old timey games department: hallow-e'en

Games For All Occasions

“A Merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance.”

The desire to play and frolic seems to be a heritage of mankind. In infancy and early childhood this joy and exuberance of spirit is given full sway. In youth, that effervescent stage of human existence, “joy is unconfined.” But in middle age and later life we are prone to stile this wholesome atmosphere of happiness, with care and worry and perhaps, when a vexed or worried feeling has been allowed to control us, even forbid the children to play at that time. Why not reverse things and drown care and strife in the well-spring of joy given and received by reviving the latent spark of childhood and youth; joining in their pleasures passively or actively and being one of them at heart. So presuming that “men are but children of a larger growth,” the games, pastimes and entertainments described herewith were collected, remembered and originated respectively with the view of pleasing all of the children, from the tiny tot to, and including, the “grown-up,” each according to their age and temperament.

So reads the preface to Mary E. Blain’s compendium of amusements, Games For All Occasions, which I recently found during a dive through the bins of a local thrift store. Published in 1909, this copy was once owned by Helen Barrow of 53 King Edward Avenue in Toronto—if any friends or relatives are reading this post and played any of the games in the book, let me know if Helen enjoyed any of them.

After a quick browse, I knew this book could be the foundation for many posts. Since Halloween is almost upon us, why not start with suggestions for ghoulish festivities from a century ago?


First off, suggestions for appropriate invitations and home decorating. Note suggestions on how to decorate gas jets.




These excerpts show one of the book's major weaknesses: no illustrations. One supposes this aids the imagination of the party planners, but one or two diagrams could have provided hints for those scrambling to decorate their place at the last second...or at least provided an artist with a few dollars.

Most of the games that follow revolve around determining one's future true love or spouse. When I described several games to my girlfriend, she thought they were more appropriate for a baby/bridal shower than Halloween. You be the judge with the following examples of short games:

Take water and meal and make dough. Write on slips of paper names of several of opposite sex friends; roll papers into balls of dough and drop them into water. First name to appear will be future husband or wife.

Sit on round bottle laid lengthwise on floor, and try to thread a
needle. First to succeed will be first married.

For those of you who think no celebration is worth its salt without a little fire…

Two hazel-nuts are thrown into hot coals by maiden, who secretly gives a lover's name to each. If one nut bursts, then that lover is unfaithful; but if it burns with steady glow until it becomes ashes, she knows that her lover is true. Sometimes it happens, but not often, that both nuts burn steadily, and then the maiden's heart is sore perplexed.

Nuts roasting on a open fire...wasn't that later associated with Christmas? And, apart from a stray nut flying back at you, there's no ghoulish risk involved. Here's another way to play with fire...

Place a lighted candle in middle of floor, not too securely placed; each one jumps over it. Whoever succeeds in clearing candle is guaranteed a happy year, free of trouble or anxiety. He who knocks candle over will have a twelve-month of woe.

This game was probably also known as "Jack Be Nimble." Note potential to burn party venue down if knocked-over candle isn't well tended to. But if candle tricks don't satisfy your need to play with fire, try the next game!

1. The dragon consists of half a pint of ignited brandy or alcohol in a dish. As soon as brandy is aflame, all lights are extinguished, and salt is freely sprinkled in dish, imparting a corpse-like pallor to every face. Candied fruits, figs, raisins, sugared almonds, etc., are thrown in, and guests snap for them with their fingers; person securing most prizes from flames will meet his true love within the year.

2. Or, slips of paper on which verses are written are wrapped tightly in tin-foil and placed in dish. Brandy is poured on and ignited. The verse each person gets is supposed to tell his fortune.

Place burning dish in middle of bare table, for drops of burning spirits are often splashed about.

Blain does not include any legal disclaimers to spoil the fun to be had from burning brandy. Safety wasn’t a high priority in the following games either...

Cellar-stairs' test is where girl boldly goes downstairs backward, holding a mirror, and trying to catch in it the features of him who is to be her mate.

Walk downstairs backward, holding lighted candle over your head. Upon reaching bottom, turn suddenly and before you will stand your wished-for one.

I was unable to find any records of lawsuits against the author or publisher resulting from readers who injured themselves after taking a tumble down the stairs.


While most of the games require little more than paper, string, dough and fire, a few ask for a major time investment. For example:

A cozy corner or a convenient part of the room may be converted into an impromptu dispensary with the addition of the Love potions and receptacles containing them, presided over by Dr. Dopem and his assistants. There are a number of pill boxes containing different colored pills, which are nothing but little round candies. The powders, composed of powdered sugar or brown sugar are folded in the regulation way, only in paper of various colors. Plasters, court plaster cut in small pieces of different design. The directions for taking the powders, etc., may be read or told to each patient, as they are prescribed for, or a copied prescription could be given with each remedy. Tell the guests that you understand they are all more or less inoculated with the Love germ in some form and this condition, if neglected, may prove serious--so for their benefit, Dr. Dopem will prescribe for each, according to his need, a remedy which is guaranteed to have the desired effect.

We suggest that Dr. Dopem may want to use Barry White as background music (he did record a tune called Love Dispensary, right?). Make sure you know Dr. Dopem very well before playing this game, in case he or she slips something nasty into their medications. As for what the prescriptions could entail, knowing where your nearest bulk store is handy information...

Red pills--six, take one every two and a half minutes. Will cause your ideal to reciprocate your love.

Pink pills--four at once. Will renew your fading love.

White pills--three, taken with eyes closed. Will cure jealousy.

Black pills--three--take one between each breath. Will vanquish your rival.

Yellow pills--sneeze, take three pills and sneeze again--repeat if necessary. Will make you love the one who loves you.

Lavender pills--stand on left foot, place right hand on heart, take two pills, reverse position, stand on right foot, left hand on heart, take two pills. Will bring about a proposal--or consent to your proposal.

White powder--take with fingers crossed and eyes shut. Will make you fall in love with the first one of the opposite sex you see.

Pink powder--take with feet crossed. Will gain consent for a kiss from the right party.

Blue powder--take with right hand holding left ear. Will bring about an introduction to Miss or Mr. Right.

Red powder--take with right hand on stomach and standing on right foot. Will bring your heart's desire, providing you tell what it is.

Yellow powder-take while kneeling. Will make your rival jealous.

Purple powder--take with right hand and arm extended forward, left foot and limb extended backward. Will bring a speedy marriage.

Black powder--take while on left knee, with left hand on top of head. Will cause unwelcome attentions to cease.

The plasters worn conspicuously--have the following meaning:--

Worn on the right cheek--I love you.
On the left cheek--I dislike you.
On the forehead--I will be your friend.
On the nose--I am looking for a partner.
On the chin--I wish to speak to you.
At the corner of the mouth--I am willing to be kissed.

Prescriptions may be paid for with some trinket which may be redeemed as a forfeit. A forfeit may be demanded if directions are not faithfully carried out.

The concept of "forfeit" will be discussed in a future entry—think small prizes or sadistic ways to make the winner/loser look foolish.

One more game, whose name is appropriate for Halloween...

Long bright colored strings, of equal length are twined and intertwined to form a web. Use half as many strings as there are guests.

Remove furniture from center of a large room--stretch a rope around the room, from corner to corner, about four feet from the floor. Tie one end of each string to the rope, half at one end and half at one side of the room; weave the strings across to the opposite end and side of the room and attach to rope. Or leave furniture in room and twine the strings around it.

Each guest is stationed at the end of a string and at a signal they begin to wind up the string until they meet their fate at the other end of it.

The lady and gentleman winding the same string will marry each other, conditions being favorable; otherwise they will marry someone else. Those who meet one of their own sex at the other end of the string will be old maids or bachelors.

The couple finishing first will be wedded first. A prize may be given the lucky couple, also to the pair of old maids and the pair of bachelors finishing first.

We doubt that Blain would have been able to say those meeting "one of their own sex" at the other end of the string would also become loving couples.


The author also wrote a Halloween-specific spin-off, Games for Hallow-e'en, in 1912. Viewing this book at Project Gutenberg reveals this was a repackaging of the material contained in Games For All Occasions with the game listing rearranged. - JB


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