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Oct 29, 2015 — By: Christy V. Temple
Lightning flashes across a darkened sky and a sense of foreboding fills every fiber of my being. Gnarled branches graze the side of the house like so many fingernails crossing a chalkboard. Howling winds blow fiercely through the trees creating a macabre site as the cemetery looms in the foreground. So many images dance amongst the tombstones making it hard to tell if they are of this world or not.
All of a sudden my vision seems to clear as I look further into the gloom of the night and spot a familiar creature lurking and skulking about. A long black tail flicks back and forth cautiously, surveying the ghostly backdrop as a streak of light and clap of thunder illuminates the whole graveyard.
What do I spy on this cold, dank and dreary night running amok in the bone orchard? It is a black cat as slender as they come, pawing and prancing the ground furtively as if it knows what lies beneath the dead, brown grass. It is All Hallows Eve after all and the sight of this ebony feline conjures visions and memories of my childhood days trick-or-treating.
Beistle: Halloween Cat Die Cut (Photo courtesy of http://churchofhalloween.com/beistle/)
Black cats have always been a distinct part of Halloween. They are both playful and ominous at the same time. Black cats and witches have been linked together in stories over the centuries.
This fabled black feline started making appearances in the early 1900s on paper products fashioned by The Beistle Company. This company was founded in 1900 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Martin Luther Beistle. M.L. started his company in the basement of his home crafting décor for hotel lobbies with his wife and brother-in-law. He continued working as a specialty salesman saving the company profits in order to expand into their own factory building.
Around 1905, he rented the W.W. McBride Paper Company factory where he worked as a salesman at Pittsburg. Late 1905 through 1906, the Beistle Company felt the crunch of the economy during its financial collapse and was forced to close the factory and relocate it returning to his humble beginnings in his basement. In 1907, he moved his basement factory into his father-in-laws wagon shop. In 1909, he moved into a new factory location in Shippensburg, and began to publish a company catalog of the various novelty and party paper products.
In 1910, M.L. Beistle made a shrewd business move when he brought the technology to produce honeycombed tissue to the United States. This technology had formerly only been available in Europe and the Orient. He built and patented new machines just for this process. The new honeycombed tissue was a hit. Beistle rapidly expanded their production lines of paper decorations and the business thrived.
American paper products saw a surge in popularity during World War I when German goods were not available. The lack of imported goods proved most beneficial to American manufacturers. Beistle’s production of party goods surged during the war years as did the firm’s resources and employee base.
Beistle has used various trademarks over the years and there are several to keep an eye out for when you are determining authenticity. Depending upon what kind of product you are looking at, the trademarks will either be stamped, printed, labeled or embossed. The most common trademarks include: “H.E. Luhrs”; “The Beistle Company” printed signature, “Bee-Line” which may or may not include an image of a bee in flight; and the Beistle Diamond Trademark. On their tissue products you may find the “Art Tissue Westminster Bells” trademark.
Some of the most interesting of the vintage Beistle Halloween decorations available were made between the years 1900 and the early 1950s. Due to the fact that Halloween was much more of an adult oriented holiday than it is today, you’ll find that early decorations had more of a spooky aspect than the stuff made for children’s Halloween parties and trick-or-treat outings today.
Typically, back in the 19th century, Halloween catered more to adults and many Victorian households hosted Black Cat parties. A variety of different types of festivities ensued including grown-ups jumping over candles, fortune-telling, and bobbing for apples. Legend even has it that the bone of a black cat had great magical powers. Whether or not that is true, remains to be seen.
In any case, this particular feline has not yet had a proper introduction, so allow me to lend the stage to my furry, feline friend. Only this kitty can tell the story the way it was meant to be told.
Black jointed die cut cardboard cat from the 1950s made by The Beistle Company. (Personal photo courtesy of Christy V. Temple)
“What am I,” you ask? Well, forgive my manners indeed. Let me describe myself first and see if you can figure it out. I am black as ebony, long and lean with a tail flicking to and fro. My body is rimmed in an orange outline as are my eyes, tongue, and lips. My whiskers, nose, teeth, and ears are white as the new-fallen snow. My tail is perched high above my body and each of my four paws look as though I am prancing furtively across the lawn, ready to pounce at any moment. My eyes seem to glower in the darkness and my purrrfectly-shaped mouth bears my purrrfectly white fangs. My jointed body, at the top of my shoulder and my back hindquarter, allow me some movement held in place by small metal eyelets.
If you haven’t guessed by now, then you must have been living under a rock all this time. I will tell you that I don’t really have a name other than being called a “vintage 1950’s Beistle posable Black Cat Halloween cutout.” I have also been described as a “vintage diecut cardboard black cat jointed Halloween decoration.” I am fairly old as I was produced in Pennsylvania in the 1950s. I am approximately 7 inches in length and about 8 ½ inches at the tallest part of me, which is my tail.
So, where did I come from? I’m very glad you asked that question. A paper products manufacturer called The Beistle Company started using images of black cats in their Halloween-themed products. This company offered a cardboard cat with honeycomb tissue body, and basic figurals called “Scaredy” or “Scratch cats.” These figurals were originally the work of artist H.E. Luhrs and featured limbs, jointed by eyelets. Variations of these traditional cats were featured in Beistle catalogs for many decades.
However, the aforementioned cats were my precursors or older siblings. My particular cat motif would not come along until once the war effort was over. You see, during the World War II years of the 1940s, there was limited production of paper products because these types of materials and metals were needed more extensively for the duration of the war. Black cats of Halloween were back in a relatively new form in the late 1940s and the early 1950s.
This is the decade in which I was created. The sad thing is that I never had the chance to meet M.L. Beistle, as he died of a heart attack on January 11, 1935. He is buried in Spring Hill Cemetery, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. He was the faithful and diligent creator of the Beistle Company and worked long, hard hours to make sure that it succeeded.
So, the next time Halloween graces us with its cold, dark and fiendish winds again and you hear the crunch of tiny steps along the dead grasses and leaves of night, just remember the story of the black cat and his faithful creator. If you gaze long enough into the depths of that dark cemetery again, you might just spy me prancing along amongst the tombstones watching protectively over the grave of M.L. Beistle.
Beware to anyone who dares disturb his tomb or you may succumb to a fate far worse than my creator. I’ll be watching you…………………
Beistle: Halloween Cat Die Cut (Photo courtesy of http://churchofhalloween.com/beistle/)
Beistle: An American Halloween Giant. http://www.spookshows.com/beistle/beistle.htm Martin Luther Beistle accessed on 10/20/2014