10 Historic Things That Happened on Halloween

DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images
DON EMMERT, AFP/Getty Images

According to the ancient pagans (not to mention contemporary Wicca observers), Halloween is when the “veil” between the living and spirit worlds is at its thinnest, meaning the day is ripe for supernatural occurrences, haunting encounters, and tragic events. Here are 10 Halloween happenings that show October 31 isn't just a spooky holiday.


How’s this for a nightmare: 34 days of Election Day.

No matter how horrifying our presidential politics get in 2016, at least the nation can look forward to the end of the campaign season once the polls close on November 8. This wasn’t always the case in America. Before the 1848 election, states were allowed to hold their voting at any time over several weeks. Back then—when news traveled slowly and the nation’s harvesting patterns had an even stronger influence on the political schedule—federal law gave states 34 days to conduct the election before the Electoral College got together on the first Wednesday of December.

Voting in those early contests obviously tended to kick off in late October or early November, but only two—1800 and 1828—saw polls open on All Hallows’ Eve. The latter, 1828, was a particularly nasty (not to mention historically significant) election that saw the populist outsider candidate, Andrew Jackson, knock out the incumbent East Coast elite, John Quincy Adams. In some ways, this rematch of the 1824 presidential election cast the die for the politics we have today.

The nation was still young, but the 1828 contest firmly established the two party system and saw the debut of deeply personal attacks and concerted rumormongering—Adams supporters labeled Jackson, the eventual winner, a war criminal, and called his wife Rachel an “adulteress." Fueling the increase in vitriol was the proliferation of party-affiliated press organs, which relied heavily on innuendo and conspiracy. These were not newspapers, but rather the 19th century equivalent of Facebook groups that share memes.


With strict propriety of language, we might call the awful catastrophe about to be particularized, a massacre, a wholesale assassination, or anything else but an accident.
Lloyd's Steamboat Directory, And Disasters on the Western Waters (1856)

The situation was already dire for the 700 or so members of the Creek tribe crammed onto the Monmouth on a very dark October 31, 1837. After most of the Creek had been forcibly deported from their homeland in the Southern United States following the “Creek Indian War of 1836,” a few had been allowed to stay behind while their families were helping fight the Seminoles in Florida. After the fighters returned, the remaining Creek were put on boats to take them up the Mississippi, including one called the Monmouth.

As the overcrowded Monmouth steamed north of Baton Rouge, it crashed into another steamship, the Warren, which was towing another boat called the Trenton. According to Lloyd’s Steamboat Disasters, “such was the violence of the concussion, that the Monmouth immediately sunk.” It is estimated that at least half of the Monmouth’s passengers perished in the catastrophe, though records are scarce because no government agencies ever investigated the incident.


For obvious reasons, the states that left the Union during the American Civil War tend to get more attention than the ones that joined the United States during the conflict. Nevada is one of only two—West Virginia is the other—to attain statehood while the North and South were fighting. (Thus Nevada’s claim as the “battle born” state.)

One common explanation is Abraham Lincoln and the Union needed the Silver State’s mineral wealth. Not exactly. Nevada was already a Union territory, so Abe had the silver. Besides, by late 1864, the war was nearly won. What Lincoln actually needed was Nevada’s votes—both in the upcoming 1864 Presidential Election and for the push to end slavery with ratification of the 13th Amendment.


One of the Great War’s lesser known clashes, the Battle of Beersheba is particularly revered by cavalry enthusiasts and Australian World War I buffs. That’s because, as the sun set on a day of fierce skirmishes in the Negev Desert, a brigade of Aussie light horsemen staged what’s remembered as the “Last Great Cavalry Charge” and helped secure a pivotal victory for the Allied Powers.

After three years of bloody stalemate and fruitless conflict across Europe, the Allied Powers had almost nothing to show for it. The recent introduction of American troops had failed to break the deadlock on the continent, and in fall of 1917, it looked like another year of fighting with no measurable gain. But the offensive at Beersheba, just 50 miles south of Ottoman-controlled Jerusalem, ended the stalemate in the Middle Eastern theatre and breathed new life into the British war effort.

After the British Egyptian Expeditionary Force—comprised of troops from England, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, and India—broke the Turkish lines at Beersheba, the British pushed deeper into Palestine and eventually captured Jerusalem in December. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister at the time, called it “a Christmas present for the British people.”


With a worldwide death toll of up to 50 million people, the Spanish Influenza is remembered as the most devastating pandemic in human history. In the United States, where an estimated 675,000 Americans perished during the plague, no single month was more deadly than October 1918. No one knows exactly what caused the so-called Death Spike, but nearly 200,000 people died during that gruesome October. One compelling explanation: high dosages of aspirin.


First, a bit of housekeeping: Benito Mussolini, notorious tough guy that he was, did not march anywhere. No, while a band of 20,000 or so Blackshirts did actually hoof it to the Italian capital, Il Duce took an overnight train from Milan. By the time his followers reached the Eternal City, Mussolini was already in control. On October 29, King Victor Emmanuel III summoned the 39-year-old to Rome to form a government. Ostensibly the head of a coalition government, the empowered Mussolini set about consolidating his power and building his own personal mythology. On October 31, to showcase the growing strength of his Fascist Party, the newly appointed premier conducted a parade of Blackshirts through the streets of Rome.


It’s the gut-punch known round the world. In late October 1926, Harry Houdini visited McGill University in Montreal and gave a lecture on fraudulent spiritualism to students and faculty. On Friday, October 22, Houdini invited several McGill students to his dressing room at the Princess Theater, and while eyewitness accounts differ on the matter of what came next, this much is clear: A student named Joselyn Gordon Whitehead delivered several heavy body blows to the famed magician’s midsection. A little over a week later, the 52-year-old Houdini was dead.

The official cause of death was diffuse peritonitis, an abdominal infection associated with a ruptured appendix, and at first, the doctors blamed the punch for Houdini’s sudden demise. Later researchers generally agree that, at worst, it prevented Houdini from going to the hospital for his stomach pains, and it was largely a case of bad timing.


Have you heard of a ship called the good Reuben James
Manned by hard fighting men both of honor and fame?
She flew the Stars and Stripes of the land of the free
But tonight she's in her grave at the bottom of the sea.
Woody Guthrie, 1942

In almost every way, the USS Reuben James was an unremarkable destroyer assigned to protect supply shipments on the Atlantic after the start of World War II. Sure, the 22-year-old warship had sailed the seven seas, but mostly in the form of peacetime patrols and low stakes operations. Nothing flashy or fraught. So how exactly did it end up in Woody Guthrie's song?

On October 31, 1941, just over a month before the Pearl Harbor attack and America’s formal entry into World War II, the Reuben James became the first U.S. Navy ship sunk during the conflict. Of the nearly 150 crewmen aboard, only 44 survived the attack.


Slingin’ Sammy Baugh did it all on the gridiron. And in 1943, he did it all better than anyone had ever done it before—leading the league in passing, punting, and interceptions—as part of a campaign football historians consider the single greatest individual season in the history of the sport. The Redskins' Baugh registered some incredible performances that season—his four touchdown/four interception game against Detroit was remarkable for its gaudy symmetry—but none demonstrated his dominance as a passer more than his massive day against the Brooklyn Dodgers on Halloween 1943.

The final score at Ebbets Field that day was 48-10, with Baugh producing an NFL-record 376 yards and six touchdown passes—the first time in pro football history that a quarterback threw six TDs in a single game. Baugh and Washington would go on to win the NFL’s Eastern Division before losing to Sid Luckman and the Chicago Bears in the title game. Incredibly, Luckman would also go on to edge out Baugh for the 1943 MVP award, too.


A half century after it first debuted, “Monster Mash” remains the undisputed anthem of the spooky season. (Very close second: “Thriller.”) We may take it for granted these days, but there was a time when the “graveyard smash” wasn’t on repeat at every Halloween party in the land. Originally released in August 1962, this now evergreen holiday hit was actually the product of two early-1960s fads: Twist-style dance records and the movie monster craze. The song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on October 20 and stayed there for two weeks.

Why Mother's Day Founder Anna Jarvis Later Fought to Have the Holiday Abolished

A portrait of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis.
A portrait of Mother's Day founder Anna Jarvis.
Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Years after she founded Mother’s Day, Anna Jarvis was dining at the Tea Room at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. She saw they were offering a "Mother’s Day Salad." She ordered the salad and when it was served, she stood up, dumped it on the floor, left the money to pay for it, and walked out in a huff. Jarvis had lost control of the holiday she helped create, and she was crushed by her belief that commercialism was destroying Mother’s Day.

During the Civil War, Anna's mother, Ann Jarvis, cared for the wounded on both sides of the conflict. She also tried to orchestrate peace between Union and Confederate moms by forming a Mother's Friendship Day. When the elder Jarvis passed away in 1905, her daughter was devastated. She would read the sympathy cards and letters over and over, taking the time to underline all the words that praised and complimented her mother. Jarvis found an outlet to memorialize her mother by working to promote a day that would honor all mothers.

On May 10, 1908, Mother's Day events were held at the church where Ann Jarvis taught Sunday School in Grafton, West Virginia, and at the Wanamaker’s department store auditorium in Philadelphia. Anna did not attend the event in Grafton, but she sent 500 white carnations—her mother’s favorite flower. The carnations were to be worn by sons and daughters in honor of their own mothers, and to represent the purity of a mother’s love.

Spreading the Word

Mother’s Day quickly caught on because of Anna Jarvis’s zealous letter-writing and promotional campaigns across the country and the world. She was assisted by well-heeled backers like John Wanamaker and H.J. Heinz, and she soon devoted herself full-time to the promotion of Mother’s Day.

In 1909 several senators mocked the very idea of a Mother’s Day holiday. Senator Henry Moore Teller (D-CO) scorned the resolution as "puerile," "absolutely absurd," and "trifling." He announced, "Every day with me is a mother's day." Senator Jacob Gallinger (R-NH) judged the very idea of Mother's Day to be an insult, as though his memory of his late mother "could only be kept green by some outward demonstration on Sunday, May 10."

A pile of white carnations

The backlash didn't deter Jarvis. She enlisted the help of organizations like the World’s Sunday School Association, and the holiday sailed through Congress with little opposition in 1914.

The floral industry wisely supported Jarvis’s Mother’s Day movement. She accepted their donations and spoke at their conventions. With each subsequent Mother’s Day, the wearing of carnations became a must-have item. Florists across the country quickly sold out of white carnations around Mother’s Day; newspapers reported stories of carnation hoarding and profiteering. The floral industry later came up with an idea to diversify sales by promoting the practice of wearing red or bright flowers in honor of living mothers, and white flowers for deceased moms.

"Sentiment, Not Profit"

Jarvis soon soured on the commercial interests associated with the day. She wanted Mother’s Day “to be a day of sentiment, not profit.” Beginning around 1920, she urged people to stop buying flowers and other gifts for their mothers, and she turned against her former commercial supporters. She referred to the florists, greeting card manufacturers and the confectionery industry as “charlatans, bandits, pirates, racketeers, kidnappers, and termites that would undermine with their greed one of the finest, noblest, and truest movements and celebrations.”

In response to the floral industry, she had thousands of celluloid buttons made featuring the white carnation, which she sent free of charge to women’s, school, and church groups. She attempted to stop the floral industry by threatening to file lawsuits and by applying to trademark the carnation together with the words “Mother’s Day” (though she was denied the trademark). In response to her legal threats, the Florist Telegraph Delivery (FTD) association offered her a commission on the sales of Mother’s Day carnations, but this only further enraged her.

Jarvis’s attempts to stop the florists’ promotion of Mother’s Day with carnations continued. In 1934, the United States Postal Service issued a stamp honoring Mother’s Day. They used a painting colloquially known as Whistler’s Mother for the image, by artist James Whistler. Jarvis was livid after she saw the resulting stamp because she believed the addition of the vase of carnations was an advertisement for the floral industry.

A young girl gives her mom a handmade Mother's Day card

Jarvis’s ideal observance of Mother’s Day would be a visit home or writing a long letter to your mother. She couldn’t stand those who sold and used greeting cards: “A maudlin, insincere printed card or ready-made telegram means nothing except that you’re too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone else in the world.”

She added: “Any mother would rather have a line of the worst scribble from her son or daughter than any fancy greeting card.”

Going Rogue

Jarvis fought against charities that used Mother’s Day for fundraising. She was dragged screaming out of a meeting of the American War Mothers by police and arrested for disturbing the peace in her attempts to stop the sale of carnations. She even wrote screeds against Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise money (for charities that worked to combat high maternal and infant mortality rates, the very type of work Jarvis’s mother did during her lifetime).

In one of her last appearances in public, Jarvis was seen going door-to-door in Philadelphia, asking for signatures on a petition to rescind Mother’s Day. In her twilight years, she became a recluse and a hoarder.

Jarvis spent her last days deeply in debt and living in the Marshall Square Sanitarium, a now-closed mental asylum in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She died on November 24, 1948. Jarvis was never told that her bill for her time at the asylum was partly paid for by a group of grateful florists.

This story originally appeared in 2012.

7 Mother's Day Sales to Take Advantage of Before the Holiday


Still trying to figure out what to buy your mom for Mother's Day this year? Before May 12 rolls around, check out these sales that will help you get mom the perfect gift for less. And if you've already bought your mom a gift, well, there's no harm in getting yourself one, too.

1. Sur La Table

If your mom loves to cook and host, head to Sur La Table. The kitchen store is offering 20 percent off Staub cast iron cookware until May 13. It's also got longer-running sales as well—until May 20, you can get up to 70 percent off Sur La Table private label cookware and up to 40 percent off Nordic Ware bakeware. Nothing says Mother's Day like a new set of cake pans or a cast iron cocotte. (Don't be afraid to pick up a new set of dishes for yourself, too—we're sure your mom wouldn't mind.)

Find it: Sur La Table

2. Overstock.com

In advance of Mother's Day, Overstock.com is offering discounts on watches, jewelry, footwear, and more with mom in mind. Personally, we'd like to gift our mothers one of these amazingly whimsical cat watches, but for moms with more highbrow taste, there are plenty of other elegant options on deep discount. 

Find it: Overstock.com

3. Today Is Art Day

For moms who love art, science, and history, Today Is Art Day's collectible figurines offer a way to show off her favorite icons. She can prop the likenesses of Frida Kahlo, Gustav Klimt, Marie Curie, and more on her desk, or grab the brand's art-museum-themed board game for some family fun. You can get 15 percent off your purchase using the code MOTHER until May 12.

Find it: Today Is Art Day

4. Macy's

Macy's wellness-focused Goodfull brand has a lot of mom-worthy items on sale right now, including cookware, knives, kitchen appliances (we can't resist a KitchenAid stand mixer), plate sets, bed and bath products, and more. We are especially tempted by the Aerogarden countertop herb garden kit, which features automatic LED lighting and watering reminders. It's $110 off through May 12. You can also get an extra 10 to 20 percent off select sale items with the code MOM.

Find it: Macy's

5. Coach

If your mom is a fashion maven, Coach is offering significant discounts on bags, shoes, and other fashionable goods for the holiday. (While we don't exactly recommend spending more than $100 buying your mom a luxury leather keychain in the shape of a weiner dog, we also wouldn't hate it.) Use the code MOM19 to get up to 30 percent off.

Find it: Coach

6. Amazon

Whether your mom is an Alexa acolyte or a smart home skeptic, Amazon's probably got a device on sale for her. The rarely-on-sale, wildly popular Kindle Paperwhite is $40 off right now (just $90 for the most basic version). The regular Kindle (which has a lower-resolution screen and no backlight) is also on sale starting at $70. Amazon is also offering deals on Kindle Fire tablets, Ring Alarm systems, Echo smart speakers, and more.

Find it: Amazon

7. CompetitiveCyclist.com

Whether your mom is a weekend warrior or just likes to take the occasional group ride, you can get great deals on cycling gear and equipment from CompetitiveCyclist.com. With bikes, apparel, and accessories targeted at road cyclists, mountain bikers, and triathlon athletes, there's plenty to choose from. Get mom some waterproof apparel for her spring rides, invest in some nice sunglasses for her summer workouts, or go ahead and help her upgrade to her dream bike. Use the code 21VERONA for 21 percent off full-price items from now until June 2.

Find it: CompetitiveCyclist.com

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!