By Zachary Rousseas
We have a pretty interesting object this week: a rooster costume, from the estate of Laura Woodward LeFevre. This costume was worn in 1924 by Ralph LeFevre, a New Paltz resident and descendant. In 1924, the town celebrated the 246th year celebration of the settling of the village originally settled as Die Pfalz by the Huguenots. The same year was the 300th anniversary of the settling in New Netherland by the Huguenots. This celebration was kicked off with a pageant, which you can read about in the previous Object of the Week post, a parade, and many other festivities.
Unfortunately, the rooster costume and Ralph LeFevre are missing from the Pageant playbook featured in last week’s post. We can only speculate how this costume could have been used back in 1924. LeFevre could have been an extra in one of the plays, or he may have worn it to celebrate the farmlands that would have been so important to the New Paltz community during its original settling, and still to this day. The Rooster costume was created from a variety of different materials: the head was created from rust wool and its red stiffened top cock was of cotton, the eyes were made of black buttons, and the hood was brown cotton with tan cotton on the underside, the beak was wooden, and the tongue was a red flannel. The materials used to create the rooster costume are especially important because of the availability of the items and how many of them would have been available in an average household.
Yet, finding this rooster costume may not be as obscure as had been originally anticipated. Costumes were more common in the early 20th century than they are in contemporary times. National Geographic Magazine explains, “masquerade parties in the United States were much more common a hundred years ago, when people dressed up not just for Halloween but also for several other holidays, including Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve […].”1 Similarly pageants depicting “[…] episodes from a town’s early years rather than the recent past, evident in historical pageants of the 1910s, grew more prominent in the 1920s.”2 There are numerous other examples of this in the Historic Huguenot Street collections, fashion and costumes were an integral piece of society in previous centuries.
The existence of this rooster costume in our collections is telling about costumes, fashion, and party culture around 100 years ago, alongside being one of the more peculiar objects we have seen so far on this blog. Additionally, this rooster costume allows us a glimpse into how the descendants in the early 20th century viewed tradition, their history, and their Huguenot ancestors.
1 Photograph Copyright DaZo Vintage Stock Photos, Images.com, Corbis. “Halloween Costume Pictures: Spooky Styles a Century Ago.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 29 Oct. 2010. Web. 25 Sept. 2014.
2 Glassberg, David. American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1990. Print.