Topical Halloween costumes are a great way of saying, “I have a general awareness of current news and events.” But if you happen to get sucked into a wormhole and sent to 1915 this weekend, your lion-killing dentist outfit won’t make much sense. To help you avoid this embarrassing situation, here are a handful of the freshest costume ideas from 1915.
1. HARRY HOUDINI
Houdini routinely wowed crowds with his straitjacket escapes, often performing the stunt upside-down in front of theaters in order to drum up excitement for his traveling show. This costume will be a surefire hit in 1915, though obtaining a straitjacket might be difficult. The easiest way will likely be by having yourself committed to an asylum, which, in 1915, wasn’t that difficult.
Do any of the following and you’ll have no trouble getting that straitjacket:
Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was first published in German in 1915. While there is some disagreement over the type of bug into which Samsa transforms—be it a cockroach, dung beetle, or winged beetle—a simple insect outfit, paired with a nightcap, will make for an unmistakable costume.
However, an English translation wasn’t published until 1933, so this literary reference may be too esoteric or, even worse, identify you as someone who knows how to read German in the middle of World War I.
3. TYPHOID MARY
Employees must wash hands. // CC BY-SA 2.0
If you’re the type who likes to wear “edgy” Halloween costumes, this one’s for you. Mary Mallon worked as a cook in New York for eight different families and, as a carrier of typhoid fever who showed no symptoms, unknowingly infected her employers as she moved from job to job,
She was put into quarantine in 1907, but upon her release three years later, Mary changed her name and became a cook again, continuing to spread typhoid. After starting yet another outbreak, she was sent to permanent quarantine in 1915 on North Brother Island in the East River until her death in 1938.
Having become a media sensation by 1915, transforming into Mary for a Halloween party will take nothing more than a cook’s hat and a strong cough. "What a macabre and topical costume!" they'll all say. Good for you.
4. THE TRAMP
Don't talk and the costume is perfect.
In 1915, Charlie Chaplin released two silent films—the The Tramp and The Bank—that helped make his Tramp character a national sensation. It's an easy costume, requiring nothing more than a tattered three-piece suit, bowler, and narrow mustache. (Also, as it’s 1915, Hitler’s rise to power is almost two decades away so no one will think you’re dressing as a genocidal madman.)
5. THEDA BARA
Bara was one of Hollywood’s first sex symbols, known for her femme fatale and vampire roles during the silent era. She appeared in 11 films in 1915, making her easily the biggest movie star of the year. Unfortunately, modern viewers aren't able to see these performances as all the film stock was lost in a 20th Century Fox storage vault fire in 1937.
In 1915, however, everyone will recognize your La Gioconda costume from the film The Devil’s Daughter, though it may even prove to be too popular. Your other choices for widely known movie-related costumes at the time are from by far the biggest hit of the year, D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, and, yeah, please don't draw inspiration from that.
The unofficial start of the holiday shopping season is often referred to as the busiest shopping day of the year. But where did this tradition start and just how big is it? Here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions about Black Friday. Hopefully they'll give you some good talking points tomorrow, when you line up outside Best Buy at 4 a.m.
HOW DID BLACK FRIDAY BECOME SUCH A BIG SHOPPING DAY?
It's hard to say when the day after Thanksgiving turned into a retail free-for-all, but it probably dates back to the late 19th century. At that time, store-sponsored Thanksgiving parades were common, and once Santa Claus showed up at the end of the parade, the holiday shopping season had officially commenced.
In those days, most retailers adhered to an unwritten rule that holiday shopping season didn't start until after Thanksgiving, so no stores would advertise holiday sales or aggressively court customers until the Friday immediately following the holiday. Thus, when the floodgates opened that Friday, it became a huge deal.
SO RETAILERS WERE ALWAYS HOPING FOR AN EARLY THANKSGIVING?
You bet. They weren't just hoping, though; they were being proactive about it. In 1939, the Retail Dry Goods Association warned Franklin Roosevelt that if the holiday season wouldn't begin until after Americans celebrated Thanksgiving on the traditional final Thursday in November, retail sales would go in the tank. Ever the iconoclast, Roosevelt saw an easy solution to this problem: he moved Thanksgiving up by a week. Instead of celebrating the holiday on its traditional day—November 30th that year—Roosevelt declared the next-to-last Thursday in November to be the new Thanksgiving, instantly tacking an extra week onto the shopping season.
BRILLIANT! HOW DID THAT WORK OUT?
Not so well. Roosevelt didn't make the announcement until late October, and by then most Americans had already made their holiday travel plans. Many rebelled and continued to celebrate Thanksgiving on its "real" date while derisively referring to the impostor holiday as "Franksgiving." State governments didn't know which Thanksgiving to observe, so some of them took both days off. In short, it was a bit of a mess.
By 1941, though, the furor had died down, and Congress passed a law that made Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, regardless of how it affected the shopping day that would become known as Black Friday.
WHY CALL IT BLACK FRIDAY?
If you ask most people why the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, they'll explain that the name stems from retailers using the day's huge receipts as their opportunity to "get in the black" and become profitable for the year. The first recorded uses of the term "Black Friday" are a bit less rosy, though.
According to researchers, the name "Black Friday" dates back to Philadelphia in the mid-1960s. The Friday in question is nestled snugly between Thanksgiving and the traditional Army-Navy football game that's played in Philadelphia on the following Saturday, so the City of Brotherly Love was always bustling with activity on that day. All of the people were great for retailers, but they were a huge pain for police officers, cab drivers, and anyone who had to negotiate the city's streets. They started referring to the annual day of commercial bedlam as "Black Friday" to reflect how irritating it was.
SO WHERE DID THE WHOLE "GET IN THE BLACK" STORY ORIGINATE?
Apparently store owners didn't love having their biggest shopping day saddled with such a negative moniker, so in the early 1980s someone began floating the accounting angle to put a more positive spin on the big day.
DO RETAILERS REALLY NEED BLACK FRIDAY TO TURN AN ANNUAL PROFIT?
Major retailers don't; they're generally profitable—or at least striving for profitability—throughout the entire year. (A company that turned losses for three quarters out of every fiscal year wouldn't be a big hit with investors.) Some smaller outlets may parlay big holiday season sales into annual profits, though.
IS BLACK FRIDAY REALLY THE BIGGEST SHOPPING DAY OF THE YEAR?
It's certainly the day of the year in which you're most likely to be punched while reaching for a Tickle Me Elmo doll, but it might not be the busiest day in terms of gross receipts. According to Snopes.com, Black Friday is generally one of the top days of the year for stores, but it's the days immediately before Christmas—when procrastinators finally get shopping—that stores make the serious loot. Black Friday may, however, be the busiest day of the year in terms of customer traffic.
Snopes's data shows the 10-year span from 1993 to 2002, and in that interval Black Friday was never higher than fourth on the list of the year's busiest shopping days by sales volume. In 2003 and 2005 Black Friday did climb to the top of the pile for sales revenue days, but it still gets stiff competition from the week leading up to Christmas, particularly the Saturday right before the big day.
DO PEOPLE REALLY GET INJURED ON BLACK FRIDAY?
Sadly, yes. One of the most tragic Black Friday incidents happened in 2008, when 34-year-old seasonal employee Jdimytai Damour was killed after a crowd of hundreds of people from the approximately 2000 people waiting outside knocked him own and stampeded over his back after the doors opened at 5 a.m. at the Wal-Mart on Long Island, New York.
In 2010 in Buffalo, New York, several shoppers were trampled trying to get into a Target. One of the victims, Keith Krantz—who was pinned against a metal door support and then shoved to the ground—told a CNN affiliate he thought he would be killed. “At that moment, I was thinking I don't want to die here on the ground,” Krantz said.
In Murray, Utah, 15,000 shoppers swamped a mall with such force, the local police had to respond to break up skirmishes and fistfights, and keep shoppers from ransacking stores.
In 2008, a fight broke out between a young girl and a man at another Wal-Mart store in Columbus, Ohio, over a 40-inch Samsung flat-screen television. It was $798, marked down from $1000. The New York Timesreported that the not-so-aptly-named Nikki Nicely, 19, leaped onto a fellow shopper’s back and began pounding his shoulders violently when he attempted to purchase the television. “That’s my TV!” shouted Ms. Nicely, who then took an elbow to the face. “That’s my TV!” The fight was broken up by a police officer and security guard. “That’s right,” Nicely cried as her adversary walked away. “This here is my TV!”
HOW CAN THIS KIND OF THING BE AVOIDED?
In an effort to keep a few would-be clients from personal injury law firms, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) created a special checklist for retailers expecting large crowds.
So what’s OSHA’s advice? Consider using bullhorns. Hire a team of police officers. Be prepared for “crowd crushing” and “violent acts.” Set up barricades. And, above all else, if charging shoppers come running, stay out of the way.
Haley Sweetland Edwards contributed to this story, portions of which originally appeared in 2009.
Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.
The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.
Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.
The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.
The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.