Things That Matter: Halloween postcard
La Crosse County Historical Society

With Halloween only days away, signs of the season surround us. We see store displays, decorated yards and, of course, social media pages filled with posts about the upcoming holiday. Historically, however, one popular way to share the excitement of Halloween was to send postcards, like the one shown here.

This postcard was sent in 1913 to Miss Marian Dorset from a woman named Edna. “Have a good time but do be very careful lots of love to you. I miss you girls very muchly. Edna,” she wrote on the back of the card.

Marian Dorset was the daughter of Nannie Colwell Dorset and the Rev. Dorset. Nannie had an elder daughter, also called Nannie, by her first husband, Capt. Wilson Colwell, a locally famous Civil War hero who was killed in battle.

The first two decades of the 20th century are known as the golden age of postcards. Starting in 1873, the U.S. Postal Service sold postcards, and those were the only ones permitted in the mail. The Private Mailing Card Act of 1898 allowed private companies to produce and sell penny postcards, and business exploded.

Sending, receiving and collecting postcards was a craze across the nation, and at its peak it was estimated that more 1 billion cards — each with a 1-cent stamp — were sent through the mail annually.

At first, the cards were required to have “private mailing card” printed on the back, but that law later changed to “post card,” and that is the name we still know them by today.

During the golden age of postcards, many were simply greeting cards, not the souvenir cards we know today. Up until World War II, many of these postcards were designed in the United States, but often they were printed in Germany due to superior printing techniques and lower labor costs.

Many Halloween postcards from the early 20th century were simply to express well wishes, but some of these cards, such as the one featured here, had an additional theme: romance.

Halloween itself evolved from the Celtic festival of Samhain, to All Soul’s Day during the 12th century, to a less serious, more playful holiday during the Victorian Era (1837-1901). During this time — with all the pumpkins and black cats — romantic legends were commonly associated with the holiday. One of these was that a young woman could get hints as to the name or nature of her future husband on Halloween night by performing various rituals, such as eating an apple while gazing into a candlelit mirror.

While this postcard is from a later time, it seems that these legends, and the association of the holiday with romance, likely endured in the minds of Halloween’s celebrants.

This Halloween postcard and others from the historical society’s collection can be viewed on the La Crosse County Historical Society website.

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