Even when youre beyond the age of trick-or-treating (and Im not saying any of you are!), its fun to dress up at Halloween to entertain the little ones or impress fellow partygoers.
Youve mightve donned one of these history-inspired costumes at one time or another. We dug up some hidden history not revealed in the Halloween costume clichés:
- Uncle Sam isnt just a character: During the War of 1812, Samuel Wilson of Troy, NY, provided the army with beef in barrels labeled U.S. The letters stood for United States, but people joked they referred to “Uncle Sam.” The term came to mean the federal government; depictions of Uncle Sam appeared starting in 1852. In 1961, Congress officially saluted Uncle Sam Wilson as the progenitor of America’s national symbol.”
- You can morph into Rosie the Riveter with rolled-up sleeves and a red handkerchief in your hair. The name was popularized in a 1942 song, but there wasnt any one Rosie. The most famous image we associate with Rosie the Riveter, J. Howard Millers We Can Do It! poster, isnt her. Miller created the poster for the Westinghouse Co.s War Production Coordinating Committee, and it was posted at the Michigan plant for only two weeks in February, 1942. He didnt intend for it to portray Rosie.
Read more on the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Memorial Park website.
- Most Viking costumes involve a horned helmet, but in reality, Viking helmets never had horns, according to the American Museum of Natural History. Instead, these Norse explorers and warriors wore conical leather hats as they raided the European coast from the late 8th to the early 11th century. Fun fact: Vikings were quite clean for the timethey bathed every Saturday. Get more Viking fact vs. fiction here.
- The witch of popular cultureblack robe, pointy hat and warts a lá the Wicked Witch of the Westgot her start in Shakespeares MacBeth and the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. But those accused of witchcraft in the Salem witch trials of 1692 and 1693 looked like anybody else. The series of trials resulted in the hangings of 14 women and five men. Another man was crushed to death under stones in an attempt to force him to enter a plea.
Learn more about the trials and see related historical documents in the Famous American Trials website.
- Vampire costumes are big this year, thanks to the book Twilight and the movie based on it. The name of late 19th-century novelist Bram Stokers fictional vampire, Dracula, was inspired by a real historical figure: Vlad III (aka Vlad the Impaler), Prince of Wallachia, born in Transylvania in the 15th century. His Romanian surname, Dracula, meant son of the dragon; Vlads father had joined the Order of the Dragon.
- Thanks to Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Pirates of the Caribbean and other popular depictions, pirate costumes sport colorful bandanas, jewelry, an eye patch, a stuffed parrot and maybe a hook or wooden stump. Your typical early 18th-century pirate dressed for the most part like sailors did. The parrot cliché probably arose because many pirates benefited from the trade in exotic animals; the eye patch and hook/stump because of the risky profession. See more theories in this pirate Q&A.