Fright & Frivolity: Halloween With The Reynoldses

Written by Bari Helms, Director of Archives & Library

If your house number is 666 throwing a fabulous Halloween party should be a requirement, and a night of fright and frivolity is exactly what Katharine and R.J. Reynolds created when they lived at 666 West 5th Street in Winston-Salem, the site of the present-day Central Library. Sadly no paper documentation or photographs exist to memorialize these Halloweens, but youngest daughter Nancy Susan Reynolds reminisced about the events in her oral history conducted in 1980. Nancy only attended one of the Halloween parties when she was seven, dressed as Bo-Peep, “with a little bonnet, and little false curls.” Too excited by the party to even remember what her mother, Katharine, wore, Nancy did recall that “they all went to a great deal of trouble, this was the occasion. This would be for all the Winston socialites, and everybody.”

Historic Reynolds home at 666 West Fifth Street in downtown Winston-Salem.

As with any Halloween gathering, an elaborate costume was paramount. “I remember a Mr. Manly, a very prominent lawyer…was Robinson Crusoe. I think what people did was start planning their costumes a year ahead. He had a sheepskin, with a soft side and a furry side. He had—oh, he was very daring—he had no shirt on. Imagine that in that time. And he had sheepskin breeches; is that what you call them? They were shorts to us, I think they called them something else though. And he had an umbrella, with the smooth side of the sheepskin on the outside and the furry stuff on the inside. Of course, he got the prize.”

To match their guests’ Halloween spirit, the Reynolds family made sure their Victorian residence was as spooky as possible. On Halloween, guests would enter the house through the basement where “dummies, or stockings with sand in them, cold wet sand, were sort of made up like ghosts or spooks. And you touched the banister of the stairs and got an electric shock. So they really went to town.”

The food didn’t make an impression on young Nancy but the cocktails did. “And of course we had Prohibition in North Carolina. You could have, I think, one bottle a week. So all friends that did not drink would get their bottle for my father and he’d pay them back, so he’d have something to serve on an occasion like this. He had a wine cellar in Baltimore, and we’d transport it every time we went to Baltimore. There’d be one bottle in every suitcase.”

Nancy Reynolds at the Reynolds’s Fifth Street home with nurse Henrietta van den Berg, circa 1912.
Reynolds Family at Fifth Street Residence, 1900-5, Images of North Carolina collection, DigitalNC.