Thursday, 31 October 2013


Happy Halloween! Because today is Halloween, I, of course, am going to do a short post on the origins of this mysterious festival.

Halloween is an annual holiday celebrated on the night of October 31. The word Halloween is a shortened version of All Hallows' Evening also known as Hallowe'en or All Hallows' Eve.

Traditional activities include trick-or-treating, bonfires, costume parties, visiting "haunted houses" and carving pumpkins. Irish and Scottish immigrants carried versions of the tradition to North America in the nineteenth century. Other western countries embraced the holiday in the late twentieth century including Ireland, the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the United Kingdom as well as of Australia and New Zealand.

Halloween has its origins in the ancient Celtic festival, Samhain, which was a celebration of the end of the harvest season in Gaelic culture. Samhain was a time used by the ancient pagans to take stock of supplies and prepare for winter. The ancient Gaels believed that on October 31, the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead overlapped and the deceased would come back to life and cause havoc such as sickness or damaged crops.

The festival would frequently involve bonfires, which many believe attracted insects and then bats to the area, starting off the traditional belief of bats coming out on Halloween. Masks and costumes were worn in an attempt to mimic the evil spirits or appease them.

Trick-or treating first became popular in America, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and due to increased American cultural influence in recent years, trick-or-treating has started to occur among children in many parts of Europe, and in the Saudi Aramco camps of Dhahran, Akaria compounds and Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia. In Ohio, Iowa, and Massachusetts, the night designated for Trick-or-treating is often referred to as Beggars Night.

Part of the history of Halloween is Halloween costumes. The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats on holidays goes back to the Middle Ages, and includes Christmas wassailing. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling," when poor folk would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). It originated in Ireland and Britain, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. Shakespeare mentions the practice in his comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1593), when Speed accuses his master of "puling [whimpering, whining], like a beggar at Hallowmas."

Yet there is no evidence that souling was ever practised in America, and trick-or-treating may have developed in America independent of any Irish or British antecedent. The earliest known reference to ritual begging on Halloween in English speaking North America occurs in 1911, when a newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, near the border of upstate New York, reported that it was normal for the smaller children to go street guising on Halloween between 6 and 7 p.m., visiting shops and neighbours to be rewarded with nuts and candies for their rhymes and songs. Another isolated reference appears, place unknown, in 1915, with a third reference in Chicago in 1920. The thousands of Halloween postcards produced between the turn of the 20th century and the 1920s commonly show children but do not depict trick-or-treating. It does not seem to have become a widespread practice until the 1930s, with the earliest known uses in print of the term "trick or treat" appearing in 1934, and the first use in a national publication occurring in 1939. Thus, although a quarter million Scots-Irish immigrated to America between 1717 and 1770, the Irish Potato Famine brought almost a million immigrants in 1845-1849, and British and Irish immigration to America peaked in the 1880s, ritualized begging on Halloween was virtually unknown in America until generations later.

Trick-or-treating spread from the western United States eastward, stalled by sugar rationing that began in April 1942 during World War II and did not end until June 1947.

Enjoy trick-or-treating or whatever else you might be doing tonight!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Picture of the Month

Bringing down the Berlin Wall, 1989



I went to Russia with school recently on a history trip looking at 20th century Russia. Here are some pictures: 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Al Capone Goes To Prison

On 17th October, 1931, ganster Al Capone was sentenced to eleven years in jail and fined $80,000 for tax evasion, beginning the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 30s.

Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian immigrants. He was expelled from school at 14, joined a gang and earned his nickname "Scarface" after being sliced across the cheek during a fight. By 1920, Capone had moved to Chicago, where he was soon helping to run crime boss Johnny Torrio's illegal enterprises, which included alcohol-smuggling, gambling and prostitution. Torrio retired in 1925 after an attempt on his life and Capone, known for his cunning and brutality, was put in charge of the organization.

The brewing and distribution of alcohol was banned from 1920 to 33 and meant Capone could make millions from the black market selling of illegal substances. Capone was at the top of the F.B.I.'s "Most Wanted" list by 1930, but he avoided long stints in jail until 1931 by bribing city officials, intimidating witnesses and maintaining various hideouts. He became Chicago's crime kingpin by wiping out his competitors through a series of gangland battles and slayings, including the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929, when Capone's men gunned down seven rivals. This event helped raise Capone's notoriety to a national level.

Among Capone's enemies was federal agent Elliot Ness, who led a team of officers known as "The Untouchables" because they couldn't be corrupted. Ness and his men routinely broke up Capone's bootlegging businesses, but it was tax-evasion charges that finally stuck and landed Capone in prison in 1931. Capone began serving his time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, but amid accusations that he was manipulating the system and receiving cushy treatment, he was transferred to the maximum-security lockup at Alcatraz Island, in California's San Francisco Bay. He got out early in 1939 for good behaviour, after spending his final year in prison in a hospital, suffering from syphilis.

Plagued by health problems for the rest of his life, Capone died in 1947 at age 48 at his home in Palm Island, Florida.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Women Were Stone Age Cave Artists

Hand stencils in Puente Viesgo, Spain, date from more than 37,300 years ago

The pioneers of painting were probably women, a study by American archaeologists has found. At least three quarters of examples of one of the earliest forms of cave painting may have been made by women. Stencils created by blowing pigment over an outstretched hand are one of the earliest forms and most common forms of prehistoric art.

Hand pictures have been found all over the world but the best known examples are in caves in south-west France and northern Spain and date from 40,000 years ago. By comparing the relative length of the fingers professors have been able to determine which were made by men and which by women. The findings have overturned the traditional assumption that most, if not all, cave painting was the work of men.

Up till now most archaeologists believed the hand prints, which often share wall space with ochre and charcoal images of animals hunted by Stone Age man were part of a hunting ritual. However the fact that the majority of the hand print paintings were by women suggests that they may also be responsible for the other paintings.

In many hunter-gatherer societies it was the men that did the killing but often the women who hauled the meat back to camp. Many archaeologists believe the hand prints are the signature of an artist.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Disney World Anniversary

On Friday October 1, 1971, after seven years of planning about 10,000 visitors gathered near Orlando, Florida, to witness the grand opening of Walt Disney World. The theme park was 107 acres big and employed about 5,500 cast members.

Resort planners scheduled the opening in October in the hopes that crowds would be small - and they were. The turnout was much smaller than the 300,000 expected. Fortunately the small crowd of 10,000 on October 1, 1971 allowed any problems that sprang up to be fixed with minimal inconvenience, unlike Disneyland's chaotic grand opening day. Even official dedications and other media events were held off until later in the month so as to make sure everything ran smoothly. (The park's actual dedication didn't take place until October 25.  Some visitors even slept in their car overnight at a nearby roadside rest area.

When Disney World first opened (and for many years thereafter), guests purchased a book of ride tickets (similar to what you would get at a carnival or fair). The book consisted of A through E tickets, with the E tickets being the best rides. General Admission was just $3.50 for an adult, $2.50 for a junior, and children were only $1.00 (this included unlimited use for one day of transportation system, admission to MK and all free shows, exhibits and entertainment). Parking was only 50 cents per vehicle.

Walt Disney World held a three-day grand opening celebration starting on October 23. At the end of October 1971, the total attendance was around 400,000. The day after Thanksgiving November 26, 1971 a new peak of 50,000 entered the theme park.

A network of warehouse-sized rooms, hallways, and office spaces were built under Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. The park that guests see are actually the second and third stories. When Disney World opened in 1971, it was the first theme park to have continuously playing ambient music on pathways between attractions. You could fit the original Disneyland Park in the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom and still have room to park some 300 cars.