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Halloween and Día de Muertos Research Guide Expanded and Updated

A scarecrow sits in a folding chair on a porch. On the door is a sign reading "Happy Halloween."

Folklorist Sue Samuelson documented this scarecrow as part of her series “Halloween porch decorations, New Gretna, New Jersey” in 1983.  See the photo series at this link.

Get ready for two upcoming holidays with the expanded and updated research guide on Halloween and Día de Muertos from the Library of Congress!

Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources highlights collections from across the Library, including the American Folklife Center, Prints and Photographs, the Hispanic section, Rare Books, Manuscripts, and the National Audio Visual Conservation Center (NAVCC). Items we’ve added for this year’s Halloween season include a player where you can listen to Jack Santino’s classic Halloween lecture from 40 years ago, which discusses the deep history of the holiday and its transformation in the modern world, and includes his own tellings of folktales and other items of Halloween lore.

“Día de los Muertos” by artist Juan Fuentes is part of the Mission Gráfica/La Raza Graphics collection. This collection has been added the the guide this year!

We’ve also added:

  • links to notable books to get you started in your Halloween reading
  • a player to watch the first film version of Frankenstein from 1910
  • a gallery of classic Día de Los Muertos posters from the Mission Gráfica/La Raza Graphics collection in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division
  • links to lots of new content like the witch tales from Aunt Molly Jackson that I blogged about just last week.

Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources has nine pages packed with content. Keep in mind that some of the categories overlap–for example, some “Hispanic Materials” are also “Prints and Photographs.” We had to pick a spot for each item or collection, so we encourage you to skim the whole guide before taking a deeper dive into your favorite areas.

We think of Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources as a one-stop Library guide for all things scary! Are you looking for books, photos, poems, or films related to Halloween, Día de Muertos, or the supernatural? Do you want to find spooky folklore, including audio of traditional folktales or songs about ghosts, witches, and the Devil? We tried to put something entertaining and enlightening on every page–so it’s not just a guide to research, it’s also a collection of fun scares–and an invitation to contemplate the mysteries of death.

Find the updated guide here!


A Brief History of the Halloween and Día de Muertos Guide

The Library of Congress’ suite of research guides are resources created by librarians across the agency meant to highlight relevant collections and teach researchers how to better search our millions of collection items. But the Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources is special. It was one of the first research guides created for the “guides.loc.gov” domain back in 2017, and was adapted from the exhibit catalog for that year’s exhibition LOC Halloween: Chambers of Mystery. For the exhibit, curators from across the Library picked some of their favorite items to show the public. As AFC’s lead curator on the project, I selected supernatural songs and stories from field and festival recordings to play on audio and video loops; created display reproductions of supernatural chapbooks from our Brazilian Literatura de Cordel collections; and recommended spooky photos from our field projects. I even built a scarecrow based on one documented for our collections by Sue Samuelson in 1982!

Head and shoulders portrait of three men, with a scarecrow.

Halloween exhibit curators Nicholas Brown, Stephen Winick, and John Fenn take a selfie with James H. Skellington, the scarecrow we created for our Chamber of Mystery.

In the exhibit, these materials from the American Folklife Center were presented alongside items from across the library: books about Halloween and the supernatural; sheet music on scary themes; photos of Halloween celebrations; film clips from classic horror flicks; and much more. The Library’s Hispanic Division went all out, creating a table for ofrendas, a solemn and important tradition of Día de Muertos. As the exhibit got near to opening, I worked with the exhibit coordinator Nicholas Brown to edit the exhibit catalog, a document listing all the items we showed the public in the exhibit. That document was available at the exhibit for audiences to take home. (The pdf still available at this link!)

Using the exhibit catalog, as well as their own visual and curatorial instincts, members of the Library’s research guides team made the Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources as a prototype–one of our first guides using LibGuides software. I was listed as the author, but in truth other people–including our great behind-the-scenes hero Betsy Fulford–did most of the work of building it. Because the exhibit was the work of many people, the guide also reflects the work of many staff members across the divisions, especially the Hispanic section and Prints and Photographs!

Back in 2017 I promised to edit and update Halloween & Día de Muertos Resources to keep it fresh as the years went by. I’ve kept my promise by adding bits and bobs year by year. But this time I’ve done a more comprehensive overhaul, and I hope it makes the guide more useful–and more fun! See what you think at this link!



New AFC Latinx and Latin American Research Guide : Navigating AFC Collections During National Hispanic Heritage Month

The research guides from the American Folklife Center help researchers navigate the AFC collections by geographic region or by topic. One of our most recent guides, Latinx and Latin American Collections: Resources in the American Folklife Center, provides quick access to our Latinx and Latin American resources during National Hispanic Heritage Month.

La Llorona: Storytelling for Halloween and Día de Muertos

La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, is a spirit that haunts the folklore of Mexico and other Latin American countries. In some versions she’s a ghost, but in others she’s an immortal wanderer, not dead but not really alive either. So far in the series, we’ve introduced the legend, given some of its history, explored songs related to La Llorona, and discussed the story’s role in growing up. Now, we present a telling of the tale. The post contains audio and a transcript of a performance by Joe Hayes, one of the best known storytellers from the American southwest. Hayes’s bilingual Spanish-English storytelling has earned him a distinctive place among America’s professional storytellers.

La Llorona on the Folklife Today Podcast

Halloween and Día de Muertos are almost here! So, believe it or not, Season 4, Episode 1 of the Folklife Today Podcast, our 2021 Halloween and Día de Muertos episode, is ready for listening! It features interviews about the Weeping Woman, La Llorona, a spirit from Latin American folklore, plus related songs and stories. The people interviewed are Juan Díes, leader of the Sones de Mexico Ensemble, Camille Acosta, who wrote her masters thesis on La Llorona before interning at AFC, and Allina Migoni, AFC’s Latinx subject specialist. This blog contains links to download the podcast, background on our guests, and links to full audio of the songs.

Growing Up with La Llorona

This is the fourth blog post in a series about La Llorona, the Weeping Woman, a spirit that haunts the folklore of Mexico and other Latin American countries. We’ll present comments on the legend by the writer Rudolfo Anaya, the scholar Domino Renee Perez, our former intern and Llorona expert Camille Acosta, pioneering Costa Rican writer Manuel Argüello Mora, and Esperanza Sernas, a restaurant worker interviewed in 1977 by fieldworker Philip George for AFC’s Chicago Ethnic Arts Project. This blog also contains one of the most gruesome traditional descriptions of La Llorona we’ve seen so far! The whole series will be published in time for Día de Muertos (aka Día de los Muertos) 2021, so stay tuned….

Picante Pero Sabroso: Songs of La Llorona

This is the third blog post in a series about La Llorona, the weeping woman who haunts Mexican and other Latinx cultures. The series will be published in time for Día de Muertos (aka Día de los Muertos) 2021. In this post we talk about songs associated with the La Llorona legend. I spend the most time with the traditional song from Oaxaca, which was featured recently at the GRAMMY Awards and in the movie Coco. I also discuss a widespread (and completely different) folksong called “La Llorona” in the son huasteco repertoire, and “La Llorona Loca,” a song composed in Colombia that has become a mainstay in Mexican music as well. What all La Llorona songs have in common are the themes of death, remembrance, and mourning, which makes them all appropriate for Día de Muertos or Halloween. We hope this post will be useful in building your own personal playlist for these upcoming holidays. 

La Llorona: Roots, Branches, and the Missing Link from Spain

This is the second blog post in a series about La Llorona, the weeping woman who haunts Mexican and other Latinx cultures. The series will be published in time for Día de Muertos 2021. In this post, I’ll show some of the story’s long history, especially in Mexico. I’ll give links to primary sources from the 1570s showing the story was already present among Indigenous Mexicans at that time and earlier. I’ll also present what I believe is new evidence of a strong link for some La Llorona stories with Spain.

La Llorona: An Introduction to the Weeping Woman

In Latin America, in Spanish-speaking communities in the U.S., and especially in Mexico, no ghost story is told as often, discussed as enthusiastically, or interpreted as widely, as the legend of La Llorona. With this introduction, AFC kicks off a short series of blogs on La Llorona stories and songs between now and Día de Muertos