Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Joske's Halloween, 1908

Figure 1: San Antonio Light (20 Oct 1908), 4.5.
Happy Halloween! What a fitting day for the inaugural post of my new blog "Between the Railroad and the Riverwalk." This Joske's advertisement (see figure 1) ran in the San Antonio Light Newspaper, throughout October, 1908. Although many San Antonians are familiar with Joske's former location in Alamo Plaza, the original Joske's Mercantile was located in Main Plaza (likely on what was then the northeastern corner) and opened sometime in 1867. Like so many other German immigrants of his time, Julius Joske came to San Antonio seeking opportunity and a means of supporting his family back home.

By the 1870s, Main Plaza had been the consumer hub of San Antonio for close to two hundred years. Joske's Mercantile was only one of a handful of burgeoning store attempting to elbow their way in to Main Plaza. The overall profitability of the original Joske's remains unclear. One thing is for sure, however, momentousness change occurred for all tenants in Main Plaza beginning in 1873. San Fernando Cathedral was built sometime before 1750 and continues to be the traditional centerpiece of Main Plaza and San Antonio. Beginning in 1868, the cathedral was expanded to accommodate San Antonio's growing Catholic population. By 1873, the construction was completed, reorienting Main Plaza to face the new front of the church. Many business adjusted and moved to a new location in Main Plaza. Joske did not.
Figure 2: Witte Museum Collections
Joske closed his store in 1873 and briefly returned to Germany. Later that same year, Joske returned to San Antonio and purchased a muddy slop-hole of a lot next to an old grocery in Alamo Plaza (see figure 2). Joske's new location, situated along the Alamo street thoroughfare and near Menger's hotel and brewery, proved to be a fine location. Joske's dominated the northeastern corner of Alamo and Commerce for nearly a century.

In 1908, Halloween was just beginning to take shape as we know it today. The practice of going door to door, with one's face masked, begging for food, was actually more of a Thanksgiving tradition at the time. Thanksgiving masking or "mumming," in San Antonio remained popular for children and adults all the way through the 1910s. The consumer culture of purchasing ghoulish Halloween decorations from a store also occurred during this time. Department stores, like Joske's, directly influenced the way that we understand Halloween today.

For further reading, here is a great article about Thanksgiving Masking:

Trick or Treat and Happy Hunting! BA
Figure 3: San Antonio Light (31 October 1907), 4.1.

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