Holiday Family History: Halloween & My Great Grandmother Irene

Although I have only a few holiday family history stories for Halloween, one in particular stands out, which involves my maternal great grandmother, Irene Vera (Balla) Sebok (1913-2006).

When my great grandmother was a young girl, between ten and thirteen years old, she and her family lived in Texas. In the weeks prior to Halloween, the one room country school she attended decided to hold a Halloween dance, for which students were encouraged to dress up. Growing up in a rural area and being one of eight children born to Hungarian émigrés, there was no access to or money for party dresses or Halloween costumes. Being a resourceful and creative young girl who liked to sew and make things, she was able to get enough purple, black, and orange crepe paper to make herself a Halloween costume dress. She was very proud of the dress because it looked like a real Halloween paper dress and didn’t really cost here anything to make it.

Despite the fact that it was October and clouds were in the sky, she did not leave the house with a coat, because she didn’t want to flatten down the dress she had worked so hard on. While walking to the dance, it began to rain; and by the time she reached the dance, she was soaked and her homemade paper dress was ruined, with the purple, black, and orange dye in the crepe paper running all together and all over her legs and arms. Her older brother, Alex, was already at the dance. Seeing her soaked and looking like an absolute mess, he gave her his coat to wear and immediately took her home. According to my great grandmother, neither of them were very pleased to leave the dance, and her brother even threatened to whip her. Of course, he didn’t and the whole event was something the two laughed about in later years, particularly my great grandmother.

Irene as a Young Girl (She is not wearing the dress she made–sadly, no photo exists of her wearing it.)

In recalling this story from her childhood, my great grandmother never mentioned where she received her inspiration or if she had heard that others made these kinds of costume dresses. Growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s my exposure to crepe paper was mainly party decorations, while costumes for Halloween were made from fabric or plastic. I have since learned that crepe paper dresses and costumes were widely used in the 1920’s and can still be found today. Martha Stewart even has a video on “How to Make Crepe Paper Costumes” on her website. An interesting article, entitled “Have a Crepey Halloween,” about Halloween and crepe paper costumes can be found on Jonathan Walford’s Blog, A Fashion History Perspective. The Kansas Historical Society’s Kansapedia website also features an article about Halloween that talks about crepe paper costumes.

 

I always enjoyed this story as a child, and hope that you do as well. Do you have any Halloween related stories in your family history? Have a Happy Halloween!