Halloween is Coming…

October 21, 2016 -

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Autumn is beautiful here at the American Museum. The quality of light in our grounds is stunning, and mist often hangs in the Limpley Stoke valley early in the morning. The trees take on their autumn colours and do a passable impression of a New England Fall. Preparations for our Christmas season begin in earnest, but there is still time to celebrate that most American of holidays— Halloween.

Halloween draws on a range of cultural traditions. The Celtic festival of Samhain (from the Old Irish for ‘summer’s end’) was celebrated on 31 October in medieval Ireland and Scotland. Samhain marked the beginning of the dark half of the year, and was seen as an ‘in-between time’ when spirits passed more easily between worlds. Later, the Christian tradition of All Hallow’s Day because associated with the earlier pagan festival. The festival of Halloween made its way to America with Scottish and Irish immigrants in the nineteenth century, where African American and Mexican traditions were probably added to the mix.

This Halloween we’ll be celebrating the sinister side of our collections, and Claverton Manor itself, with a series of twilight events. You can join us for a private Ghost Tour on Wednesday 26 or Thursday 27 October, or drop in for Fright at the Museum on Friday 28— an evening of scares and ghost stories from different periods of American history. Here’s a few creepy tales from our collection to whet your appetite.

‘Coffin’ Clock, Lee Room

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This long-case clock dates from the 1740s, and would have been made by a home craftsman in America.  The wood is pine painted with old buttermilk red paint. Traditionally, this type of tall clock was referred to as a ‘coffin clock’ because of its long, rectangular shape. Our volunteer guides speculate that such a clock might have been produced by the local coffin-maker, because of the rough-and-ready nature of the craftmanship.

Most of the time, our clock sits quietly in Lee, our 1740s Period Room. On more than one occasion, however, people have reported a pale green light shining from behind it…

Figure of La Muerte, New Mexico Gallery

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This ghastly spectre crouches in our New Mexico galleries. Her cadaverous figure is hidden in the cape and bonnet of an elderly lady; her sunken glass eyes are clouded with age. Such figures were placed in nineteenth century moradas (informal churches) by members of the New Mexican Penitente Brotherhood, as a reminder of mortality. Figures of La Santa Muerte (Holy Death) remain common in Mexico and parts of the American Southwest. She is thought to draw on both Aztec and Catholic beliefs and is associated with healing, protection, and safe delivery to the afterlife.

Mirror, Lee Room

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The mottled glass of this mirror dates from the 1730s. An American folk tradition says that if a young girl carries a mirror into a deserted, darkened house on Halloween night she will see the face of her future beloved reflected within it. If a more unhappy fate awaits her, the spectre of death will appear instead. The Pennsylvania legend of Bloody Mary, the ghoul who appears if you chant her name three times in front of a darkened mirror, will feature in our Fright at the Museum tour.

New Orleans Bedroom

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The last and most dramatic room in the Museum is our New Orleans bedroom, which represents a room in a plantation house in the early 1860s. Volunteer guides have sometimes reported strange sightings in this space. On one notable occasion, a guide witnessed the figure of a maid in Victorian dress glide noiselessly across the room and disappear through the wall next to the wardrobe.

Whatever your belief in the otherworldly, the American Museum is a great place to celebrate Halloween with some spooky tales. Why not join an evening tour and see if you spot anything lurking in the shadows…