Discover the Haunted History of Halloween with World Book Online!


Ancient Origins

  • Halloween developed from an ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago in the area that is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northwestern France.
  • The festival was called Samhain (pronounced SOW ehn), which means summer’s end. The festival marked the beginning of the dark winter season and was celebrated around November 1.
  • During Samhain, Celts believed that the barriers between the natural world and the supernatural were broken, and that the dead could walk among the living for just a little while.

From Samhain To Halloween

  • In the 800’s, the Christian church established a new holiday, All Saints’ Day, on November 1st. All Saints’ Day was also called All Hallows’. Hallow means saint, or one who is holy. The evening before All Hallows’ was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or as it came to be abbreviated, All Hallow e’en.
  • For centuries in Europe, people remembered the dead at All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 2) with bonfires.

Origins of the Jack-o’-Lantern

  • Although bonfires are less common on Halloween today, people still mark the night with candles burning in jack-o’-lanterns.
  • The jack-o’-lantern originally represented spirits present in the dark, or souls released from Christian purgatory.
  • According to an Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a character named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miserly, bad-tempered man. He could not get into hell either, because he had tricked the devil several times. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth forever with only a coal from hell to light his lantern.

American Traditions

By the late 1800’s, Americans celebrated this spooky holiday in a variety of ways:

  • In rural New Hampshire, people held barn dances for Halloween.
  • In New York City, Halloween parades and firecrackers were common aspects of the celebration.
  • In mountainous North Carolina, many thought Halloween was a time when people could hear the future whispered in the wind.
  • In Louisiana, it was tradition to cook a midnight dumb supper (which means a meal eaten without speaking) and watch for a ghost to join the table.

Halloween In Europe

  • In Ireland, objects, such as a coin, a ring, and a thimble, were baked into a cake or other food. It was believed that the person who found the coin would become wealthy. Whoever found the ring would marry soon, but the person who got the thimble would never get married.
  • In England, people went house-to-house souling—that is, asking for small breads called soul cakes in exchange for prayers.
  • In some areas of the United Kingdom and Ireland, people went mumming (parading in masks) on many holidays, including Halloween.

Warding Off the Spirits

People in Scotland and Ireland once carved out large beets or turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween. After this custom reached America, people began to use pumpkins.

Pumpkins: A New World Vegetable

Pumpkins probably originated in North America. Seeds from related plants dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C. have been found in Mexico. Most pumpkins weigh between 5 to 30 pounds (2.3 to 14 kilograms). But some may weigh more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms)!

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

This Week in History: Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born on Oct. 7, 1931

People call him “the Arch.” He is Desmond Tutu, who served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, from 1986 to 1996. As archbishop, Tutu was the leader of the Anglican Church in southern Africa. He was the first black African to hold that post. In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the strict and often brutal system of racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990’s. Tutu believed it was morally wrong and sought to end it by nonviolent means. He led the effort to convince foreign nations to push for change by imposing economic sanctions on South Africa. He called on both the supporters and the opponents of apartheid to find a peaceful way to end it.

Sometimes it takes courage to be a peacemaker. In 1985, the South African government banned large black funeral gatherings, which had sometimes turned into politically heated events. Tutu defied the ban. In August, hundreds of police officers and soldiers surrounded a gathering of about 1,000 funeral mourners. With military helicopters circling overhead, Tutu negotiated with the police for half an hour to avoid a violent encounter. A month earlier, he had waded into a mob of enraged black youths and kept them from killing a man whom they suspected of being an informer for the police. Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, once said of Tutu, “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid, and seldom without humor, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.”

It also takes understanding to be a peacemaker. Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on Oct. 7, 1931. He lived through the imposition of the apartheid system. He began his career as a teacher, but he left teaching in protest against laws purposely designed to give black students second-rate educations. He became an Anglican priest in 1961 and later was made a bishop. After the end of apartheid, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a South African panel that conducted hearings on suspected human rights abuses during apartheid. Tutu is known for his compassion. On more than one occasion during TRC testimony, he lowered his head on his hands and wept. Under Tutu’s leadership, the commission promoted healing, forgiveness, and national unity.

It takes hope to be a peacemaker. Tutu is famous for his joy and his marvelous laugh. He believes all people were “made for goodness,” and that we should search out the good at the true heart of every person. He believes all people are brothers and sisters, children of God. All, therefore, deserve honor and respect. For Tutu, this faith exists in harmony with the traditional African concept of ubuntu, which sees people as interdependent. An injustice to one diminishes all. To oppress one person diminishes the entire community, as does taking revenge on the oppressor. Tutu has said, “There is no peace without forgiveness.” Both in South Africa and in other nations that have experienced conflict or oppression, Tutu has worked to help people overcome hate and find peace.

Great Lives in Jazz


In honor of Thelonious Monk’s birthday this week (October 10), see if you can match some jazz greats to their dates of birth and accomplishments!

14 Facts About Christopher Columbus’s Life & Legacy from World Book Online



  1. A Holiday Is Born

Columbus Day was not declared a legal federal holiday until 1971. Now it’s celebrated on the second Monday of October. But before 1971, several states celebrated Columbus Day on October 12, the day that Columbus’s ship landed in the New World.

  1. Not the First

Columbus was NOT the first European to reach the Western Hemisphere. The Norse (also called the Vikings) had settled for a time on the coast of North America about A.D. 1000, but most Europeans of the 1400’s did not know about the settlement.

  1. Spice Is Nice

Columbus set out to reach the Indies—what are now India, China, the East Indies (southeastern Asia), and Japan. He hoped to gain direct access to gold, silk, gems, and spices. Cloves, nutmeg, and mace served as medicines as well as seasonings.

  1. His Map Man

A map of the world made by Ptolemy, an astronomer and geographer in Alexandria, Egypt, in the A.D. 100’s, might have been the basis for Columbus’s notions of geography. Ptolemy’s map showed most of the world as covered by land.

  1. Incorrect Calculations

Columbus’s plan was based in part on two major miscalculations.

1) He underestimated the circumference of the world by about 25 percent.

2) He believed that most of the world consisted of land rather than water.

  1. Years of Waiting

King Ferdinand of Spain placed Columbus’s proposal before his council, which rejected it. The council initially turned down his plan on the correct belief that he had greatly underestimated the length of the journey.

  1. Big Boats

Martín Alonso Pinzón, an experienced seafarer, captained the Pinta, a caravel with square-rigged sails that could carry about 53 long tons, the equivalent of almost 10 elephants! Columbus’s brother Vicente Yañez Pinzón captained the slightly smaller Niña. Columbus captained the third vessel, the Santa María.

  1. No Five-Star Dining

The sailors’ main meal consisted of a stew of salted meat or fish, hard biscuits, and watered wine. The sailors had no sleeping quarters, so they huddled on deck in good weather or found a spot below deck during storms.

  1. Gut Instincts

Columbus had few navigational instruments. He knew enough about celestial navigation to measure latitude by using the North Star. He used a compass to plot his course, estimated distances on a chart, relied on a half-hour glass to measure time, and guessed his speed.

10. Tough Crowd

After a month of smooth sailing, the crews became anxious that they had not yet reached the islands Columbus had led them to expect. They had not sighted land for longer than any other crew of that time!

11. Claiming the Prize

Between the evening of October 11 and the morning of October 12, a sailor on the Pinta named Juan Rodríguez Bermejo called out, “Land, land!” Isabella had offered a reward to the first person to sight land. However, Columbus said that he had seen a flickering light hours earlier, and he claimed the reward.

12. A Christmas Eve Surprise

The night of December 24, an exhausted Columbus gave the wheel of the Santa María to a sailor, who passed it to a cabin boy. The ship crashed and split apart on a reef near Cap-Haïtien, in present-day Haiti. Aided by a local chief, the crew built a makeshift fort. Columbus left about 40 men there to hunt for gold. He then started home on the Niña.

13. Winning the Race

Columbus had been concerned that Martín Pinzón, with whom he had quarreled at times, would reach Spain first and claim the glory. Indeed, Pinzón had reached a small village in Spain a few days earlier and had notified the monarchs of his arrival. However, they refused to see him until they had heard from Columbus, and Pinzón died before he could tell his story.

14. A Legacy of Exploration

Columbus made three more voyages west before his death on May 20, 1506. Many people believed Columbus was poor at the time of his death, but he actually died wealthy.

* Bonus Fact *: Think it should be Columbus’ instead of Columbus’s? Technically, both versions are correct. But according to some grammar rules, adding the ‘s to proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z is preferred.

These fun facts can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

This Week in History: Tanks first used in battle during World War I

(pc060845) British tank in World War I. Credit: © The Illustrated London News Picture Library

(pc060845) British tank in World War I. Credit: © The Illustrated London News Picture Library

Machine guns, heavy artillery, barbed wire, and poison gas all existed before World War I (1914-1918). Airplanes, too, already existed, as did observation balloons, submarines, hand grenades, and flame throwers. One weapon, however, developed as a direct result of the fighting in the war: the armored combat vehicle known as the tank.

Battles in World War I tended to be fought by men charging through barbed wire into machine gun and artillery fire. This form of combat produced carnage on an unprecedented scale. Battlefronts settled into static trench systems. Repeated assaults on heavily defended trenches caused still more carnage. In early 1915, British Lord of the Admiralty (the Royal Navy) Winston Churchill was looking for a new idea, and he found one.

British Army Lieutenant-Colonel E. D. Swinton, assigned as a war correspondent, had seen the bloody battlefields of France. He also knew of the American-made Holt caterpillar tractor. The tractor ran on a continuous band of treads driven by inner wheels. The machine could navigate almost any terrain—including trenches. Swinton thought that an armed, armored vehicle running on caterpillar treads might have a chance on the modern battlefield. Winston Churchill agreed. The new machine was dubbed a land battleship, or, simply, a landship.

Under the utmost secrecy, design and construction of experimental landships began. In 1916, models were tested and quickly prepared for combat. They featured a large, oblong armored compartment for the engine, equipment, crew, ammunition, and either heavy cannon or machine guns. A long tread ran around the entire length of each side of the compartment. The machines were large, incredibly slow and heavy, and hard to maneuver. But they could crawl on muddy terrain, cross trenches, blast holes in enemy defenses, and withstand a great deal of punishment. Before the vehicles were sent to France, however, the name landship was deemed too descriptive—a concern if the term leaked to the enemy. The machines were thought to resemble large water cisterns, or water tanks. The new name stuck.

On Sept. 15, 1916, a few dozen tanks rumbled into combat for the first time during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in northern France. Most of these first tanks broke down mechanically, became bogged down in massive shell holes, or were disabled by enemy fire. Those that reached the German lines, however, had the desired effect. They penetrated the German defenses, knocked out enemy machine guns, and profoundly frightened enemy soldiers.

After the experience of Flers-Courcelette, improved versions of the tank were developed, and military leaders prepared to use them in much greater numbers. In 1917, the newly formed Tank Corps saw action in several battles, but it was at Cambrai in November where tanks enjoyed their first great success. More than 370 tanks broke a wide—albeit, temporary—gap in the enemy lines. Seeing the tank’s usefulness, the Germans built a few of their own, and, in April 1918, opposing tanks clashed for the first time during the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux. That same month, Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton traveled to California to personally thank Benjamin Holt, inventor of the caterpillar tread tractor.

Tanks went on to greater fame and usefulness after World War I, and they continue to be integral parts of modern militaries around the world. Holt’s tractor company survives today as Caterpillar, one of the world’s largest machinery manufacturers.

This week in history: Marshall Field I, American merchant, was born in 1834


Portrait of Marshall Field. Credit: Library of Congress

When someone mentions “Marshall Field,” what springs to mind—at least for most Chicagoans—is an image of the city’s world-famous Beax-Arts department store with its landmark twin clocks jutting out a block apart above State Street.

But few people know the story of the man who founded the company that bore his name. Marshall Field I was born on a farm in Conway Township, Massachusetts, probably on Sept. 18, 1834. He came to Chicago in 1856 and obtained a job with a dry goods firm. In 1865, Field bought an interest in merchant Potter Palmer’s rival business. By 1881, Field gained control of the firm, and it became known as Marshall Field and Company.

Field introduced many new merchandising strategies. For instance, he marked prices on the merchandise and let customers exchange goods if they were dissatisfied. The company developed new advertising methods and window displays to attract customers. It was the first store to sell bargain goods in its basement.

Field’s slogan was “Give the Lady What She Wants,” and he made an effort to attract women to his store. He hired young women as salesclerks, opened a restaurant in the store, and offered lounges, restrooms, a library, a nursery, and telephones to customers. Customers could also check their coats, write letters on complimentary Marshall Field stationery, and hold meetings at the store.

Field was also quoted as saying, “I was determined not to remain poor.” By the 1880’s, he was the richest man in Chicago. Although not known for his generosity, Field made important philanthropic contributions later in his life. These included a gift of land as a site for a new University of Chicago. He also contributed about $9 million to establish the Field Museum in Chicago, one of the world’s largest natural history museums. Field died on Jan. 16, 1906. Successive generations of Fields continued the retail merchandising enterprise and expanded into publishing. (In fact, the Fields owned World Book, Inc., the publisher of The World Book Encyclopedia, from 1945 to 1978.)

A year after Field’s death, architect Daniel Burnham completed construction on the southwest corner of the State Street store. Also in 1907, the store’s famous stained glass dome, designed by Louis C. Tiffany, was built. Although the store appears to be one building, it is actually made up of five different structures, which have been seamlessly integrated into a single entity. The original State Street store, which opened in 1868, was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871; a second building at that location was also destroyed by fire in 1877. The building that stands today was built in parts between 1893 and 1914, designed by Burnham and Company. The 12-story building is the second-largest store in the world. It was declared a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2005.

Marshall Field and Company grew to become a major chain store before being acquired by Federated Department Stores of Cincinnati in 2005. In 2006, the nameplate of Macy’s went up on more than 400 stores across the United States, including the former Marshall Field’s stores.

As the new Macy’s sign went up on the former Marshall Field’s flagship store on State Street, loyal Field’s customers protested, holding signs that read “Field’s is Chicago” and buttons bearing the message “I Want My Marshall Field’s.” To this day, a local group works through its website,, to “bring back Marshall Field’s in quality, service, and name” by holding rallies and distributing leaflets and flyers.


This Week in History: Construction begins on the Berlin Wall in 1961

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

East German Workers Near The Brandenburg Gate Reinforce The Wall Dividing The City, 10/1961. Credit: NARA

On the morning of Aug. 13, 1961, Berliners awoke to the sounds of a massive construction project. All along the border separating East and West Berlin, streets were ripped up, and temporary barricades and barbed wire fences were emplaced. A few days later, construction of the Berlin Wall began in earnest. The completed wall eventually contained concrete slabs stacked 12 to 15 feet (3.7 to 4.6 meters) high. Pipes, barbed wire, and other obstacles were installed atop much of the wall. Armed guards were ordered to stop anyone trying to cross from east to west. They began patrolling the wall, aided by guard dogs, barbed wire, electric alarms, mines, and trenches. On August 22, the first of more than 170 people died trying to cross over the Berlin Wall.

At that time, East Berlin was the capital of the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic (East Germany). West Berlin was an isolated state of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). During the 1950’s, travel between the two parts of Berlin had been largely unrestricted. As a result, West Berlin offered an opportunity for many thousands of East Germans to escape Communism. In 1961, East Germany, backed by the Soviet Union, built the Berlin Wall to stop the massive emigration.

For the next few decades, the Berlin Wall—and its major crossing point, Checkpoint Charlie—symbolized the intense nature of the rivalry between Communist and non-Communist nations during the Cold War. In 1989, East Germany became the site of widespread demands for more freedom. In response, the East German government finally ended its restrictions on emigration and travel to the West by its citizens. The East Germans opened the wall in November and soon began to tear it down. In October 1990, East and West Germany were united into the non-Communist country of Germany. Berlin was reunited into a single city. By 1992, nearly all the Berlin Wall had been removed. Several sections remain standing as memorials, but most of the wall was broken up for use in roadbeds and other construction projects. Parts of the wall were sold to museums and private individuals.