Before Halloween became the de facto holiday of choice in America for children seeking goodies, there was Thanksgiving Masking. On the last Thursday in November, kids dressed up in costumes — typically made up of adult-looking clothes and either masks or dark, smudged faces — and go around the neighborhood begging for treats or scrambling for pennies.
The tradition started in the 19th century and, as far as I can tell, was mainly relegated to the northeastern U.S. Once the now-accepted traditions of Thanksgiving and Halloween took hold in the 20th century, masking vanished. Certainly one of the major developments that pushed it into obscurity was the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924.
Here’s a shot, most likely dated 1911, of a group of Thanksgiving Maskers scrambling for pennies. Notice the child with the smudged, black face on the left and the one with the mask in the middle. (Click for a larger version.)
Here’s another shot showing more costumes.
And a shot of an adult painting the face of a Thanksgiving Masker, also from 1911. Dig the fake mustache the kid on the right is sporting.
- Vintage Photo Wednesday, Vol. 15: Vintage Halloween Costumes (grayflannelsuit.net)
- Vintage Photo Wednesday, Vol. 17: Memories of Atlantic City (grayflannelsuit.net)
- Postal Boys: 1911 (shorpy.com)