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A Red Scary Halloween: Costume Ideas From Tamiment; or, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Norman Thomas!

Halloween is fast approaching and we are taking our reference services to the next level with some radical costume suggestions based on our equally radical collections. You might not think of turning to the archives for Halloween costume ideas, but if you remember Ghostbusters with any clarity, you’ll know that ghosts love the library. Here are a few possibilities:


Czobel, A. and C.Kahn. Karl Marx as Labor Defender 1848-1871. International Labor Defense, New York, NY., undated; Reference Center for Marxist Studies Pamphlet Collection; PE 043; Box 72, Folder 8; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.

Although we do not have Karl Marx’s personal papers at Tamiment, his presence looms large here given the importance of his writings to various communist and socialist activists and organizations. Tamiment holds the records of the Communist Party of the United States (TAM 132), as well as collections of many party members, including New York City Councilman Peter V. Cacchione (TAM 073) and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (TAM 118). The base of the costume is relatively simple: a suit, white collared shirt, beard, and glasses on a long chain. Add a red item of clothing or carrying around a copy of either The Communist Manifesto or Das Kapital if you would like to increase the likelihood that people will recognize the costume. If you are looking for a couples costume, go as the personification of class struggle between those that own the means of a production and the proletariat that provides the labor for production. Argue all night for verisimilitude.

If you’re going to a Halloween dance this year, Emma Goldman may just be the perfect costume. In her 1931 autobiography Living My Life, she reflects upon being admonished for her dancing and convivial manner as being somehow antithetical or detrimental toward advancing anarchist efforts, stating, “I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from convention and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy.” This passage has resulted in a slogan with several variations attributed to Goldman (although she probably never said or wrote it): “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution!” For your Goldman costume, wear a blouse with a long skirt, pince-nez glasses on a chain, and a large, floppy hat. You may want to take inspiration from her famous mug shot, or look our collection of her letters (TAM 012) and the papers of her partner Alexander Berkman (TAM 067). And then dance.


Ethel Mannin (left) and Goldman (right) at Conway Hall in London, 1936; Daily Worker and Daily World Photographs Collection; PHOTOS 223; Box 33, Folder 6633; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.


American Airlines Flight Service College application, 1972; Stewardesses for Women’s Rights Collection; WAG 061; Box 1, Folder 6; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University

Cultural icons make great costumes because of they are so recognizable; semiotically, that is how they operate. Rosie the Riveter is one of the great ones, representing the American women who worked in factories during World War II, and more broadly women’s economic power and strength in the labor force. The term was first introduced into the American lexicon with the 1942 song “Rosie the Riveter,” and later became associated with J. Howard Miller’s 1942 “We Can Do It!” poster and Norman Rockwell’s cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943. A Rosie costume is incredibly easy, requiring either coveralls or a button down work shirt and a bandana or scarf to cover the hair. Learn more about the experience of real-life “Rosies” that delve beyond this imagery by looking at oral histories of The Real Rosie the Riveter Project.

If you’d prefer a slightly more contemporary costume on the subject of women in the workplace, why not grab a few friends and dress as the ladies from the wonderful 1980 film 9 to 5. Sing the title theme all night long. Tamiment holds many collections documenting the challenges many women face at work, such as sexual harassment and wage discrimination, including the Records of Stewardesses for Women’s Rights (WAG 061), the Women on the Job Records (WAG 240), and the United Women Firefighters Records and Photographs (WAG 057). Look through these collections to read about these women’s experiences and the actions they took to improve their workplace conditions.
If you’d like to base your costume on someone from the world of entertainment, Tamiment still has options for you. During the 1940s and 1950s, certain screenwriters, actors, directors, and musicians were denied employment because of their real or suspected political beliefs and associations. Entertainers suspected of being members or sympathizers of the Communist Party or other progressive political causes were barred from work, surveilled, and investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Prominent entertainers blacklisted during this time period include Charlie Chaplin, satirist Dorothy Parker, and folk singer (and stop-motion snowman) Burl Ives, all of whom would make excellent Halloween costumes. For further information on the Hollywood blacklist, check out the CPUSA Records (TAM 132), the Actor’s Equity Association Records (WAG 011), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) National Office Records (WAG 281).
Have a safe and happy Halloween from Tamiment Library! And remember, the call (slip) is coming from inside the house!

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