Pamela Akarian-Russell is the Halloween Queen. She has 5,000 books on the subject on the paranormaland Halloween. So, it goes without saying the following interview was meant to be. And rest assured, it's spooktacular.
ephemera: When did you become interested in Halloween-related ephemera?
Queen: I began collecting books about the paranormal when in Jr. High School. Susy Smith, Edgr Casey, Gerald Gardner, Sybil Leek etc. Also, anything on mythology and legends. My library today consists of about 5,000 books, which I use for research and enjoyment. I do not own a TV, but do watch VCR movies, of which, I have a large collection of holiday related ones. I began seriously to collect Halloween ephemera and items just over 40 years ago, and other than books, it was very difficult way back when to find Halloween items as they were not welcome at the antique shows; we did as everyone considered them junk and of very little value. You didn't even see them at flea markets, like Brimfield, as they didn't have a market. I begged and pleaded with dealers for years to bring and sell me Halloween items and little by little they did and thought I was raving mad to buy such things.
Ephemera: Today, Halloween is like Motherhood and Apple Pie. Your favorite holiday has come a long way. Did you begin consciously, knowing what you would collect, or did you just one day discover what you were doing?
Queen: When I was a kid I used to collect autumn leaves, bring them home, press, and wax them. I loved the colors. Still do. When I went to college I began hitting the used book stores in Boston and NY and found tons of books and pamphlets on fortune telling, Stonehenge and the Great Stones, Egyptian Mythology, Phrenology, and the Salem Witch Trials. I was hooked. It was quite awhile before I began finding noise makers, candy containers, and other wonderful fantasy pieces, but by not sleeping I try and make up for the lost time.
Ephemera: What challenges or obstacles do you encounter as a collector? How do you overcome these challenges?
Queen: Reproductions, phony experts, people who steal, people who lie, and those who think only of the $ value of items not the emotional or esthetic appeal and value. The national debt is horrendous and gives me no leisure. My collection is worth much more than our national debt because it gives me so much pleasure which I can share with those who come to Castle Halloween Museum. To me the collection is priceless, but when I lived in NH and wanted to get a loan to buy a building to open the museum, they wouldn't give me a cent as they said it had no value and could be sold. An oxymoron by a banking moron or two! Another obstacle is that of religious bigotry and hatred. If you don't know anything about something, label it evil and hate it. If Santa is a satanic figure, I will be elected the next President of the USA! You don't have to be Irish to believe in Leprechauns, and you don't have to be able to fly on a broom to love celebrating Halloween. I used to get upset when I go hate mail "Suffer nt a witch to live," and now feel so sorry for those anonymous frightened sad creatures that write them.
Queen: I'm like the old woman in the shoe in some ways. I love it all but those with a story--the way they came to me have special places in my heart. Gifts from friends and strangers and visitors to the museum touch me deeply, and the letter I get from people who love Halloween...I keep them all as they mean so much. More than the vintage items I treasure the one off creations by folk artists like Linda Wolf, Marie Rogers, Tubby Brown, the Millers, Jack Roads, and the Meaders (the entire clan) Great Art is great art and many of the folk arts have passed on, and I am thankful there are many new folk artists who are creative and original beginning to create original one off items. I must say the cell of Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, the Andy Warhol Dracula, and the Two Harry Oseland Paintings are among my dearest loves but there are so many wonderful things here, and I have always loved the items produced by Dennison...crape paper, napkins, table cloths...graphics to cheer ones heart.
ephemera: Tell me about the books you've written on the Halloween memorabilia? What have you learned from your research on the subject?
Queen: When I wrote my first Halloween Book for Schiffer, it was after I helped Stuart Schneider with his book and loaned him a large amount of what was in is Halloween in America: A Collector's Guide With Prices (A Schiffer Book for Collectors). He did a smashing job on the book. I've written four Halloween books, one on Salem Witch collectibles and on about the Washington DC ghosts, and each time I finish a book I realize I have only touched the surface. We have 35,000 items in the museum and the books only show a fraction of them. I try and feature totally different items in each book.
What have I learned? Well, I began researching when I was the lone collector out there so I have done tons of research and much of what is out there is because of my research and love of the subject. I've also learned there are many people out there now that Halloween has become and multibillion dollar industry who write books and articles about a subject they know little about except its dollar potential and they will quote me, plagiarize me, and condemn me, but never ever say they never did any original research, but utilize my work and not say so. One can only feel contempt for these people as they hurt the collectors and do not have a love and joy of the collectible just the price tag. I've also learnt there are some incredible people out there who love Halloween for itself and not for their ego, and I am truly grateful there are so many of them!
ephemera: What resources do you recommend for others who love Halloween?
Queen: Original catalogues, documents, and material are invaluable resource materials. I do not know what I would do without early magazine ads and articles, Dennison Bogie and Party books, or Catalogues from companies like Reed and Union Plastics. If you have not read Robert Burns' two poems "Tam o Shanter" and "Halloween" especially the latter you know nothing about Halloween. If you have not read Upham's book on the Salem Witch Trials you know little about them. I like to flatter myself that my own books have made an impact on Halloween especially, The Tastes & Smells of Halloween. I cannot thank Martha Stuart enough for what she has done for Halloween celebrating and collecting. She loves Halloween for what it is a night of magic and fantasy.
I am a celebrant of the joy of Halloween, here at CastleHalloween, 365 days a year, being careful to share the day with other holidays, incorporating them into my world of Halloween, but then that is why I have been the Halloween Queen for over 3 years!
ephemera: Thank you, Halloween Queen.
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