October, sweet October, drifts down upon us. A breath of fall, a morning chill, an early orange twilight. The farewell to summer, the beckoning of autumn.
And, just around the bend, the descent of winter.
It can be a magical season, so we offer you dozens of Free to Use and Reuse sets of autumn and Halloween copyright-free images from the Library’s vast collections of prints and photographs for you to use in any way, as cheerful or chilling as you wish. They’re part of the Library’s storehouse of images and we group some of them in sets, such as classic movie theaters, travel posters, weddings, genealogy, discovery and exploration and so on.
For this month, let’s get started with the ghostly image above, a 19th-century stereograph that shows a female specter of a certain age scaring the daylights out of a man and a teenage boy. The plausible explanation is that this apparition is a mom who, even in the afterlife, just cannot believe Junior and Dad still can’t keep this place together. That picnic basket isn’t going to pick itself up, for heaven’s sake!
Then again, it might also just demonstrate that even in the early days of photography, the idea of creating ginned-up images of ghosts and haints and spirits and duppys was a popular idea, giving us evidence that our forebears were just as scared of the dark as horror movies suggest we might be today. Also, that cheesy photographic stunts were as popular then as cheesy TikToks are now.
Then again, autumn is also the harvest season, the gorgeous changing of the leaves when the relentless green of summer gives way to a burst of reds, yellows, golds, oranges and ambers. Autumn, imagined: A long walk in the hills, the crackle of fallen leaves underfoot, a thin strip of road curving away into the stands of maples, oaks and aspens that tower above, casting early shadows.
This isn’t just the stuff of postcards from Vermont. Photographer Carol Highsmith worked her way through Monroe County, W.V., a few years ago, capturing the quiet beauty of a rural country homestead, as seen above.
We could talk about the composition and colors — the rectangular modern house, the aged barns with the triangular roofs; the bright yellow, the sun-faded red, the way the trees seem to be a palette of them all — but let’s just look at that wooden fence. It sags. The steel gate sags. There’s no latch, no loop of chain or stretch of wire to hold the pen closed. While the grass outside the fence is neatly mowed, the barnyard is hopelessly overgrown. It combines to show, through the ways of man and nature, that life in the house continues apace, while the barn and its workings fade into rust, memory and rot. Is there still livestock on the place? If grandpa is still alive in that bright yellow house, one thinks, he’s long past being able to tend anything kept outside. You’re pretty sure that the family dogs, kept in the yard a generation ago, are now house pets.
You’ve been here, surely.
The state fair, the traveling carnival, the roving circus. They show up in fairgrounds or parking lots on the outskirts of town this time of year, the lights flickering on at dusk. It’s a couple of acres of rides, sideshows, games that feature huge stuffed animals as prizes and, if you’re old enough to remember, ridiculous freak-show attractions that you knew better than to pay to see but did so anyhow.
Above, Highsmith happened across this impressive half-skull with fangs — or maybe just sharp canines — as the entrance way to something at a “Halloween-season attraction” in Fort Worth, Texas, the photographer’s notes say. It’s a gaping skull ready to eat patrons, sure, but the main barrier is a cheap black tarp imprinted with cats’ eyes that suggest you wouldn’t want to pay more than a couple of bucks for the thrills inside. That looming parking-lot light pole in the background emphasizes that you’re not in sophisticated territory.
Still, you’re not gonna come all this way and not go inside, are you? What, you scared?
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