A historic tale of the skeletons of Halloween….
With a rattle of bones they walk through the night,
Skeletal white form, so full of fright.
Cast as death, you should fear them so,
A scary specter used often for show.
With a deadly cold grip of its bony hand,
Bring forth such horror one can hardly stand,
Comes the skeleton in the form of man.
Skeletons, when you think about it were the first monsters. At the sight of a victim’s bones, primitive man would feel fear, sensing danger was nearby. This created the association of death with the skeletal remains. It wasn’t until 1538 that skeletons were depicted as monsters, animated creatures of death by artist Hans Holbein the Younger. Giving the grim reaper the appearance of a cloaked skeleton, he made skeletons into a truly grim creature. Through the gothic period of literature in the 19th and early 20th century, they become the spook that would pop out of the closet, adding a quick scare to mostly slow reads. They were featured most prominently in the book, The Specter over Bornstein Manor, by Eliot Ralston (1883), which was an old creepy tale about skeletal ghosts that terrorize a group of children in a decrepit orphanage in England.
In movies, they were first used as magic gimmicks by Mêlées and other silent movie filmmakers. Then later for cheap scares, they appeared in movies such as The Screaming Skull (1958), and House on Haunted Hill (1959). Also in 1958 walking skeletons entered the world of fantasy with The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, famously animated by Ray Harryhausen. This all has ultimately led to the greatest film skeleton of them all, Jack Skellington from the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
As far as Halloween goes, skeletons were one of the first decorations and costumes ever made to celebrate the holiday. The greatest decoration being the Beistle life-size skeleton, made in the 50’s and still being produced to this day. Skeletons are only third to witches and Jack-o’-lanterns in the amount of decorations produced. Countless rubber and plastic masks have been produced by Don Post, Ben Cooper, and others. And as far as Halloween props go, every kid wanted a life size plastic skeleton growing up. So when it comes to the old bones, he is the pumpkin king of Halloween.