Fancy Dress for Halloween!

Fall has arrived in Iowa! The leaves are changing colors. It is much cooler out in the mornings. People are pulling out their coats and sweaters. It is the time of year many people pick out our costumes to go Halloween trick-or-treating in our neighborhoods. You might not know, but the idea of going door to door for candy is a pretty recent one.

Halloween Magazine

1920s Halloween Instruction Magazine

In America, it was in the 1920s that kids really started putting on costumes to go out for candy. But, dressing up in costumes to go to a party is a very old tradition! The idea has a long history, although costume choices have changed over time.

Have you ever attended a party where everyone was dressed in a costume? While we may call this a “Halloween party”, people used to call it a “fancy dress” party. Fancy dress is just another way to say that someone is in a costume, a fanciful, dress-up costume. People long ago used to have big parties and all the guests at the party wore some form of costume. These parties were said to begin in Venice, Italy about 500 years ago! That’s before Columbus sailed to America. At first, guests would wear just a very fancy mask to cover their face. This kind of party was called a Masquerade ball.

Venetian Masquerade

As time progressed, masks began to include full costumes. In the 1500s, people in France were the first to turn Masquerades into fancier Fancy Dress parties.


Party guests were encouraged to dress up like famous people in history—like the ancient Greeks, Trojans, and even shepherds. These fancy dress parties were usually just for adults—not kids. Could you imagine your parents dressed in togas like an ancient Greek?

Victorian Costumes

In the 1800s, these fancy dress parties became more for all ages of people. Adults still had fancy dress parties just for adults; but kids began to have parties with costumes too! By the 1870s, which is the time we show in the museum’s town of Walnut Hill, having a costume party was pretty common—at Halloween, and also for New Year’s Eve or even for Spring Holidays! A popular fashion magazine printed this picture of costumes for kids in 1873.

Fancy Dress for Kids

Nowadays we tend to dress up as superheroes or cartoon characters. Long ago, boys usually dressed as military officers or old historical figures and girls were dressed as things found in nature, anything from bees to snowballs.

Bee Halloween Costume Even their dogs were dressed in costume! Look at the small dog at the bottom of this picture from a magazine from 1872; the dog is dressed like a King for Halloween.


While today you may buy your costume from a store, kids long ago had to make their costumes at home. People had to be creative and use whatever they could find. If you lived in a big city after 1900, your parents may have bought their costume from a store, but many kids still made costumes at home. This website has several photos of kids and adults dressing up in costumes in the late 19th and 20th century.

trick or treat

The biggest difference between costumes of the past and the ones we wear now is what we do in them once they are on. Today we mainly go trick-or-treating in our costumes so they need to be warm and able to go outside from house to house. Long ago, people wore their costumes inside at a party; the costume could be fancy and light because it didn’t have to travel. One good way to think about this idea is that people in the theater wear costumes for show just like people long ago. Now go out and get some candy this Halloween! Store bought or homemade costuming is fine!


If you are joining us for the Living History Farms Family Halloween event this week, we hope you will dress up in a “fancy dress” costume! But we do think it should be a warm costume so you can walk around outside and trick-or-treat in Walnut Hill!


Time for School!

School has already begun for most children. Shopping for school supplies is complete, new clothes have been purchased and an introductory visit to the school is now done. Students are getting to know their new teachers, and learning what their schedule will be each day. Many students have even learned how to find the right bus to get on when it’s time to go home.    schoolhouseIn the late 1800’s, when all ages of Iowa farm children went to one-room country schools, preparation for the school day would have looked a little different:

As you milk cows and feed the chickens before getting dressed for school, you wonder if you’ll still have the same school marm (an old word for school teacher). You really liked her, and so did your brother and sister. You each learned so much with her, but you know teachers don’t always stay in one school very long.

school marm

Your new shoes feel so good on your feet as you lace them up; you are very thankful for them. The mile walk to school will be much easier. You need to hurry to the kitchen to fix your lunch. Mom just finished using up the lard in the tin so you get a new lunch pail! lunch pail

You’ll bring one of the apples that was just picked yesterday. Ham from last night’s dinner and some leftover cornbread would be great, too. And, of course, some of Mom’s delicious pound cake. You just need to strap your McGuffey Reader and slate together, and you’re ready to go. You’re almost done with this reader, so you’ll be able to use the one your brother finished last term. Your brother, sister and you take off down your lane to the road. There, you meet your neighbors, who farm just a half mile from you. You play and tell stories all the way to school. You arrive at the same time as the other two families, and you soon discover you DO have the same school marm. This IS going to be a very good school term.

You meet around the flag pole, and sing about America. As you go into the schoolhouse, you greet your school marm with a little bow or curtsy, and put your new lunch pail on the correct side of the cloak room–boys on one side, girls on the other. Inside you share a desk, again boys on one side and girls on the other. classroom

There are only 10 students in class this term. Your sister says it’s because the older boys are helping to get the corn crop in while the weather is good.


Your lessons are on the board. You begin by practicing your penmanship. That means handwriting. You need to work on it until it’s perfect. You have a ways to go, but, “Practice makes perfect”. practice penmanship

Your sister is working out arithmetic problems on her slate. The teacher calls on her to recite her addition facts for the 9’s. 9+1 is 10, 9+2 is 11. As she continues, you realize you are learning some of them just by hearing her recite them! Soon it’s time for you to work on your arithmetic lesson. You must work hard, and be quiet all morning long, so when recess time comes, you are all ready to talk and play games. By the time it’s 4:00, everyone excitedly heads for home. Your animals will be very ready to see you. The cow needs to be milked again, and your chickens have been busy laying eggs that will need to be gathered.chores

School has gone from one room with all your friends and their brothers and sisters to many rooms in many buildings with students of mostly the same age. If you know some home-educated students, their schooling may be very similar to the way schools were run in the late 1800’s, but they are definitely using many new tools for learning. Instead of writing assignments on slates with slate pencils, do you use a white board and dry erase markers? Or do you use lots of paper and pencils, crayons or markers, and a computer? One thing has stayed the same. Students are still learning to read, write, and do their arithmetic because it is so very important for life. So study well, and learn all you can!

Shopping Trip

Have you been getting ready to go back to school? Do you have list of things you will need to take with you? Like paper, pencils, and crayons? Do you like to go shopping with your family? Maybe at the mall or the grocery store? Do you take a list with you when you shop or just try to remember what you need when you get there?

General Store

Where would you go shopping in 1875? You might visit stores in a town like Walnut Hill. There might be a drug store, a grocer, and certainly a general store! General stores were like Walmart or Target. They sold food, clothing, tools, books—a little bit of a lot of things!

General Store

Let’s pretend you live near a small town over 100 years ago. In your farm house, you watch your mom look around the kitchen with a pencil and paper in her hands. She is writing things down as she checks her shelves and bins for ingredients she will buy at the General Store. The list seems to be getting longer and longer: 10 pounds flour, 3 pounds brown sugar, 3 pounds white sugar, 1 pint molasses, 1 pound coffee, 2 pounds rice. She also has items on the list for her sewing projects: 1 spool black thread, shirt buttons, crochet thread, 3 yards red calico cloth. And then your dad adds some things he needs for the barn: 2 pounds nails, an ax handle. You want to add your own ideas to the list. You will be starting school soon and know that the General Store will also have some of the things you need to be ready for that first day. But Mom is in charge of the shopping list, so the things you want may not be on it.
General Store

When you get to town, you stop at the General Store first. As the screen door shuts behind you, you take a deep breath. The store sells many things and it all smells so good: freshly ground coffee, the open jar of pickles, leather from the shoe section, and the bottle of perfume sitting on the notions counter.checkers

Dad sits down and challenges his friend to a game of checkers. Mom walks over to the grocery section and hands the store owner her list.  general store clerk

Remember the items? Flour, sugar, and rice are measured out of barrels. You stand in the center of the store and carefully watch the store owner measure and weigh the flour, sugar, and coffee from the list. The store clerk picks out the items on the list while Mom waits and watches.general store clerk

Cloth has to be measured and cut from the bolt. Thread colors are chosen out of the spool cabinet.thread and fabric

Nails come in a barrel too! And Dad has to pick an axe handle from the store stock.nails

When everything has been bagged and boxed for the wagon ride home, your dad gets ready to load up, but then asks the store owner to take down the large box of children’s shoes from the top shelf…. Yes!shoes

You WILL be getting one of the items from your own wish list: new shoes for school. You try on several pairs and Mom chooses a pair that fits with a little room to grow. Mom also asks the clerk to wrap up a brand new school reader book and a writing slate to practice your penmanship.

slate and books

Almost your entire little list has made it onto the wagon!

Your family climbs into the wagon for the ride home. Before you get too far down the road, your parents have one more surprise for you. Dad slowly pulls a small paper sack out of his pocket and grinning, asks if anyone want a lemon drop.  candy Your smile stretches from ear to ear as you take one from the sack and pop it in your mouth. Somehow your parents guessed the last item on your list!

500px-Shopping_cart_with_food_clip_art_2_svgThis pretend visit to 1875 was very different than going to a store in 2015! When you shop today, you may push a grocery carts and pick out your own items off the store shelves. You might bring home your things in plastic bags instead of brown paper packages. Some things are the same though! There are still stores that carry all the general items your family needs, from groceries, to tools, to shoes and clothes, and school supplies. A list is still the best way to make sure all of your needed items make it home. And sometimes parents still have a fun surprise for kids on the ride home.

Adventures Through the Looking Glass!

Flynn MansionHave you ever come to Living History Farms to hear a story and then gone to see some animals for our Barnyard Readers program? During April, we had some very special guests at the Flynn Mansion, kids just like you, who came to hear the story of Alice in Wonderland for our new Victorian-themed Barnyard Readers!

Alice in WonderlandAlice in Wonderland is the story of a young girl who thinks her life is very boring. She ends up going on a crazy adventure and meets many goofy friends like the White Rabbit, who is always worried about being late; the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, who celebrate their unbirthdays at a very silly tea party; and the Queen of Hearts, who likes to win and yell, “Off with their heads!”. Just when Alice thinks she’ll never be able to go back home, she finds her way back.Alice drink me

Our guests not only got to hear the story while sitting in the Parlor, they also got to look around the rest of the Flynn Mansion to see what kinds of toys and games kids got to play with in 1875. Do you like playing with blocks, reading stories, or having tea parties with your dolls? So did the Flynn children! In the boys’ room, we also made fun crafts.rabbit craft The first week we made bunny ears and noses so we could look just like the White Rabbit! There were also coloring pages and a snack in the Dining Room where we could use our good manners, just like Alice in the story.croquet

The last week we even got to go outside and try a new game that Alice played with the Queen of Hearts…croquet! In croquet, you hit a ball with a mallet through small hoops called wickets. The first person to hit his or her ball through all the wickets wins! In the book, Alice and the Queen use birds as mallets! Isn’t that silly? croquet with flamingo

We had so much fun reading a story together and making crafts and learning new games. If croquet sounds like a fun game you would like to learn, come out and visit us this summer! Croquet is one of our favorite games, and we would love to teach more people how to play! We will also be having tea parties and maybe even celebrating an “unbirthday” or two.

Caregivers: The Spring Barnyard Readers series is now over. But there are still spots available in our Summer and Fall Barnyard Readers programs! You can find out more about these programs here.

Fancy Feasting and Dinner Manners

Historic Dinner in Flynn MansionIt’s November! That’s the month of great food and family dinners! Sometimes those dinners are fun and easy. Sometimes those dinners are fun and FANCY! There might be fancy plates and extra forks and knives. Or a fancy flower vase in the center of the table. For these special times, families might eat in their fancier dining room, instead of at the kitchen counter or table. Do you know how to act at a fancy table? Those fancy meals can mean kids need to know good dinner etiquette! What is Etiquette? Think of it as practicing good manners.

Flynn Dining Room

Queen Victoria

The Flynn Mansion at Living History Farms has a very fancy dining room. The house was built 144 years ago during the Victorian period. What does it mean to be Victorian? Victorian means things and people who were around during the time that Queen Victoria was the queen in England, from 1837-1901. Victoria was very fancy and proper. She wanted people around her to use very good manners. Victoria was a popular queen. People liked to do the same things she did; even here in America! That fancy dining room in the Flynn Mansion was a good place for these Victorians to use their manners.

The owners of the Flynn Mansion, Mr. and Mrs. Flynn, had ten children—five boys and five girls. What would it be like to live in the Flynn Mansion with nine other brothers and sisters? All of those children had to learn good etiquette or dining room manners for special dinners. Today, we are going to learn how you would behave at that fancy dining room table if you lived 140 years ago. That would be about the year 1875! Would you know how to eat a fancy meal? Most kids had to be at least 13 years old to eat in the dining room when company came to dinner. Younger kids ate most of their dinners in the kitchen with their brothers and sisters. For a simple dinner in the kitchen, your table would look like this: 

kitchen table

For the Flynn kids at this table, dinner might be soup and then meat, vegetables, bread, and maybe a dessert like pie or cake. The kitchen table was a good place to learn manners and practice what to do. And, there were a lot of manners to practice.

A meal in the Flynn dining room on a special occasion would be even more complicated. Younger children had to be invited to have dinner there and needed to have practiced that dining “etiquette”. Let’s pretend we are going in to dinner in that fancy dining room. Dinner at Flynn Mansion

Go in quietly. Find your place at the table. There might be a little card with your name on it next to the plate. Pull the chair out and sit down. An adult might have help you scoot the chair up to the table. Be careful to sit up straight and keep your feet still.

Napkins on the Flynn table
Now you can pull out your napkin. In 1875, it would be made of cloth and it would have been pretty big! It might even be folded in a pretty shape. Place your napkin across your lap.

So now we can bring out all the food, right? Well, no. It would come out a little bit at a time. The Victorians liked to eat very fancy meals in courses.  This means the food wouldn’t come out all at once, but one dish at a time. Maybe even between 5 to 12 separate times! Soup would be separate from salads and separate from meat and vegetables!

place setting

In front of you, there would be many pieces of silverware. Each piece of silverware was meant for a very specific food course. It was good etiquette to know which food was eaten with which piece of silverware. You would have to learn to eat fish with a fish fork and soup with a soup spoon! Luckily for you, for the most part you could start on the outside and work your way in. Like any proper Victorian child you should continue to sit up straight, with your feet on the ground through the entire dinner. You also would not speak unless someone spoke to you. You would definitely not leave the table unless you were excused. And under no circumstances would you chew with your mouth open.dinner at Flynn Mansion

The positive side of all this fuss is that you would be served a lot of delicious food. How does this meal sound to you? Every fancy dinner started with an appetizer like oysters or fried cheese puffs. Oysters might be served in their shells on a special oyster shaped dish.

oyster serverThen you could have a soup like turtle soup or mushroom or carrot soup. Next, you might have a bit of baked fish and potatoes.


food at Flynn Mansion

Then you could have ham and green beans or roast beef with carrots or macaroni dressed in cheese. Another course might be duck meat and peas.


Then maybe a cabbage salad, cheese and pickles. Some very fancy dinners ended in three or four courses of desserts, like frozen fruit ice, cakes, ice creams, fruit and chocolates.

Chocolate Charlottefrozen fruit ice

That’s a lot of food to eat! It could take two hours to eat all those courses! That’s another reason kids often ate in the kitchen instead. Two hours of sitting very still with their best manners was a very long time. But for ice cream and cake, it might be worth it!

Do you like to have fancy meals? What is your favorite food at a fancy meal? Do you like steak and baked potatoes? Or turkey and dressing? What is your favorite fancy dessert? Do you like birthday cake best? Or how about a fancy chocolate pudding or pumpkin pie?

Parents and Caregivers: During the winter season, Living History Farms offers meals by reservation at our 1900 Farm house, the Tangen Victorian Home, and at the Flynn Mansion. Many people ask us if children are welcome at our Historic Dinner programs. Children are welcome to attend, but there are several things to consider to ensure your children will have a fun experience:

1900 Farm Historic Dinner

  • Sitting Down Time. The 1900 Farm dinner and Tangen Home dinner are both child friendly, if children can sit at the dinner table for 45 minutes at a stretch. Guests do have a chance to get up and move around the houses during these two programs. Guests spend about 20 minutes in the parlor at the beginning of the evening, then are seated for 45 minutes to an hour at the dinner table eating the main meal. Guests then spend 30 minutes exploring the house/taking a barn tour at the 1900 Farm or playing parlor games/taking a house tour at the Tangen House. At the end of the program, guests are seated at the table for about 30 minutes to eat dessert and talk about recipes. Both of these dinner programs last about two and a half to three hours overall.
  • Food choices and reservation costs. The 1900 Farm and Tangen Victorian Home historic dinner programs are served family style. Meat, vegetables and breads are presented in serving bowls and platters; this allows kids to choose which items they would like on their plate. However, the menu is set ahead of time and it is not a la carte. Reservation prices for the meals are set and do not include a children’s rate or menu. Historic Dinner
  • We do find that kids like the turkey and stuffing menu at the 1900 Farm and macaroni and cheese side dish at the Tangen House. Menu details can be found on the Living History Farms website.
  • Time of Day and Activity. The evening seatings at Tangen Victorian Dinner and the 1900 Farm dinner begin at 6:15 pm and last until around 9 pm. On Saturdays, the 1900 Farm also seats guests at 1:15 pm in the afternoon. Sometimes this afternoon seating is easier for children. If a family is booking the entire program seating (10 people or more), the Tangen dinner can sometimes be offered at 1:15 in the afternoon by advance reservation. The 1900 Farm dinner program offers a chance for children to meet the farm animals, especially during the afternoon seating. The Tangen program offers a chance to play parlor games and explore the toys in the house sitting room.
  • Less Formal programs for Flynn. The Flynn Mansion offers a tea program on weekends in the month of April. This program serves tea sandwiches, tea, and pastries. Program time is around 2 hours. This is a good fit for children’s attention time and taste palate. The Flynn Mansion dinner program in March is much more formal. Guests are seated at the dining table for over two hours at a stretch and are served oysters, duck and other unusual foods. For a fancy Victorian kids’ experience, we highly recommend the Flynn tea program for children under age 12, rather than a full Flynn dinner.

We have had many positive experiences hosting families with children at our 1900 Farm and Tangen Victorian dinners and the Flynn tea programs. If you have more questions about menu or program content, please call 515-278-5286 ext. 158 to speak with our reservation coordinator. You can also visit our website to find out more about our Historic Dinners >

Back to School!

SchoolhouseThe first day of fall is here! Fall is when it starts to get colder. The leaves on the trees turn fun colors and pumpkins turn orange in the garden. For many kids, fall is also when they go back to school. In 1875, Iowa farm kids often went to a one room school house. desks in the classroom

All the kids from grade one through grade eight would sit in the same room together. Students sat in desks together with the teacher at the front. The teacher could call groups of students to the front to learn their grade’s lessons while other children studied at their desk.

Students learned to read and write. They learned to spell and to recite and to do math. A lot of these lessons take practice. Every student would have a slate—a miniature blackboard in a frame—at their desk, to practice their lesson.


Instead of using computers, children learned to write by hand. First they learned to print and then to write in cursive. The teacher would write a letter to practice on the blackboards at the front, and students would practice on their own slate. Students began with push pulls and ovals on the slate. You can do this exercise at home too!  Take a blank piece of paper or a dry erase white board. Draw two lines across the page. Now in between the two lines, practice making ovals. Draw circles all along the line, but don’t pick up your marker or pencil to draw the next circle. Keep them all connected. This helps you learn how to make the ovals all the same size and shape.

practicing ovals and push pullsYou can also practice push pulls. Draw two new lines across your pad. Without lifting your pencil or marker, draw slanted lines in the spaces. The lines going from bottom to top will be thin and the lines from top to bottom will be heavier and thicker. When kids learned cursive writing, having good ovals and push pulls made the letters prettier and easier to read.

reciting in the classroomYou can also practice spelling and recitation at your house the way a student would in 1875. Students had to learn to spell words and poems from memory. They would stand up in front of the class and recite. To recite means they would say their spelling word or poem out loud for their classmates. Students might be expected to memorize a short poem or essay to stand and recite before the class each week. Let’s practice with a simple poem you might already know. “Mary had a Little Lamb” was written in 1830 by Sarah J. Hale—184 years ago! Read the poem to yourself several times. Stand up straight. Put your feet together and recite it out loud. Speak very clearly. Here’s your poem:

“Mary had a little lamb, His fleece was white as snow, And everywhere that Mary went, The lamb was sure to go. He followed her to school one day, Which was against the rule, It made the children laugh and play To see a lamb at school. And so the teacher turned it out, But still it lingered near, And waited patiently about, Till Mary did appear. “Why does the lamb love Mary so?” The eager children cry. “Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know.” The teacher did reply. ”

stove in the classroom

The only heat for the school came from the large iron stove. As the fall days got colder, the teacher would start the stove when he or she arrived in the morning. Students and teachers brought their lunch to school, often in tin lunch pails.

lunch pail Cold biscuits and jam, a boiled potato or bacon were all possibilities. After lunch the students could expect to go outside for recess. Games such as tag and red rover were popular, along with marbles, baseball, and jump rope. The school bell would call the children back inside at the end of play time.

Candy! Candy! Candy!

Do you love candy? How about chocolate? Chewing gum? Lollipops? Here in Iowa, our grocery stores are starting to put Halloween candy on the shelves. In modern America, candy companies claim that we spend $7 Billion on candy every year! Wow! That’s a lot of chocolate bars and gummy bears!

Do you think kids spent money on candy a long time ago? In a town like Walnut Hill, the 1875 town at Living History Farms, you could have bought candy at the general store or at the drug store. The candy wouldn’t look quite the same as the candy you might buy today though!Candy in the General Store

In 1875, stores like the Greteman General Store sold a lot of penny candy. Kids would pay a penny and the store keeper would scoop the candy out of a jar or bin for them. Kids might get a few pieces of the small candy drops for a penny or maybe one large stick of candy for a penny. A bigger bag of candy could cost a nickel or a dime! A penny was pretty cheap, but a dime was more expensive. A farm worker might only earn one whole dollar every day. A dime was worth over an hour’s worth of work!

What did these penny candies taste like? A lot of penny candies were hard drops or sticks of sugar that kids would suck on. There were some lemon candies and peppermint candies and some other fruity flavors—like cherry drops. Most of us know what lemons taste like. Do you like the red and white striped peppermint candy?

licorice, anise and horehound
You might not have tasted some of the other flavors of candy from a long time ago. Many of the candies were flavored with herbs. Herbs are plants that are used to give things flavor. Herbs like horehound, anise, and licorice were often used in candy. Horehound tastes bitter or sour to many people. Those same herbs could also be used to disguise the harsh taste of medicines. Many early hard candies were even given as medicine! Horehound and lemon drop candies can help your sore throat feel better. Peppermint candies can help an upset stomach.

Do you like jelly beans or gummy worms? These are candies made of sugar that are sticky and chewy. In 1875, kids could buy a few chewy candies. A favorite treat was called Turkish delight. It was a small square or drop of a jelly, made from starches and flavorings. It might be lemon or orange or even flavored with rose water—which sort of tastes like vanilla. It sometimes had nuts on the inside.

gum dropsWe know that kids in the 1870s could buy gum drops and maybe even a sort of jelly bean. Ads in newspapers mention stores selling these things. A  candy-maker in Boston advertised sending jelly beans to Civil War soldiers!

We don’t know if these chewy candies were exactly like the ones we have now. The gum drops were made with different types of gelatin, the stuff that makes them gooey. So we aren’t sure if old-fashioned gum drops were as soft as the ones we eat now. Many of the gum drops were flavored with spices and herbs. Do you like black gum drops? They are licorice flavored.

When you visit the general store at Living History Farms, a candy you won’t be able to find is chocolate bars! In 1875, chocolate was not very popular as a candy. Most people drank chocolate as a hot drink, sort of like the hot cocoa we drink now. Most chocolate drinks would taste bitter compared to modern sweet hot chocolate. Some 1800s cookbooks used chocolate in frostings and a few candies. But most people did not have our modern love of chocolate a hundred years ago.

candy in the General StoreThe general store sold many things and candy was just a small part of the money that the store made. But for a child with a penny in his or her pocket in 1875, penny candy could be pretty important! As your summer comes to an end, come taste a piece of history: Enjoy some candy at the Greteman General Store!

Caregivers and parents! The General Store does not sell Turkish delight–a popular Victorian candy, but you can make it at home. There is a simple recipe for it here. Hot sugar can be dangerous in the kitchen. Kids can help you measure ingredients for this recipe, but should not handle the boiling sugar syrups.

Just a reminder, Living History Farms will be closed August 22-26 for a private rental. Beginning August 27, the museum will begin fall season hours. We are open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm and Sundays, Noon to 4 pm until October 12, 2014.