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Have yourself an old-fashioned Halloween

Goldberg: Party decorations, candy bags with vintage touch
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

“The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” may be making a buzz at the box office, along with a string of other blockbuster horror movies released just in time for Halloween. But old-fashioned — scary yet not gory — is also back in a big way. Mixed in with the usual bright-orange, plastic party props featured in store windows and cyber shop displays are vintage loot bags, papier-mâché maracas and other reproductions of party decorations from the first half of the 1900s.

“Old-fashioned (party supplies) is our No. 1 category for Halloween,” says Melinda Konopko, co-founder of one-stop party and gift shop plumparty.com.

Old-fashioned Halloween at plumparty.com translates into vintage party props. Paper and metal, rather than plastic, define these reproductions of vintage products. A set of four stand-up cardboard dolls, shaped like black cats, was first released in 1941. Known as the “hep cat orchestra,” the quartet sells for $8.50. A slender black cardboard cat, which rests on a bed of orange tissue paper, made its first appearance in 1949. The cat centerpiece costs $9.25.

Some of the props date back to the 1920s. The “dancing” figures, made of cardboard and tissue paper, debuted in 1927. The decorative pieces, shaped like a witch or a cat, sell for $8 at plumparty.com.

“Decorations from the 1920s may feature dark scary imagery but, not guts and blood,” says Ronda Grim, founder of oldfashionhalloween.com. Each piece is “made with extraordinary attention to detail and color,” she adds. In contrast, “Halloween products now a days feature shiny, gory and licensed merchandise.”

Grim’s cyber shop, based in Salem, Ore., not Salem, Mass., has everything from classic crepe paper streamers priced from $1 to $1.50, to vintage postcards for $25 each. As for the surname Grim, Grim says she “married in to that one” so she can’t claim “a childhood influence” on her long-standing affection for Halloween.

Vintage party props also have “hit a nerve” with customers at party and gift shop quincyshop.com. says Kim Turner, director of Internet operations. The cyber shop — located in Seaside, Fla., not Quincy, Mass., — stocks mostly kids arts, crafts, toys and games, but also has a small selection of retro-Halloween party props.

Since vintage is back this Halloween, it’s almost natural to consider throwing an old-fashioned party. In addition to putting up vintage decorations, here are some tips to recreate a retro-Halloween bash.

1. To set the tone, snail mail invites instead of e-mailing them. Do it right and pick up some Halloween postcards with vintage images. Check out the postcards packs at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

Best value at amazon.com is the 24 pack of “Old-Fashioned Halloween Postcards” for $4.95.

2. Carve a pumpkin. Party planners can find everything they need to know about carving a pumpkin and more at pumpkincarving101.com. Lesser known tricks of the pumpkin trade include how to start a pumpkin patch and burial rituals for pumpkins the day after Halloween. There’s also a list of common household tools, which can be used to carve pumpkins the old-fashioned way.

Tools for carvers
Pumpkin carvers with little time to dig up the right tools can order relatively inexpensive store-bought kits. Denver, Colo.-based pumpkinmasters.com. makes a series of kits with different tools and patterns. The least expensive, priced at $6.95, comes with a poker, drill and two saws plus 16 craving patterns. This year, the company introduced a CD-ROM version for $14.95, which includes a pattern-maker CD that enables master carvers to create thousands of designs. Pumpmasters.com products are sold in brick-and-mortar stores nationwide and online at yankeeharvest.com.

Make sure to save the pumpkin seeds to roast, and then serve them at the party. A simple roasting recipe can be found online in Wanda’s kitchen at halloweenkitchen.com. Also check out the recipes for the bloody popcorn and the vampire punch.

3. As for party pickings, think beyond traditional sweets that have almost no nutritional value. Festive foods don’t have to be sugar-filled or heavy. In the early 1900s, Halloween party food was light, according to Brenda J. Hyde, editor of oldfashionedliving.com, an online magazine that encourages “families to keep the traditions, memories and keepsakes that had been passed down from generations past.” Hostesses served what might be found at an afternoon tea today. Egg, tuna or chicken sandwiches, cut into fourths, were served with thin cucumber slices, herb butter, tomato or watercress on the side. Side dishes included fruit compote, salad and/or salted nuts. Today, the nuts wouldn’t be salted and the egg sandwiches might be egg-whites only.

Also serve up some seasonal fruits, cut-up veggies, popcorn, apple cider and/or fresh grape juice (both juices are bountiful in the fall and have lots of vitamin C.)

4. Support your local farmer and buy the produce at a fruit stand.

5. Serve finger foods and drinks in carved-out pumpkins. Simply cut off the top and hollow out the innards with a spoon. Large pumpkins can be used to hold cider. Medium-sized pumpkins are well suited for cut-up veggies. Use the baby or mini-pumpkins for dips.

6. Also use hollow-out pumpkins as votive candles. Cut a small hole in the top of a few apples to use as a candle holder for tapers. Make sure to pick apples which are steady on a flat surface, so they won’t topple over.

7. Tell ghost stories. Bob for apples. Halloween also used to be a time to tell fortunes, “particularly those designed to predict the future in matters of the heart,” says Diane C. Arkins, author of “Halloween: Romantic Customs and Art of Yesteryear” (Pelican Publishing, 2000). Some simple fortune-telling techniques she recommends include:

Burn a pair of chestnuts in a fireplace — a nut that explodes symbolizes an explosive relationship while two nuts burning quietly portend contentedness;

Enlist partygoers to search the party area for a ring, a symbol of a speedy marriage, a thimble, which represents single “blessedness,” and a penny, which predicts wealth.

To learn clues to their sweethearts’ dispositions, let blindfolded guests choose from dishes of assorted flavored liquids such as sugar/sweet, vinegar/sour or peppery/hot-tempered.

8. Set up trick of treat for UNICEF boxes around the room. Order the classic yellow boxes from www.unicefusa.org/trickortreat. Funds raised help support programs for disadvantaged children around the world with immunization, education, health care, nutrition, clean water and sanitation.

9. Stuff goodie bags with healthy or non-edible treats. In keeping with the vintage theme, consider the wooden push toys at plumparty.com. A pack of four sells for $12. The plastic ants (about 288 in a $7 bag) and the spider rings (bag of about 30 for $2.50) are also kind of cool. The ants come in handy for summer time picnics as well.

Inexpensive — and even some useful — party favors abound at Omaha, Nebraska-based orientaltrading.com, which stocks more than 700 trinkets for Halloween. A dozen pencils, decorated with ghosts and/or pumpkins, only cost $1.95. Rounding up, that’s 17 cents a pencil. Add some “sticky” puppet fingers — 12 for $2.95 or 13 cents a piece. The eraser skeletons in the plastic coffin are way cool and only cost $3.95 for two dozen or about 17 cents. I favor the little notebooks, which come in a pack of 24 for $4.95 or 21 cents. The 3-by-5 inch pads are perfect to surreptitiously take notes when covering a Halloween story. Total damage: 68 cents. Total fun: priceless.

10. Corny but true: A penny saved is a penny earned. Remember to shop the day after Halloween for marked-down goods for next year.

Most of all, stay warm, be safe (American Red Cross posts some safety tips online) and have a happy Halloween!

Teri Goldberg is MSNBC.com’s shopping writer. Write to her at personalshopper@msnbc.com