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Witch-Finder of Lilburn
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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Prepping for a couple of projects, I have been doing some online research about carving pumpkins. Most resources will only tell you the legend of who Jack was and repeat a sentence about origins with turnips in Ireland. But thankfully some people have gone to great lengths to collect and digitize vast collections of illustrations from Hallowe'en past - UP TO A CENTURY AGO - namely, postcards and greeting cards.

In short I'm trying to decide what, to me and to most folks, comprises the perfect classical JOL. Reflexively you probably think "triangle eyes and nose, toothless grin with three rhomboid teeth;" but looking as far back as a century or more at illustrations, those were far less common.

There seems to have been a surprising amount of variation actually! The greatest variation was perhaps in the mouth, which ranged from entirely toothless to something resembling Jack Skellington's, to steel trap fangs just like you might see nowadays. The greatest consistency, at least from the illustrations I looked at (hundreds or over a thousand so far) is in the eyes - usually they were round (as in, perfect circle). And frequently they had a red, apple-ish nose.

For my projects, most likely I'm going to go with three triangles (pointing upward) and a steel-trap grin.

I doubt a study of the history of JOL face design has ever been done, but you never know. Are any of you historians who could give me some detailed info about this, or do you know of a likely resource?
 

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Panic time is here!
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Interesting topic. I'd like to know more since the J-o-L is one of my Halloween icon.

BTW I think of the classic J-o-L as you described it because that is what I saw while growing up. We had a large blow-mold one that we used for years until it finally melted.
 

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Actually, the History Channel and Discovery Channel have done shows on modern day Halloween, including the jack-o-lantern and it's origins.

The gourds and other veggies used for lanterns originally were carried by representatives of the faith from house to house on the eve of the harvest celebrations, it was also the time they celebrated and remembered the dead, the basic shapes would change from lantern to lantern, evolving into the basic face we know today. the triangles and angular cuts were used because that was the easiest to cut with the knives they had. The priests or representatives that went from house to house were supposed to represent the souls of the recently departed, the home owners weren't supposed to answer the doors originally, but it too evolved to drunken wanderers who would eventually get bribed to go away by the offering of cider, wine, and or food. This in turn evolved into the kids going from door to door looking for bribes, they carried their lanterns, but more and more of the home owners started putting our lanterns of their own to illuminate the path for the wanderers, and like anything else things evolved. The lanterns were supposed to help the wandering spirits find their way on to their final destination, and the faces or cutouts became more and more friendly 'til we get to modern times. With the move across the pond, the use of gourds ended when the pumpkin, a product of the "new" world was discovered. The carved faces became bigger and broader, and as time went on, much more expressive in their stylings. We stuck with the basic shapes for the same reason they started with them, they were the easiest to cut, especially through the thick shells of the pumpkins.
Probably way more than you really wanted to know, oh well...
 

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this is a classic, I saved this pic a few years ago, I dont know if its in your collection. The teeth strike me the most, it looks very much like and unskilled craftsperson was trying to carve a human head.
 

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AllenH- I also take pics of effigies and other carvings or early art from museums. Great source of inspiration.
Rahnefan- don't know of any resources to refer you to, but interested if you find some. Old postcards have fantastic graphics, don't they?
 

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Witch-Finder of Lilburn
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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Yeah Allen that is a classic, it changes the way you think of them when you first see it. This is the one they use on Wikipedia. Wish something were placed in that photo for scale. I suspect that the turnip is smaller than a human head, and I imagine carving one is a tricky undertaking. Some tubers (and even some squashes) are just hard as heck to cut.

kprimm, I'm sorry, here's some links:

Halloween Postcards - a set on Flickr

http://retrocrush.com/index.php/2009/08/vintage-halloween-card-gallery/

http://www.morticiasmorgue.com/hw/hw3.html

http://www.shaktiweb.com/postcards/cards.html

http://www.billcasselman.com/halloween_gallery/vintage_hallow_oh_six.htm

http://vintagehalloweencollector.blogspot.com/search/label/Vintage Halloween Postcards

fontgeek, thanks. I'm aware of the origins and historical cultural significance; what I'm actually looking for is a study of JOL visual distinctions and/or trends and how they have developed over time.
 

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A thought just occurred to me - if you ask a child to draw a jack-o-lantern, you will likely get a picture of the archetype you're seeking:)
 
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