TITLE: Halloween Batman Mask & Costume
TYPE: face mask; costume
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Vacuform Batman Mask
MAKER: Ben Cooper Inc. (Brooklyn, New York)
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 1977
MAIN MATERIAL (mask): styrene plastic
OTHER MATERIALS (mask): paint; steel staples; elastic band
MATERIALS (costume): plastic sheeting; paint; cotton cloth

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

This specific mask was mass produced by a process known as vacuform molding. Sheets of heated styrene plastic are placed over a three-dimensional mold and a vacuum sucks out the air, forming the plastic to the mold. The mask is then cut out, machine painted, and an elastic band is stapled to the mask. The process is exceedingly fast and inexpensive, making the mask very popular with the overwhelming majority of Americans from the late 1950s to today.

For more on 20th century American Halloween costumes, see Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2002).

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.

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TITLE: Halloween Wolf Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Buckram Wolf Mask
MAKER: Unknown
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: ca. 1930s
MAIN MATERIAL: dyed buckram
OTHER MATERIALS: paint

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

This specific mask, representing a wolf, was made from dyed buckram, moistened and dried over a form, then hand painted with details. Such mass-produced masks were popular among the middle class in the 1920s to 1950s, when they were replaced by vacuformed plastic.

For more on 20th century American Halloween costumes, see Phyllis Galembo, Dressed for Thrills: 100 Years of Halloween Costumes and Masquerade (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 2002).

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.

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TITLE: Mardi Gras Crocodile
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New Orleans, Louisiana
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Leather Crocodile Mask
MAKER: Richard Thompson (Elmhurst, Illinois, 1957-2022)
CEREMONY: Mardi Gras
AGE: 2013
MAIN MATERIAL: leather
OTHER MATERIALS: acrylic paint

In Catholic practice, Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) is the last day of celebration of Carnival before the fasting period of Lent. In the United States, the holiday is nowhere more vigorously celebrated than in New Orleans, Louisiana. There, a two-week Carnival season terminating on Mardi Gras is celebrated with parades composed of elaborate costumes and masks, floats, marching bands, all organize by private “krewes” composed of public-spirited citizens dedicated to preserving the Mardi Gras tradition. Krewes tend to have a fairly constant structure of officers, who frequently ride horseback in handsome costumes and draped masks, float riders who chuck “throws,” or small gifts such as plastic beaded necklaces, toys, or mementos (usually with the krewe’s name and insignia) into the cheering crowds, and a guest “king” and “queen” of the krewe.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is also typically celebrated with formal balls held by the krewes in honor of the king and queen, and to celebrate the season.  Mask wearing among street celebrants is common as well. Traditionally, Mardi Gras masks are made of formed and painted leather, and can represent any character from real life or fantasy.  In modern practice, cheap masks mass manufactured of sequined cloth or paper maché covered in dyed feathers have become common.

This specific mask was hand made by a skilled artisan in the Finger Lakes region of New York and brought to New Orleans during Mardi Gras to be sold.



Click above to watch a short documentary about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2019 and 2020.

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TITLE: Halloween Witch Mask
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Latex Witch Mask
MAKER: Death Studios, LaPorte, Indiana
CEREMONY: Halloween
AGE: 2012
MAIN MATERIAL: latex
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; epoxy; synthetic hair

Halloween is one of the major secular festivals in the United States, celebrated on October 31st each year.  It originated in pre-Christian times, possibly among the ancient Celts, who practiced Samhain in late fall by wearing frightening costumes and lighting bonfires in mid-autumn to scare away ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III declared November 1st as a day to honor all the saints collectively. The celebration prior to this All Saints Day became known as All Hallows’ Eve (hence the shortened name, All Hallowe’en, eventually elided to Halloween), and involved many of the same traditions practiced by the Celts.

Halloween formerly had many traditions that varied by region.  In modern and relatively homogenized practice, Halloween generally has three main components: costumed parties, “trick-or-treating,” and haunted houses.  Costumed parties are the modern descendant of social activities designed to honor the saints and create solidarity in the community. Children’s parties typically involved games with prizes, such as bobbing for apples and carving pumpkins and other relatively dry squash into frightening “jack-o-lanterns” with candles inside for illumination.  Adult parties commonly involve less innocent games and elaborate decorations to create a scary mood.

Trick-or-treating is the children’s practice of wearing scary costumes to extort candy and other sweets from neighbors. Like roaming goblins, the monsters visiting the house would demand a treat or threaten to play a nasty trick on the neighbor. The threat is of course a formality, as sharing candy with trick-or-treaters is considered a mandatory practice for friendly and community-spirited neighbors. In modern practice, many children have abandoned the tradition of wearing frightening costumes and have leaned toward fantasy characters such as superheroes, princesses, and fairies.

Haunted houses are a relatively modern innovation.  They may be designed and staffed by volunteers or for profit, and generally take the form of a decrepit mansion haunted by ghosts, mad scientists, monsters, the walking dead, etc. The idea is to inspire terror and wonder in a factually safe environment.

In addition, many Americans celebrate by watching horror movies (the release of which Hollywood times to coincide with the Halloween season), and in some regions, most notably Greenwich Village, Manhattan in New York and Salem, Massachusetts, major costumed parades are organized each year.  In many cities, “zombie walks” composed of masses of costumed zombies have been organized as well.

Popular masks and costumes include devils, zombies, skeletons, vampires, werewolves, mummies, witches, pirates, political figures, and characters from popular culture, such as Frankenstein’s monster. However, Halloween costumes can include almost anything, including inanimate objects and abstractions.  The choice is limited only by the imagination of the masquerader.  Masks and costumes depicting offensive racial stereotypes, popular prior to the 1980s, are no longer widely used.

This specific mask was hand cast from a mold and painted by Death Studios, a maker of exceptional quality horror masks and props, located in Indiana, and sold under the name “Scream, Witch, Scream.” Death Studios continues to sell this and other latex Halloween masks.

Click above to watch a documentary about Halloween in the United States.

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TITLE: Vejigante
TYPE: face mask
GENERAL REGION: Caribbean
COUNTRY: Puerto Rico
SUBREGION: Ponce
ETHNICITY: Mestizo
DESCRIPTION: Vejigante Mask
MAKER: Miguel Caraballo Jr., Ponce
CEREMONY: Carnival
AGE: 2015
MAIN MATERIAL: paper maché
OTHER MATERIALS: gesso; paint

The Carnival paraders of Ponce, Puerto Rico traditionally use paper maché masks with multiple horns and sharp teeth, accompanied by colorful and frilly costumes, to represent fantastic devils. Most consider that the more horns a mask has, the better.  Formerly, participants carried an inflated goat or cow bladder (vejiga) on a string with which to bop passers-by on the posterior.  This is how the character got its name, vejigante (bladder-carrier). Today, goat bladders are in short supply, and this practice is rare. Vejigantes nonetheless remain an indispensable part of the Ponce Carnival.

A unique feature of the Ponce carnival is that it includes the burial of a giant symbolic sardine, carried by a parader dressed as a friar and another dressed as a hooked sardine.  The sardine symbolizes the Carnival itself, and the burial marks its end.

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TITLE: Santa Claus Mask
TYPE: hood mask
GENERAL REGION: North America
COUNTRY: United States of America
SUBREGION: New York City
ETHNICITY: Mixed
DESCRIPTION: Buckram Santa Claus Mask
MAKER: Dessart Brothers
CEREMONY: Christmas
AGE: 1940s
MAIN MATERIAL: buckram
OTHER MATERIALS: paint; flannel hood; cotton batting

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, the principal Christian prophet, observed on the 25th day of December.  It is one of the most important Christian holidays.  In North American observance, heavy emphasis during the ceremony is placed on the Christian virtues of generosity and charity, expressed in part by gift-giving.  Gifts are left for family members in stockings symbolically hung to dry a chimney mantel or under a decorated tree.

The decorated tree is among the North American traditions brought over from Germany, where pre-Christian peoples had decorated trees with candles to celebrate Yule, the mid-winter ceremony.  To emphasize the additional Christian virtue of humility, gifts were not attributed to the actual giver, but to a supernatural visit from Saint Nicholas, a fourth century Greek bishop, whose image merged with the gift-giving Germanic father of gods, Wodan (Norse Odin), to because Santa Claus.

Like Wodan, Santa Claus has a long white beard and flies through the night sky to bring gifts. Germanic peoples have long celebrated in December by dressing up to represent some form of the Santa Claus character, and the Christians of the United States adopted the custom, primarily to present children with the image of a benevolent old man at parades, shopping malls, and parties.

This mask is an inexpensive, mass-produced buckram version, produced by the Dessart Brothers of Brooklyn, and presumably designed for private parties or home use, better to disguise the wearer. This specific mask was used in a classroom in the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s for the benefit of school children.

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