.

page 4

The P.S. reads “There was a man with overalls on in church this morning.”

Now Don’t Try This at Home!

Have a safe and sane Halloween from Team Cotsen!

Andrea, Dana, Ian, Jeff, Minjie and Miriam

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