Things In The Basement: A History of Halloween Horrors is my book on some of my other great loves: history, literature, folklore and … Halloween.
This book began as a series of lessons I taught to my students nearly twenty years ago. I was in my first year teaching middle school US History when one of my students asked: “Hey Mr. Retzer, where does Halloween come from?”
The question was out of the blue, but I knew the answer and took advantage of the teachable moment, spinning the tale off the top of my head. They were fascinated. Then others asked “What about vampires?” and “What about werewolves?”
Fortunately, I was able to field most of their questions. The lesson on the 1797 XYZ Affair was destroyed, but I noticed that they had shown more interest in Halloween than they had in anything up to that point.
The next year I was ready with an October 31 lesson plan. As before, the students showed a lot of interest and had even more questions. In a couple of years, the single day had become a week, and I used the history of Halloween as a launching point for a wider social history of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. We read source documents, discussed the state of medicine and science during the period, and analyzed art.
A few years later, I moved to the high school to teach economics and government. The Halloween lesson notes languished in a folder. Eventually, I put the skeleton of these, along with some worksheets on a website, http://www.thingsinthebasement.com, and forgot about them.
Then, after a ten year sojourn, I returned to teaching US history—this time, an AP US History course. That’s when it happened: During a lesson on the Salem Witchcraft trials, one of the students asked: “Is that where we get Halloween?”
Unfortunately, since I have to meet both state high school content benchmarks and the College Board AP guidelines simultaneously, there just isn’t time for a week long side trip to Halloween history. But I dusted off my mental notes and gave them a quick background primer.
Later that day, I returned to my physical lecture notes and thought that if I can’t spend a week talking about the holiday, I could at least polish the notes into something interested students could read. A year later, here it is: Things In The Basement — A History of Halloween Horrors
Things In The Basement is available right now as a Kindle edition from Amazon for just $2.99. The book is 124 pages of pure Halloween fun.