This is a photo diary of my costuming "travels"; where I've learned and struggled to make historical costumes for myself. They're not always pretty, but always fun, most of the time. And I want to share with others what I learn along the way. **You can find me on Facebook, or have my posts delivered to your email by signing up at the lower part of the right column.**

About Me

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HI, my name is Val. I'm a member of Costumer's Guild West in Los Angeles, Dean Emeritus of 2018 Costume College; Past President of the San Diego Costume Guild, member of Orange County Costume Guild, and a representative of the San Diego History Center. I make my own historical costumes but don't sell any unless I get tired of one.The eras I've made so far are 1770 up to 1918. My favorite is the 1880s bustle.


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A Week of Mourning Ensembles

Oct 31 & Nov 2, 2012
What started out as a vacation turned into an opportunity to dress up in costume. Our friends Jerry and Cindy joined hubby and I on a trip to S. Lake Tahoe, CA, last week, and Cindy suggested since we weren’t far from Virginia City, NV, that we should go there and bring our Victorian mourning costumes to do a photo shoot in the cemetery. On top of that, we could go on a ghost tour. And to top it further, it was on Halloween. I brought my 1850s mourning gown, and Cindy brought her newly made 1870s gown. We lucked out that it was chilly that day, and the threat of rain melted away.
Virginia City is a preserved mining town of the Old West that was much larger than I imagined. This is a postcard I bought that has a better position to show the main street but there was about two more streets and this was pretty long. There were quite a few original saloons, restaurants, and shops, many of which were claimed to be haunted. The wooden plank sidewalk dipped up & down like a roller coaster ride. We even found out later that under that sidewalk was a tunnel that the Chinese were forced to use as their walkway instead of with the public.

When we arrived in Virginia City, the first thing we did was head over to the cemetery, which includes four separate ones. The largest was a Mason’s; another was for Volunteer Firemen. Our friend, Carolyn,  who lives nearby joined us for the photo shoot by Jerry. The majority of these photos were taken by him. And true to the story of it being the most haunted cemetery, one of Jerry’s cameras suddenly refused to work.

Afterwards we walked back down the hill and headed back to town. There were a lot of steep hills and this gives you an idea of the landscape. We walked away with a lot of cemetery dirt on our hems, and later discovered we took some home inside our hems.
 We walked around town and found some great spots for Jerry to take photos. Yep, we hit the Bucket of Blood Saloon.  

When we walked into the Visitors Center, they admired our costumes and asked if we’d be in the town’s Halloween parade later that day. We said sure, as long as it was over in time for us to go on our ghost tour. So we filled out the application, and at first I just wrote my name but Cindy said no, we need a title. She immediately said The Black Widows! We headed back up the street to drop off our application at the starting point, and things moved to a crawl. The organizers were running late and we were worried we’d either not be able to stay around, or had to step out of line in time to make our tour. Finally things got going, and lots of kids showed up with their parents to be in the parade. There was a group of large dogs all painted in dog hair coloring and dressed as Teletubbies, along with some Catrinas from Dia de los Muertos. The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf were there, along with lots of cute kids. I tried to get photos of them but they didn’t stand still long enough.

Finally the Sheriff stopped the traffic in the street and we were ready. We were put at the front of the line behind the banner so we’d be able to make our tour in time. Cindy and I started clowning around and yelling, “Are there any single men available? Are there any single victims….uh, men left in this town?” We got a lot of laughs and really enjoyed ourselves. You can see some of the cute kids in line behind us.

Just as we were finishing, our guys started hustling us along to get over to the Silver Queen Hotel for the ghost tour. We were the only ones in costume and Cindy got picked to carry one of the electronic meters to register any ghostly emissions. *None recorded* And our photos were taken by the ghost investigators on the tour, The Northern Nevada Ghost Hunters, to see if any images showed up. This one was taken by Jerry but I’ve asked if they would share theirs with us. We saw some really neat buildings, heard lots of interesting stories, and learned some history of the town. And got to see one of the haunted historical houses. I think this was the most interesting Halloween I’ve even spent.

If you'd like to read about how Cindy made her mourning gown, go check out her blog! The Broke Costumer
Friday, Nov 2
 Two days later we had all arrived home and Cindy and I were scrambling to get our mourning costumes cleaned and back in order to wear it this evening for the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Old Town San Diego. This would be the third year since the celebration started in Old Town that our costume guild would lead the Candlelight Procession from Old Town to the El Campo Santos Cemetery.
While I was taking out my hem at home to raise it up a bit I found I had brought quite a bit of grey dirt back with me from the cemetery in Virginia City. I thought it interesting that tonight I would again be walking around in a cemetery and would be sharing the dirt with some from V. City.
I decided this year to paint my own Catrina face and had practiced a bit but nothing prepared me for how hard it was to paint my entire face. I couldn’t get the white liquid makeup to cover smoothly and worst of all, without my glasses on, I couldn’t even tell when my brush was touching my skin until sometimes it was too late. After washing it off twice, and almost giving up, and I steamed ahead and decided no matter what, I would finish and wear it. I consoled myself that most of the time I’d be wearing my veil, and it would be pretty dark by the time the Candlelight Procession started, which I and our costume guild were going to lead again this year. 
Our members started gathering on the steps of the Cosmopolitan Hotel prior to the Procession in the town square. Of course we immediately began having our photos taken by the public, and with them, which is what it’s all about folks! We eventually had 22 of our members show up. We finally had to take our bows and go get in line to start the Procession. This year they had this beautiful canopy to lead us by. Last year 2000 people showed up to walk in the Procession. This year it was supposed to at least double that.

It was kind of funny following the canopy because they weaved around a bit and when we finally hit the main street with its divided line so we had a straight line to follow.
Once we were at the cemetery the canopy was raised over the gateway and I was the first to walk through. Unfortunately there was a crowd of photographers just inside that started taking my photo and it kind of stalled us for a minute. This year our guild members stood around the back gate with our candles to show the other attendees where the exit was. It seemed to help correct the bottleneck from the previous years of only having the front gate to exit from. We again became part of many people’s photographs.

 At the end of the evening, we trudged back to the Cosmo to try and find someplace for dinner in the area, but found most places had 1-2 hrs wait time. That was kind of expected so we all went different directions to track something done. But not before we again became part of many photo ops on the steps of the Cosmo. So we sat listening to our tummies growling for half an hour before we took our final bows. I later drove through In & Out Burgers for dinner, and they said I was the fifth person to come through with their face painted.
 Again my thanks to Jerry Abuan for all these beautiful photos. To see all the rest of his, please go to his website.


  1. We were so glad to have gone with you! What a blast we had. We need to find more cemeteries.

    1. Sounds like we have a standing invitation to the one in Tombstone. :)

  2. Oh Val you all went of a wonderful adventure. Your were meant to be in that parade. I really enjoyed seeing all the pictures on your blog. You even make scary look good.

  3. Dear Val,
    Gracious, another two fantastic events! You all just have the best time and bring those times to a big slice of the public too. Hooray!

    Very best,


  4. You gals really stole the show in Virginia City for the parade. Love your dresses! You are so brave to sew them. I have some ruched brown satin I am 'dying' to make a skirt or something out of. You are an inspiration!
    I have been to Virginia City and took the train ride. I hear that if you put your camera setting at a slower shutter speed you are more likely to 'capture' ghost images or orbs.
    Love your blog and I just became a follower.
    Teresa in Central California
    member of MAIDA doll ning and Cloth and Clay doll ning site.


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