1907 Halloween, Illegal Crossdressing, General Mischief


1908 Postcard catches boys stealing a gate as a common Halloween prank.
1908 Postcard catches boys stealing a gate as a common Halloween prank.

Halloween can be a terrible time for defenders of order and morals.

Has it always been so? Let’s pick a  date and go back. How about 1907 in Pittsburgh ?

The Pittsburg Press can take us back.

Oh my! It is much worse then than now.

The newspaper reported scores of men arrested for dressing as women. Similar numbers of women were arrested for donning men’s clothes — some ladies even tried getting into saloons that way.

Okay, so crossdressing doesn’t offend you.

How about hugging strangers?

Police officers dutifully rounded up people, probably drunken, who were caught hugging people they didn’t know.

The biggest problem, though, was when men and boys linked themselves together arm-in-arm and marched wedge-like down the street to plow up or over whomever they encountered.

Many ended up in hospitals.

It is a common practice going back to ancient times. Whenever males sense they have enough numbers to take on a mob, they form a wedge.

It was outlawed by Pittsburg,  Allegheny and many surrounding communities in 1908. (yes, that’s how Pittsburgh was spelled at the time.)

Also banned was the annoying and often dangerous practice of thrusting ticklers (feather dusters) into people’s faces along the Halloween parade route.

 Throwing talcum powder or flour into an unsuspecting face also was popular. Probably the result of watching too much vaudeville.

All of this and much more can be found in a single issue of the Pittsburg Press here.  Samples of the reported Halloween mayhem follow:

“From end to end of Allegheny county, through townships, boroughs and cities, the riotous spirit of fun reigned unchecked, and it was the ‘wee small’ hours before the hilarious maskers deserted the streets to seek a well-earned repose.

“Never has Pittsburg had a Halloween celebration that approached in magnitude and joyousness the merry outburst of last night. But into it crept the much-condemned spirit of lawlessness, and throughout the evening the police were kept busy breaking up attempts at disorder, preventing wrong actions and maintaining a semblance of the degree of respectability of which Father Pitt has always been so proud.

“This was the one lamentable feature of the celebration, for, despite the police orders to the contrary, the rougher element formed dangerous flying wedges, threw flour and talcum powder and insulted women, while many of the latter, wearing male attire, drank long and deep at many saloon bars.”

Reporters were waiting for the hung-over revelers in police court the next morning.

“With sheepish faces, over six-score Pittsburgers who went too far in celebrating Halloween last night, appeared this morning at the Central police station and took their medicine, which was dispensed by Magistrate Frank J. Brady with leniency which took into consideration the pang of ‘the morning after.’

“Girls who donned male attire and who got into trouble, shamefacedly admitted their masquerading and in most cases were released.

“In Allegheny (today’s North Side) and adjoining towns similar scenes were enacted this morning.

“There were 131 prisoners at the station this morning for Magistrate Brady to dispose of. Seventy nine were charged with disorderly conduct, 28 were charged with drunkenness, 13 with violating a city ordinance and 11 were listed as suspicious persons.

“The defendants charged with disorderly conduct are alleged to have been the men who were using the “flying wedge” in the streets last night. Magistrate Brady is imposing a fine of $5 or 48 hours
to jail for this class of offenders.


“The men charged with being suspicious persons are alleged to have been caught hugging girls. For this form of amusement Magistrate Brady is imposing a fine of $10 or 10 days to jail.

“The men charged with violating a city ordinance are vendors who were selling confetti and canes without having secured a license from the city ordinance officer. These men were fined $3 or 48 hours to jail.   

“Laura Ross and Mamte Printy were arrested by Policeman John H. Schnider at Fifth avenue and Market street on charges of disorderly conduct. The policeman, who was formerly a lieutenant in the Salvation Army, heard the women swearing at each other. This shocked the policeman and he
immediately arrested the women.

“At the hearing, the officer said the language the women used was unfit for him to utter in the police court.

The women, it seems, disagreed on whether a man passing by them had complimented or insulted one of them. The magistrate decided the night they spent at the station house was punishment enough for their vocabulary choices.

One man was arrested for creeping out a police officer.

“Frank Cagan was this morning fined $50 or 30 days to the workhouse by Magistrate Brady on a charge of being a suspicious person. Cagan was arrested on Fifth avenue, near Magee street, last night by Special Officers Edward Dunn and Thomas D. Malone. Cagan was dressed in woman’s attire and started to flirt with Officer Dunn, according to the statement of Dunn at the hearing.

“Special Officer Dunn said at first he thought that Cagan was a woman. Then Cagan came to the officer and threw his arms about the officer’s neck, and Officer Dunn realized that Cagan was a man. This was detected by the growth of beard on Cagan’s face. Cagan was taken to the workhouse in his female garments and a blonde wig.”

Apparently,  Cupid was no more effective in McKees Rocks.

“Metro Buettner gave bail in $300 for court on a charge of assault and battery, before Justice John T. Morgan, of McKees Rocks, last night.

“He was accused by Marie Stoll of having tried to embrace and kiss her on the streets of McKees Rocks on Halloween.

“The girl said he stopped her on the streets and was very rough with her. Both are foreigners.”

A roving uptown gang was emboldened by the holiday. Don’t let anyone tell you streets were safer in the old days.

“A crowd of Hallowe’en marauders last night assaulted two peddlers, choking them almost to death; took possession of the grocery wagon belonging to Charles Hoar, of Moultrie street, and, when he remonstrated, rushed upon him with sticks and beat him until he became disabled; and then chased the wagon driven by Samuel Goldstein, of No. 1918 Webster avenue, while going along Seneca street and hurled bricks at him, knocking him unconscious and he had to be taken home in a patrol wagon.”

The newspaper was quick to point to the folly of males wearing women’s skirts.

“Florence O’Mahoney, a youth of No. 3012 Peeble street, donned a dress yesterday evening to celebrate Hallowe’en. He started down the steps to the first floor and his feet became entangled in the folds of the garment. He fell headlong down the steps and his left ear was almost torn off.

“It was stitched on, and friends took him to the West Penn Hospital. Later he was able to go to his home.”

So, how were women dressing in 1907 . . . when they were dressing as women?

Well, this photo shows it was no easy task.

Dressing like a 1908 woman was not a matter of just throwing something on.
This photo from 1908 shows women were not shrinking violets, even as their waists appeared shrunken

The Pittsburg Press went to great lengths to describe the ideal woman.

In fact, it gave her a name, Fluffy Ruffles. That’s right. Fluffy Ruffles. The ideal woman.

How she dressed mattered (mostly to the newspaper’s advertisers), but how she acted was more important. Complete instructions on how to be the ideal woman is on Page 48 of this link.

An excerpted summary follows:

Trig and slender are her lines, as befits a modern young person who has been properly brought up in a life of exercise, outdoor life and regular habits. . . 

Fluffy herself grows more fascinating every day. Her adventures increase in interest, and she is losing nothing of her charm or individuality.  .  . Always remember that Fluffy on every occasion was good natured, cheerful, polite, industrious, obliging and, above all, dignified. She honestly wanted to do well whatever work she undertook and she wanted no outside assistance in her tasks.

The newspaper even printed an illustrated tale of Fluffy.

She arose in her bedclothes to entertain two tramps who burglarized her house.  She was so gracious to them that they left in tears, but also well fed and their taste for wine sated.

Fluffy, of course, would never giggle or dress as a man on Halloween.

Night-time photography did not exist in 1907, so neither the newspaper nor anyone else seems to have photos of the parades or related gender switching.

Two photos I did find makes me wonder if, for some,  Halloween was more about coming out of the closet than going in to find a costume.

This 1908 Halloween party shows young women dressed as male-female couples. Its location is not indicated.
This 1908 Halloween party shows young women dressed as male-female couples. Its location is not indicated.

Three Yale students show off their feminine side.
Three Yale students show off their feminine side.

The Parade Route

This is Fifth Avenue 107 years ago. It was the main parade route downtown. The photo was taken with an 8x10 glass negative camera, so the detail is quite good. You can zoom in to find your great-grandmother turning heads, or your grandfather as a boy. The Hotel Henry was among the hotels built by Henry Frick, hence the name. Zoom in and you will see the forerunner of the landmark Kaufmann's clock mounted on a post at the corner. Perhaps a car enthusiast out there can tell us something about the one automobile in the street.
This is Fifth Avenue in 1908. It was the main parade route downtown. The photo was taken with an 8×10 glass negative camera, so the detail is quite good. You can zoom in to find your great-grandmother turning heads, or your grandfather as a boy. The Hotel Henry was among the hotels built by Henry Frick, hence the name. Zoom in and you will see the forerunner of the landmark Kaufmann’s clock mounted on a post at the corner. Perhaps a car enthusiast out there can tell us something about the one automobile in the street.

This is the same stretch of Fifth Avenue today.

Leon J. Pollom, writer/researcher

7 Comments on 1907 Halloween, Illegal Crossdressing, General Mischief

Joel Houser said : Guest Report one year ago

Fun story again Leon! Always enjoy reading these stories. Happy belated Halloween!

nowthenpgh@gmail.com said : administrator Report 4 years ago

Sadie, You may be onto something. Did I stumble onto the death throes of Victorian America when I randomly selected 1907 to check on Halloween practices? Newspaper coverage of Halloween changed dramatically in 1908. The Pittsburg Press assigned its star woman reporter to cover and celebrate a massive Halloween parade downtown. It was splashy front page news. Similar parades were reported in Homestead, Allegheny, McKeesport -- any place else of any consequence. Children were involved, but it seemed to be mostly about adults. Crossdressing apparently was so prevalent on Halloween 1908 that it was only a source of amusement -- not condemnation. The reporter notes how she offered assistance to a woman struggling with a twisted skirt on the sidewalk. She soon realized her offer might not be appropriate since the woman was a man. But, he was so flustered that she helped unsnag the hook causing his grief. "Glad I only have to do this once a year," he grumbled as he walked away. Anyone looking for a subject for their doctoral dissertation? This may be good material. Thanks for your observation, Leon

Sadie Salome said : Guest Report 4 years ago

V surprising; around same time Homestead's Halloween parade gave prizes for best man dressed as woman & woman dressed as man!

nowthenpgh@gmail.com said : administrator Report 4 years ago

Hi Kathy, Vielen Dank für Ihre Kommentare. Leon

nowthenpgh@gmail.com said : administrator Report 4 years ago

Yes, the pronunciation of Pittsburgh's name did vary with time -- probably minute to minute. It depends how long it took for the first Englishman to read the name. William Pitt, an Englishman, likely pronounced it with a hard "g" as he read a 1758 letter from the Scots-speaking Gen. John Forbes. Forbes had just driven the French from the Steeler Nation. Forbes datelined the letter "Pittsbourgh." As you say, he would have pronounced it "Pittsburah." The dateline is interesting because there was no community yet. Fort Pitt, around which the hamlet was born, hadn't even been built yet. But, Forbes, kissing up to Pitt, reported he hoped the "name fathers" of the British empire would "protect" the name honoring his boss. They did, but not its pronunciation. The many Scottish settlers who peopled the place in its early days would have called it "Pittsburah". English speakers, and there were many, would have done it their way. The spelling "Pittsburgh," without an "o," shows up early. It's in the minutes of a 1759 Indian council in Philadelphia. Gradually, the English way overwhelmed the Scottish way. Thanks for the question, Leon

Kathy Narr Ordelt said : Guest Report 4 years ago

Leon - I'm Wayne's eldest sister and I am grateful that he forwarded a link to your interesting and entertaining blog - what fun! I thoroughly enjoyed it and wish you continued success in your blogging endeavors.

Wayne said : Guest Report 4 years ago

Regarding Pittsburgh vs. Pittsburg, I'm wondering whether pronunciation varied with time. Present-day Scots pronounce Edinburgh as “edinborah”. I believe numerous Scots had settled in the three-rivers area at the time the new community was originally named for Pitt. Was the city name originally pronounced “pittsborah”? If so, when did the hard "g" sound appear?

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