These photos were pulled from the archives. They depict ceremonies of yesteryear where Appalachians dressed in handmade costumes made from items they found around their homes. Dressing up back then took a lot more work than it does today. They couldn’t just go to the store and grab a mask off the shelf, it took intense planning and sourcing of materials to make even the most rudimentary costumes.
Although the costumes pictured would fool even the most devout Halloween lover, they weren’t just for trick-or-treating. They were used to re-enact Shakespeare in the courtyards of the Hindman High School like the young men, squeezed into tights, wearing feathered hats and flamboyant garb. Not only were students re-enacting classical theatre like Shakespeare, but they were displaying European history, as well.
The individual in the traditional Indian battle uniform standing next to the especially bumpy elephant was used to represent the British colonization of India. Indians fought as conscripted soldiers mounted on war elephants to maintain the British colonies in India. These elephants also served in battle as supply transporters, packing over a thousand pounds of ammunition, food, and equipment that horses could not. The Indians, using their knowledge of the environment, in addition to well-adapted war elephants kept the Indian colonies under control.
Other costumes like the man sporting a rifle, dressed in the fur hat, and the woman wrapped in a geometrically-design robe, portrayed stories of pioneers settling the Appalachian Mountain range. These were essential to teaching Appalachians how the mountains were settled and sprawling suburbs were cut into the soft peaks. They explained how Southeast Kentucky became the network of roads and townships it is today. Historic dramas like this one made it easier to educate a largely illiterate population with a vibrant, visual representation.
Costumes were used to tell our histories like the cotton-bearded man and heavily layered woman sitting on the porch of a hand-crafted cabin front. At first glance, they seem like any old couple that many of us have seen rocking back and forth, resting their bones, and hiding from the sun under a porch roof. However, these individuals were telling the story of Uncle Sol. Solomon Everidge was unable to read or write and wanted literacy for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Troublesome Creek. To make a better life for his descendants, Uncle Sol walked more than 100 miles to mail a transcribed letter to Katherine Pettit and May Stone to convince them to start the Hindman Settlement School.
Last, but not least, costumes were used in the same way they are today: for fun. Appalachians understood as well as anybody the fun that could be had by dressing up as something you weren’t. The barefoot horse wasn’t used to depict great battles, rich histories, or classical theatre; it was a fun way to enjoy the dances and events of Hindman. It was a way to make people laugh whilst showing off the creativity and ingenuity that built cities from scratch on the side of a mountain.
While you’re trick-or-treating dressed up as goblins and ghouls this Halloween, remember that you’re contributing to the historic past of homemade costumes and arts that sprung up in the valleys of Appalachia. Be someone else for just a second if you want, illustrate history, be creative, or just have a good time. No matter how you choose to celebrate Halloween this year, don’t forget to express yourself in whatever way makes you feel good. We here at the Hindman Settlement School would like to wish you a happy Halloween and encourage you to always express yourself.