Need a last-minute Halloween costume idea?

If you’re still wondering what you’ll be for Halloween this year–and if our recent slate of Alice in Wonderland exhibitions hasn’t inspired you to go as the Queen of Hearts or the Cheshire Cat–here are some other random costume ideas drawn from creepy, silly, or just bizarre objects in our collections:

Standard pirate costumes are so 18th-century!  Try something different, like a monster pirate.  Or better yet, an historical monster pirate like Davy Jones.  Disney’s recent Pirates of the Caribbean films may have portrayed him as a slimy monster of the deep, but George Cruikshank’s old school Davy Jones from 1837 is far more fiendish.  You’ll need a standard pirate costume but with some horns on your head, a pointed tail if you can manage it, and some gnarly teeth.  The ability to shoot a beam of fire from behind your eyepatch might impress your friends but think of all the candy you’d melt. 

George Cruikshank, “Jack Outwitting Davy Jones.”  Etching from the serial Nights At Sea in Bentley’s Miscellany, 1837-8.  The Rosenbach, 1954.1880.3581.

In that same vein (harhar), why dress as a vampire (cape, fangs, lots of eyeshadow) when you could dress as an historic vampire?  Well, maybe… We still don’t know exactly how much Bram Stoker knew of the historical Vlad “The Impaler” Tepes or what motivated him to turn the 15th-century Wallachian nobleman into a vampire, but the bloodthirsty deeds of Vlad were well documented during his time, as in this German pamphlet titled Dracole Waida.  The portrait of Vlad on its frontispiece would make a great Halloween costume: that fantastic hat, the long dark locks of hair, the leather collar and fur mantle.  Don’t forget an aggressively horizontal mustache.  Fangs optional. 

Color woodcut frontispiece to Dracole Waida (Nuremberg: Peter Wagner, ca. 1488).  The Rosenbach, Incun488d

The “Wild West” is another tried-and-true costume theme, so here’s Wild Edna the Girl Brigand, aka. Old Avalanche, aka. The Great Annihilator.  Make sure you announce each of those nicknames before saying “Trick or Treat.”

Edward Wheeler, “Old Avalanche, or The Great Annihilator; or Wild Edna, The Girl Brigand.”  In The Deadwood Dick Library Vol. 1 No.8 (March 15, 1899).  The Rosenbach, DN57.

Or for a group costume you could try this neckless trio, drawn by a very young Charles Dodgson (aka. the future Lewis Carroll) in a kind of homemade magazine to amuse his family.  You can see this in our current exhibition Wonderland Rules: Alice @ 150.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.  Manuscript picture book.  [184-]  The Rosenbach, EL3 .D645 MS2. 

If you want a costume that’s really out there, you could shoot for an homage to William Blake’s Great Red Dragon in The Number of the Beast is 666.  Blake’s patron Thomas Butts commissioned him to do a series of Biblical watercolors, and this one is based on the New Testament’s Revelation 13: “And I stood upon the sand
of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads
and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the
name of blasphemy.”  I see a lot of red cellophane in your future if you attempt to make those wings…

William Blake, The Number of the Beast is 666.  Watercolor.  Ca. 1805.  The Rosenbach, 1954.0011.

 Now, if you fear confused looks or closed doors from your neighbors as you stalk the streets as any of the above monstrosities, not to worry–the Rosenbach welcomes such outlandish costuming at our Literary Costume Party this Saturday from 6-9 (more details here)–we’d love to see you there! 

Christina Doe raising the art of webbing to new heights. 

Patrick Rodgers is a curator and cryptkeeper at the Rosenbach.