Halloween Parties

Before GP, the standard Cottey Halloween tradition was a masquerade party. The first recorded Halloween party took place in 1899, and continued nearly every year thereafter. They were held in Main Hall's gymnasium until Neale Hall's gym was opened in 1921. While the early parties were sponsored by Cottey's Y.W.C.A., they were taken over by the junior class in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to having some spirited fun, the junior-hosted parties were a chance for the juniors to take a little revenge on the seniors. Cottey's Halloween parties changed shape in later years, until ultimately being taken over by the secretive GP tradition.

1899: The First Ghostly Gathering

"Your shade is expected to attend a ghostly gathering which haunts the college Saturday, October 29, at 7:30 o'clock," read the invitation to Cottey's 1899 Halloween party.1 The cards, illustrated with skull and crossbones, were found on each lunch plate in the Main Hall dining room. Cottey students and faculty gathered in the front hall and parlors that night, disguised and masked. They paraded around the buildings before descending into the gymnasium for refreshments and entertainment, including an enchanted well, fortune teller, and "gypsy tent."1

Halloween party in Neale Hall, 1958
"'Double bubble, toil and trouble...' rasped 'witches' Susan Seymour, Linda Hensley, and Karen Severs at the R.A.'s Halloween Party," 1958.7 (R.A. is the Recreation Association.)
A lively Halloween performance in Raney, 1965
A lively Halloween performance in Raney dining room, 1965.8
Halloween dinner in Raney dining room, 1965
Costumed guests at a Halloween dinner in Raney, 1965.8 The sign around her neck reads "I am not a spook!"

1944: The Juniors Give a Wicked Party

In the 1940s the junior Halloween party was an established Cottey tradition. Certainly one of the most memorable of the decade took place in 1944. On October 30, a notice was posted on the Main Hall bulletin board: "ALL YE HIGH AND MIGHTY SENIORS (and you juniors too) ARE INVITED TO A HALLOWE'EN PARTY SATURDAY NIGHT, NOVEMBER 3. MASQUERADE. All odd post-office box numbers dress as boys. All even post-office box numbers dress as girls."3

The event was held in Neale Hall, which was decorated with orange and black crepe paper, scarecrows, pumpkins, cornstalks, and a masked Dottey Cottey head on the wall.3 As each girl entered the gym that night, a junior grabbed her and told her she was an owl, wolf, cat, or bat. Confused but curious, each girl would meld with the crowd, visiting the fortune tellers' booths or biting apples off strings.

After a whistle blew, all were instructed to "make like the animal whose name you were given, and into groups with others of your kind."3 As howls, mews, and "Whoos" filled the room, each animal founds its place, and they all paraded out of Neale and through P.E.O.'s parlors. Their return gave the costume judges a chance to view each chilling ensemble, and as they deliberated, the guests enjoyed a variety show put on by the juniors. After a few songs and a "boogie-woogie," the judges announced the winners, and the girls were divided into their animal groups again.

A suite dressed up for Halloween, 1946
A suite dressed up for Halloween, 1946.6
Dottey Cottey, c. 1947
Dottey Cottey, the cartoon rendition of a typical Cottey student, was a popular mascot in the 1940s.
Hell Week initiation, 1946
Juniors bow before a senior during Hell Week, 1946.6 Juniors had to follow special rules regarding dress and behavior toward seniors during this initiation period.

As each group began playing games, a strange thing occurred. One by one, seniors were being plucked from the crowd and pulled toward the basement. Helen Christus was one such unfortunate soul, and lived to tell the tale:

     No sooner had I started on my merry way, rolling a potato across the floor with my nose, than a tall hunchback grasped me by the shoulder and began dragging me toward the cellar stairs. Pretending to think it was a joke, I laughingly pulled away from her, but she finally talked me into going. Perhaps those bony fingers around my neck had something to do with it.
     Before I fully realized what was happening, the aforementioned hunchback opened a door, and I found myself alone on the stairs. The obvious thing to do was to go down, so I reluctantly did. At the bottom of the steps I was blind-folded and led up what seemed to be a gangplank rising high into the air. After I felt myself to be quite high above the floor, I was suddenly given a shove by hostile hands. I stifled a scream, and consoled myself with the happy thought that the law would take care of the evil-doers. My agony, however, was short-lived, as I discovered that the board had actually been elevated only a few inches.
     Before I had time to recover from this shock, I was taken for my "last meal," which consisted of "frog-eyes." I later learned that they were only grapes, but at the time they were rather distasteful.
     After having swallowed the last bite, I hesitantly followed my guide to the "chopping block," where some fiend went through the motions of cutting off my head. I was relieved to find, after rising from my kneeling position, that the old familiar knob was still at the top of my neck, and to know that they had failed in their attempt to behead me. My blindfold was removed at this time, and I was happy in my poor, ungrounded belief that I was to be set free. Hardly had my eyes become accustomed to the light, however, before they detected a most startling sight. Very near to me lay a white, pasty-faced corpse: obviously a misguided soul who had entered earlier in the evening. Upon instructions, I timidly touched its face and found it to be a bit stickier than the average corpse. My stomach, by this time, was beginning to behave queerly, but luckily I was allowed to leave. "Alive!" I murmured gleefully as I stumbled up the steps.

In the 1940s, initiation rituals like Hell Week were in full swing at Cottey, and the junior-run Halloween parties were a time for the underclassmen to get even. This was a place where the seniors weren't quite so "high and mighty" and the juniors could have a little fun at their expense.

Following the senior class abductions, it was time for square-dancing, doughnuts, and cold cider.3 At last it was growing late, and weary guests shuffled out the door, glad to be "Cottey girls" ― and to have their heads intact.

Halloween dinner, 1975
Halloween dinner in Raney dining room, 1975.9
Halloween dinner vixens, 1975
Cigar-smoking vixens at Halloween dinner, 1975.9

1945: Junior Hard Times Party

The following year, 1945, the junior party took a different turn, harkening back to earlier years' "Hard Times" parties. It took place after Halloween, on November 4th.4 Again, it was a costume party that poked a little fun at the seniors: The walls of Neale Hall were decorated with caricatures of the upperclassmen. The evening began with charades and bobbing for apples. Mozelle Wilson won the final round of the bobbing contest, beating out President Mitchell and Miriam Weirick.

The guests danced the Virginia Reel before settling down to view the floor show. The acts included performances of tap, ballet, and Hawaiian dance, a jive on the piano, and "a style show of hats featuring tin trays, fruit, feathers, and teddy bears."4 Even "Frank Sinatra" made an appearance, resulting in the swooning and fainting of Miss Kenaston who was removed to a first aid station. At the end of the show, "Jeannette McCarthy, the mad painter who had been meticulously painting air throughout the program was finally taken in hand by the authorities and hauled off to State Hospital No. 3."4

The night ended after dancing to records and refreshments of doughnuts, apples, and cider.4 Per usual, the underclassmen had the last laugh: "As the guests drifted out, screams could be heard from the door as juniors with axle grease on their hands politely shook hands with the departing seniors."4

Patterns of Racism

Perhaps not surprisingly, undercurrents of racism mark many of these Halloween parties. The 1914 celebration included a minstrel show, where Cottey students performed in blackface as derogatory caricatures of black people.5 The Sphinx for that year included a brief description of the party written in white-authored "black vernacular:"

I thought I’d die—why, I thought I’d die myself. Dat sure am a scrumbunctuous ban’ to keep away dose hants on Hallowe’en. I jes’ laft myself sick. Yassum, Liza Ann, dey done had a most romantical fortune tellah and I’s gwine to be married to a moneyfied man and preambulate de whole worl’. I is! Sure, they had a sumpin to eat. Dis chile jes’ gasp fo’ bref atween courses. Goin’ again? You jes’ know it, Liza Ann.5

The 1944 Halloween party, described above, similarly stereotyped people of Color. Three out of the four prizes of the costume contest were awarded to students dressed as people of Color. The second and third prizes were given to five students portraying "negroes,"3 while the fourth prize went to two ladies dressed as a Chinese man and woman. "Each group of winners was met with enthusiastic, well-deserved applause," reads the article in the Bulletin.3

The Romani are the third group of people often misrepresented at these parties. Commonly referred to as "Gypsies," Romani peoples have been erroneously pigeonholed throughout history as mischievous, thieving, mystical, and lascivious individuals. They are most closely associated with the "fortune teller," a character especially popular during the Halloween season. At the first recorded Cottey Halloween party, there was both a fortune teller and a "gypsy tent."1 Fortune tellers, no doubt patterned after the Gypsy stereotype, were also present at the 1914 and 1944 celebrations.

Halloween in the Suites, 1975
Arkansas suite Halloween, 1975
Arkansas suite dressed for Halloween on the beach, 1975.9
Arkansas suite's haunted house, 1975
Arkansas suitemates terrify their visitors, 1975.9
Co-Thom suite in their Halloween costumes, 1975
Co-Thom had an interesting mix of characters, 1975.9
Co-Min suite's Halloween costumes, 1975
Co-Min suite, 1975.9
Co-Min suitemates in costume, 1975 
"Minear getting theirs together," 1975.9
  Missouri suite's Halloween costumes, 1975
Missouri suite's bathing beauties and country gals, 1975.9
Rosemary suite's Halloween costumes, 1975
"Rosemary styles down," 1975.9
  Rosemary suitemates in costume, 1975
Another shot of Rosemary's costumes, 1975.9

Works Cited:

  1. The Cottey Chronicle. 1899. Qtd. in Cottey College: The First 75 Years by Dr. Orpha Stockard. Joplin, MO: Joplin Printing Co., 1961: 20. Print.
  2. Troesch, Helen DeRusha. Life of Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard. Wayside Press, Inc., 1955. Print.
  3. Christus, Helen. "The Juniors Give a Party . . ." The Cottey College Bulletin. Mar. 1945: 16-17. Print.
  4. Six, Wanda. "Junior Hard Times Party." The Cottey College Bulletin. Dec. 1945: 9. Print.
  5. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1915: 83. Print.
  6. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1947. Print.
  7. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1959. Print.
  8. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1966. Print.
  9. Sphinx, The. Yearbook. Nevada, MO: Cottey College, 1976. Print.
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