The Halloween Collection of Sarah Hill
Model Sarah Hill is a former member of Houston Press's Gothic Council that we have previously described as Mary Poppins as imagined by Quentin Tarantino. She maintains an amazing collection of vintage Halloween memorabilia and spooky knickknacks. Thousands of items are carefully arranged all around her home, with hundreds more awaiting display space in her attic and office.
"I've loved Halloween since I was a kid, but not for the typical reason of getting to dress up," said Hill. "I'm attracted to things aesthetically. I find a lot of comfort in certain colors and visual aesthetics you see in a lot of Halloween stuff. Christmas stuff too, actually. I like to surround myself with these objects and just look at them. I don't know what it's like to be a drug addict, but this is my addiction. It makes me happy."
With the Halloween season in full bloom, we asked Hill to take us on a little tour of her collection, and found five of her most interesting items to feature.
The first exhibit was a vintage candy container from the 1960s that is a jack o' lantern on top of a clear black cat in which candy corn is stored. The candy in the container is actually the original candy corn that was packaged with the novelty. Jokingly, we asked Hill if she'd ever been tempted to try the ancient confections. She said no, one of the reasons being that when she received the item from eBay, the hollow base had been full of dead beetles who had become trapped while trying to get to the candy corn and died.
The candy should be perfectly safe regardless. The sugar acts as a preservative in most treats, ensuring that they never really spoil. We actually developed a taste for expired chocolate thanks to a disreputable vending machine supplier. Still, it almost certainly tastes terrible since it was manufactured half a century ago. Well, more terrible than candy corn usually tastes, anyway.
Hill's favorite things in her collection are Union Products blow moulds, the light-up plastic yard decorations that were popular until Walmart put the company out of business in 2006. They were the creation of Donald Featherstone, an Ig Noble Award-winning artist who was also the designer of the pink flamingo yard ornament. There are more than 100 of these rare and hard to find items in her collection, though she says her hoard is only an eighth of the size of a friend with similar tastes.
Hill is sensitive to the way light affects her moods, and particularly enjoys the illumination from the moulds. The prize in her house is an extremely rare mould of Bela Lugosi.
"I'd love to go up one day and put all of the blow moulds on my roof," she said. "It would really perk up the day of the people on the planes that are always overhead."
She next drew our attention to a liquor serving set from 1950s Japan meant to look like a poison decanter. Made of porcelain, there's a tremendous market for these items on eBay. They're a perfect companion to the Michter's Whiskey bottle shaped and painted like a witch riding a broomstick. Michter's Distillery was founded by Mennonite famers in the 18th century and produced a variety of liquors until it closed in 1989. They were famous for the variety of special liquor bottles including the witch on the next page, a football and the death mask of King Tuthankhamun.
The witch bottle is quite appropriate for Hill. She is related to Susanna North Martin, one of the victims of the Salem witch trials. Martin, Hill's 12th degree cousin, was a deeply religious and cantankerous woman in her 70s when she was brought to trial. Rev. Cotton Mather referred to her as "one of the most impudent, scurrilous, wicked creatures of this world." She had a history of threats and quarrels with her neighbors, and had actually escaped a previous charge of witchcraft 23 years prior.
During her trial she was adamant of her innocence and defiant of the circus. She openly laughed at the fits that the "bewitched" girls that had accused her threw in her presence. In the end she was condemned as a witch and hung. Her property was confiscated by the town, a common result, and often a cause within itself for the encouraging of witchcraft accusations. Martin's body was secretly cut down by her wife and husband and given a Christian burial in a secret location. Hill hopes to visit Salem for the purpose of going through family records in an attempt to find her resting place.
Death and funerals also feature prominently in Hill's collection. Among the items she has is an incredible find, a Victorian-era golden mourning locket with a portrait hand-painted on ivory. She ran across the item in Rockport and was able to purchase it for only $40, despite the gold alone being worth easily twice that price. The item apparently belonged to a member of the Roebuck family, and the woman in the portrait is referred to as Aunt Spider.
Mourning jewelry items were meant to memorialize departed loved ones. They were part of a much more -- pardon the pun -- alive grieving tradition in the 19th century. During this time, it was very common for women to pose with the corpses of their dead children before interment, or to have a loved one's hair woven into wreaths or set in trinkets. People would often wear these accessories for the rest of their lives.
A good example would be Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the 16th president. Mrs. Lincoln suffered the loss of all but one of her children in addition to her husband. She was obsessed with séances, and would often hold them at the White House in an attempt to contact her dead children.
After the president's assassination, Mary assumed mourning clothes until her death, always wearing a black dress and a black veil. Some widows in mourning would gradually shed pieces of black clothing over a certain period of time as a sign of coming out of bereavement. Even then, upon remarrying they were expected to wear gray dresses with a black veil, not white.
We didn't even scratch the surface of Hill's massive Halloween collection. Hopefully next year she'll have us out again to see what she's added to it.
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