Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Photographs and research collected courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library. Note, some of the following photos may contain students in culturally appropriative costumes. 

Halloween is a breeze down the back of a thin black cape you thrifted not an hour prior to a candlelit party with friends. Halloween is worrying about the right brand of fake blood to use for your crisp white shirt that you still need to use for choir concerts once October is over. Should you just make your own fake blood at home? What if the red never comes out? Halloween is walking up the steps toward the muffled sound of “Monster Mash” behind your friend’s front door, clearing the spit collecting under a fake set of pearly white vampire teeth. 

Yes, spit is gross, but the feeling you get putting that plastic piece of mimicry on in front of the mirror for the first time, the final detail that completes the vampire transformation, that feeling is what makes Halloween my favorite holiday. 

We’ve all heard it before: on Halloween, you can become someone new. However, if you really think about it, that’s a message we’re told everyday regardless of the amount of pumpkins and skeletons, especially when we’re growing up. “Follow your dreams,”“nothing is impossible,” “all possibilities are within reach” and whatnot. So what sets Halloween apart from an elementary school Tuesday?

Maybe a costume as a physical embodiment of what we want to become for a day is a wearable goal to live up to. Maybe a costume is a way to separate us from ourselves, and in doing so shed our worries and our brow-furrowing troubles, at least for one night. 

I don’t have to catch up on laundry if I’m Luna Lovegood. I don’t have to call my grandma back or work up the nerve to confront my lab partner. I bet Wonder Woman doesn’t even have to work up the nerve. Or Elle Woods. I bet Kim Possible can look someone in the eye and communicate her grievances in a way that doesn’t make her feel embarrassed or worried that she’s in the wrong. 

Hell, if I go as a crayon, I won’t have to think about anything at all. 


Halloween is an outlet. It’s an excuse to have fun, to try a new trait on for size. And students right here in Ann Arbor have been excitedly browsing the rack for eccentric characteristics for over a century. 

Here’s how students at the University celebrated this hallowed eve, through the decades. 


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

The first real picture of Halloween festivities at the University of Michigan comes from a nursing party in 1909. They each wear the tell-tale sign of a witch’s costume: a black pointy hat. This temporary Halloween coven stands posed around a model skeleton. The University’s nursing school, first called the University of Michigan Training School for Nurses, opened 18 years earlier, in 1891.


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Students in costume for a Halloween party in 1918. A sailor, a jester and a sheet music dress are some of the costumes featured. Carters Inx is a brand of glue that was popular at the time. White women are one year away from being granted the right to vote in the state of Michigan, which was the 3rd state to ratify the constitutional amendment for women’s suffrage.


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Students in 1923 from Martha Cook residence hall take a group photo in their Halloween costumes. See if you can spot a girl in a pumpkin costume costume with a sign that says “before” and her partner, a girl in a pie costume with a sign that says “after”. This is the decade that pants became a women’s fashion trend for the first time, spurred by women beginning to wear pants as they filled in job positions men left vacant during the first world war. It was still considered a bold statement to wear pants in public, however, and women casually wearing pants wouldn’t become standardized for a few decades still.

Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

The following quote is pulled from the second paragraph in the above page, a firsthand account of former student Emily A. Harper’s Halloween memories — a comment she wrote up for a University Alumnae Council Survey: 

“Then there was the oyster roast Halloween night away across the river on the heights. We were a jolly party of girls and all went well until the supper was over and we started home. It seemed so late that we were afraid to go home. Our various landladies gave us trouble however. They didn’t even wait up for us. There was no dean of women then, but most of our pranks were innocent, I am sure.”


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

A short clip of The Michigan Daily published on Oct. 29, 1933 titled “Hard Times Party Given By Members of Alumnae House,” located in the upper left section of this newspaper page. The Alumnae House women threw a Halloween party, where “there were a variety of costumes ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Tom Sawyer.” Characters from literature would have been a very popular source for costumes, likely similar to the way marvel movies inspire costumes today.


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Four couples pose in matching costumes for a party called “Masquerade of the Heads” in 1949. On the left, one couple wears the lifecycle of a butterfly, from caterpillar head to butterfly wings.


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Halloween parties became an annual staple of Greek life on campus. Above is a haunted house party thrown by Chi Epsilon in 1950. This picture is a bit of a “where’s Waldo” of students actually in costumes. There doesn’t seem to be many. I spotted at least one witch, though, in the upper right hand corner.

Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Also taken in 1950, this group of gals dressed up for another sorority costume party. On the right are two students in classic witch costumes, made most obvious by the brooms they’re holding. Second to the left is a girl dressed as the “hiccups.”

Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

There is not much information I could find on this photo. In the database, it’s labeled “Two women dancing together in costume (one a clown?)”. There is no date, but it is part of a collection of records from the Women’s Athletic Association. I guess the smile passing from a probable clown into the gaze of her dancing partner as they’re locked in step together will be forever mystified in the swirling eddies of the past.


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

Halloween in Ann Arbor used to be a lot more about pranks than anything else. Light to moderate destruction of property popped up a lot more than I thought it would as I combed through centuries old publications. But the above example is much more recent than “boys being boys” in the mid 1800s. On Nov. 1 of 1960, the Daily published a photo of a gate that got ripped off its hinges and strewn to the ground on the mischievous night of hallow’s eve, as part of an article titled “Trick or Treat” located toward the bottom left of this newspaper page. 

In the same edition of the Daily, on the very same Halloween night, 30 women in “costumes ranging from extremely short skirts and leotards to kilts and blue jeans, wearing wigs, masks, and sacks over their heads” charged with what seems like reckless abandon through the West Quad courtyard. This clip, “Barbour Women Invade West Quad” located on the bottom right section of this newspaper page, reads like a loony tunes chase between roadrunner and coyote. It’s certainly more eventful than any Halloween I’ve experienced on campus.


In 1975, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) held a “spook house” in what used to be a morgue in the basement of North Hall, which used to be a hospital. Students hosted the haunted house to raise money for UNICEF.


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

North campus had a party in 1982 that hosted many arts and architecture students and faculty. This picture was published by the Daily. The student on the top left is setting up a display of masks for sale at the party, and the student on the bottom left is dressed as the playboy bunny. 


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

This photo is from an Oct. 28, 1993 Daily publication. The Daily conducted a photoshoot with costumes borrowed from Fantasy Attic Costume Shop University Productions. The photoshoot was for a special edition on “Fall Fashion.” Among spreads with students in black and white suits and more casual autumn sweaters, there was one page dedicated to Halloween, calling it the perfect day to experiment with your style, to break boundaries and pair things together that you wouldn’t normally. 

Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

The Daily published a paper on October 28, 1996. Two students are trying costumes on from Fantasy Attic Costumes. It reminds me of when I dressed up as a duloc dancer for my 6th grade production of “Shrek: The Musical.”


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

On Oct. 26, 2000, the Daily published an article about some popular costume trends at local Ann Arbor stores titled “Ready To Wear: French maids, pimps top lists of Halloween demands at local costume shops.” In the picture, two LSA sophomores are helping each other try on costumes at a place called “The Cat’s Meow.”


Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

A clip from the Daily published Oct. 30, 2012. A group of 25 students in zombie club walked around downtown Ann Arbor in full zombie mode. In addition to participating in what was called the “walk of the dead,” they joined Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity in an effort to raise money and collect food for the Michigan Food Gatherer’s society. The article describes the student zombies holding signs in windows one minute and chasing students around campus the next. Three years from this publication, same sex marriage will be legalized in the United Stated by another groundbreaking supreme court decision for Obergefell vs Hodges

Present day

Courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library

This band of misfits took a Halloween group photo in October of 2021. They stand on the porch of Michminnies, a co-op on N. State St. comprised of a bright blue house and a bright purple one. From left to right, there’s a mobster, a darker take on Ms. Frizzle, Raven from Teen Titans and Luna Lovegood. Luna Lovegood was ok with being herself, and that meant on Oct. 31 of 2021, I was too. 

That night, I didn’t worry about the ancient Greek exam I had to study for, or the bathroom I had to clean, or the fact that I wore pants every day of the week, or the birth control pill I took every day.

Roe vs Wade is going to be overturned in less than a year. 

I hope Halloween continues to be a jovial avenue for expression, because embodying clothes and characters that clash with your day to day default isn’t just inherently fun. 

It can be radical, too, at least for a night. 

Statement Correspondent Danielle Canan can be reached at