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Letter of Recommendation: Sheet Ghosts

Trevor Merrifield

Trevor Merrifield

Trevor Merrifield

Letter of Recommendation: Sheet Ghosts

Any trip to a pop-up Halloween store reveals what the holiday means to most Americans. Cheap, plastic costumes, generic accessories, and expensive mechanized decorations adorn walls of the hollowed-out carcasses of superstores. Everything is mass-produced and superficial, ranging from very overpriced clowns with motorized arms to foam and polyester costumes. It is, like every other holiday, a corporate festivity abomination, with glowing eyes and an electronic voice box.

In the eighth grade, I dressed as a Charlie Brown ghost for Halloween. I’ve always been enamored with It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. There’s a certain way that Bill Melendez and Charles Schulz truly capture the essence of October, in vibrant colors, remarkably insightful lines, and wonderfully atmospheric melodies from Vince Guaraldi. The show, in a very particular way, just epitomizes the underlying concept of Halloween in its purest form.

Inspired by the show, I cut two eyes in a sheet and, à la Charlie Brown, drew misshapen holes across it.

Naturally, not a single person recognized it. Nonetheless, it was a costume that was surprisingly well received, and by far the easiest one I have ever created. I wandered the neighborhood with a friend, trick-or-treating in my one-piece costume. Out of a series of diverse costumes throughout the years, it was one that received particular acknowledgement.

The sheet ghost was created in theatre in the 1800s, transitioning from a suit of armor to the now-iconic bedsheet to indicate those returned from the grave. The sheet resembled a burial shroud, providing a properly unnerving representation of the dead.

Now, sheet ghosts are ubiquitous. From Charlie Brown to Scooby Doo to the lawns of many, many suburban families, they are an integral part of American Halloween culture. They appear throughout pop culture, not as a symbol of horror, but a benign representation of spirits. A sheet ghost, popping up throughout media and decoration, is regarded commonly as a dumbed down alternative to other spectres.

Sheet ghosts embody the immaterial pinnacle of supernatural creatures. They give physical form to that which, by definition, lacks it. Though simple, the concept is one that encompasses a certain ethereality, a particular eerie atmosphere created by the absence of complicating detail. They provide an unearthly facade born not out of pricey construction and commerciality, but out of fear of the unknown and out of ambiguity. They are, in a sense, the anti-Halloween-store accessory. Both as a costume and as a decoration, they symbolize All Hallow’s Eve, in all their monochrome glory, as a thing open to interpretation and not reliant upon gory details or special effects.

Perhaps the creepy air of October, the essence of Halloween, is not created out of what we can see, but what we can’t. A gory bloodbath in a horror movie is often less unnerving than sitting alone in the dark, unaware of what could be in your immediate surroundings. Thus, the commercial pitfall of Halloween – it is built upon designing repulsive sights to create the desired moods, and in doing so often crosses into the ridiculous. The sheet ghost is the aversion of this, standing upon a foundation of simplicity that leaves not a direct jump but a lingering dread.

I returned home on the evening of October 31, 2015, and discarded my sheet to some unknown corner, never to be used again. After all, Halloween costumes only hold true relevance one night of the year. However, that disused bedsheet, on one All Hallow’s Eve, found purpose among the spectres and ghouls of the night, and waits in some dusty box to do so again.

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