Victorian-Themed Halloween

October is the month of death and candy in North America, so let’s talk about a steampunk-Holmes-Victorian Halloween. Besides your best clockwork sky pirate garb, I don’t have costume ideas, just some inspiration and factoids.


Jack the Ripper

Synonymous with the words “serial killer”, Jack the Ripper murdered female prostitutes in the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. The cases were never solved, and authorities have never identified the man. Some point to the precise use of the knife to remove specific organs was a sign that he had surgical or anatomical expertise.

Although the Bartitsu Club was only for the upper class, the unfortunates could have used the personal defence tactics when such a monster was on the streets.

Spooky Magic

The fortune-teller has existed since before the Oracle at Delphi, but much of the spooky magic associated with Halloween was hugely popular about a century ago.

Look up these prominent phenomena from the Victorians:

  • Aleister Crowley
  • Helena Blavatsky, Theosophical Society
  • Seances, Houdini debunking

Macabre Literature

The written word gained new exemplars of horror in turn of the century America.

Edgar Allan Poe was an author and poet best known for mystery and the macabre. He invented the detective fiction genre,and was a pioneer of the short story format. His most famous work, a poem called “the Raven” is a Halloween classic and required reading for the Goth lifestyle.

Howard Philips Lovecraft was born in 1890 and the bulk of his work involving ancient magic, secret societies, alien gods and curses were published in the 1920’s. My biggest frustration with his work is the heroes keep fainting.

Sweets in 1890

What would Halloween be without children begging for candy? What might they have received had they trick-or-treated a century ago?

Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum existed, as well as Chicklets (which I always got in my Halloween sack) and Sterling gum, as evidenced by these advertisements.

A favourite song from O Brother Where Art Thou (2000), Big Rock Candy Mountain, was popular in the 1890’s. If you don’t remember it from the film, here’s another rendition:


If you’re like me, you like a scary movie for the holiday. Georges Méliès, a pioneer in filmmaking and featured in Hugo (2011), made many scary movies between 1896 and 1912. You’d recognize footage from A Trip to the Moon (1902). From the Haunted Castle (1896) and the House of the Devil (1896) to the Ghost of Sulphur Mountain (1912), the subject of ghosts and devils pervades his work, mainly because the supernatural gave him the excuse to create illusions of vanishing, transformations, levitations and hellish set designs.

Here are a few modern recommendations in our theme:

  • Re-Animator (1985), based on Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Re-Animator”
  • The Raven (2012), a killer is inspired by Poe’s poem.
  • From Hell (2001), a Jack the Ripper movie with Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. In many ways the greater crime is against cinema.
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999), speaking of Johnny Depp, here’s his portrayal within the quintessential Halloween tale. I prefer the animated one: Disney’s the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1949). The original story was published in 1820, so a little earlier than our other topics.

Haunted House

This year, I’m going to be performing at a haunted house, playing the role of Hades. If you’re not at a party, reserve your spot on our guided tour of the Underworld and the merciless Greek gods. You heard about Prometheus chained to the rock, having his liver eaten? Yeah, you’ll see that. Here’s the Facebook Event.

Tickets are at

devonboorman Devon Boorman is the Co-Founder and Director of Academie Duello Centre for Swordplay, which has been active in Vancouver, Canada since 2004. Devon’s expertise centres on the Italian swordplay tradition including the arts of the Renaissance Italian rapier, sidesword, and longsword, as well as knife and unarmed techniques.
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