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Everyone Dressed Up in 1923 Presents 
Historic Portsmouth #433

Facebook is packed with photos of modern kids modeling their Halloween costumes, but it wasn’t always that way. Our family rarely if ever photographed us three boys heading out for trick or treat. Halloween was a lesser holiday back in those days and not for grown-ups. But Victorians liked to dress up too. (Continued below)

One history Web site sent in by Josiah Pitchforth shows our ancestors dressed as a giant chicken, a cracked egg, and a side of bacon, but not on Halloween. Adult costumes were reserved primarily for festivals, theater productions, pageants, and masquerade balls. This archival photo shows young Kathryn O’Brien at the Portsmouth Tercentenary celebration on August 19, 1923. Another image shows what I assume is her mother Mildred, also in frilly period clothes. A hundred women sewed the costumes. A hundred sopranos sang in the massive chorus. Thousands attended the three-day Portsmouth pageant in an outdoor arena called the Pines, just off South Street. The elaborate pageant was part parade, part performance, part education using local people, professional dancers, horses, carriages, costumes and props to tell the history of Portsmouth over its first 300 years. The event was written and organized by Boston pageant designer Virginia Tanner. It grossed a whopping $11,388, plus the sale of souvenir books. I have one of those souvenir booklets from 1923. I studied it to see what historical Portsmouth character the girl in this photo is depicting. The detailed cast list runs over 20-pages. I could find no Kathryn, but Mildred and Margaret O’Brien are listed as “Women in the Revolution.” Pictures of Mildred in costume are also in the archive with her daughter, so perhaps Kathryn and Margaret are one in the same. Little help?   (Courtesy Portsmouth Athenaeum)


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Monday, February 19, 2018 
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