Archive for October, 2018

crow-standing-on-branch-in-front-of-full-moon-scary-halloween-sceneHalloween?  Best of all possible times, when the veil grows parchment-thin and occasionally tears.  Ah, that, when we suddenly see what was always there but hidden.  What a shame that the ancient, ritual bow to what Freud called Das Unheimliche, the Uncanny, is now nearly buried in an array commercialized distractions.

An overkill of dismembering zombies, inflatable yard-coffins and plastic cat skeletons has dulled our ability to perceive the eerie strangeness hidden just behind the familiar.  Still, it is now that the Uncanny, the creepy, the unsettling, are close.  And they’re scary.  Even when they’re vegetables.

So here’s the mystery.  From the late 1800’s to 1918, Victorian England and America were addicted to postcards.  They were cheap and fun and sent with a frequency that must have burdened postal services, especially near holidays, including Halloween.  Collector’s Weekly documents some outstanding Halloween examples and gives credit to the artists.  Missing from that journal’s display, however, are the creepiest – the many, many postcards featuring completely unnerving, anthropomorphized vegetables.

vegetable 10


With the exception of the dismayed beet at center, this one isn’t too creepy despite resemblances to Trump (lower right) and certain contemporary Republican senators, merely strange.  But the question of Why vegetables? haunts me.  Yes, autumn and the harvest, with a concurrent Celtic tale about a drunken miscreant named Jack, who was so damned even hell wouldn’t admit him.  Cursed to wander eternity forever with only a single burning coal-from-hell carried inside a lantern made of a turnip to light his way, he became Jack O’Lantern.  Over time his turnip became the easier-to-carve pumpkin, so we get it about pumpkins.  But what about demonic gourds, squashes, beets, potatoes and onions, occasionally accompanied by apples, pears and watermelons?




This pumpkin driver of a watermelon is vastly more sinister than the bat or the cat or the witch.  A gleeful Charon heading for the River Styx?  Eerily apt.


The Victorian practice was to look in a mirror by candlelight at midnight on Halloween in order to see your true love or the future, depending on your gender.  For women, presumably,  the only possible future was dependent on getting married.  This one, kneeling eagerly before the eternally damned Jack, must have had a wretched future.

cutting cake

Here creepy gourds with corn-cob arms and beet hats attack a cake.  But what is the cake?  Can’t help but think at this point it’s the planet, but what was it then?

devil pulling popper

Enter the startling (two-party?) relationship of vegetable and demon.  In this and all the demon/veggie-themed postcards, the demons appear sophisticated, dapper and oddly benign in comparison to the larger and horrifically grinning veggies.  What can this mean?


Diabolical pumpkin casts a knowing, conspiratorial glance to something above the scene as happy apples clamber into a bobbing tub only to realize as they jump that they’re going to perish!  (The similarity to contemporary Republican behavior is inescapable, but these apples are from the previous century.  So the comparison is unfair, isn’t it?)

Witch 1

Note courteous demons sitting properly at the table as obnoxious veggies writhe and scream for (vegetable?) soup.

Odd Vintage Halloween Postcard (2)

Even the demons are appalled at this grotesque and inexplicable romantic pairing.  The red shoes with moon clips and moon headdress suggest that the woman is a witch, but why is she seducing a child-eyed pumpkin with zucchini limbs?  And disparities in spelling over time notwithstanding, “Gobelins” were a 15th century family of French dyers later famous for tapestries.  We can only assume the author to have meant “goblins.”

line of pumpkins

Creepiest of all and what can this mean?  Again the red shoes, so the woman is a witch, but why the parade of pumpkin/zucchini (or are those cucumbers?) men dancing across the sky to do what?  The first seems to bow to her, but the second glares with murderous intent while the third fearfully watches the second as the fourth notices something off to his right.  Maybe the photographer?  She isn’t afraid of them but should be.  Or should have been.  It’s too late for her now.  This scene reflects a time 120 years in the past.  Or does it?

All art, especially popular art, is to some extent political, and I can’t help but see the polite, thoughtful and unfortunately passive demons as contemporary Democrats, and the hideous vegetable men as contemporary Republicans, but over a century ago, why vegetables?

Surfing the Net for variants of “late 19th and early 20th century vegetable iconography” turns up nothing.  Nor does any combination of “demon, devil, evil or hell” and “vegetable.” The meaning of these images in their time is just not accessible.

My ever-into-pop-culture grandmother would definitely have seen and might even have sent these postcards at Halloween 120 years ago.  They were available everywhere and cost a penny, as did the postage.  She would have understood the evil veggie symbolism and been happy to explain it to me.  But in the 11 years that my life was concurrent with hers, I never asked!

So please respond with every erudite theory you may have about vegetables while I research a bunch of later postcards featuring young and curiously buxom witches.


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