Halloween Edition: Is This a Nazi Witch? No.

Z.W. Wolf

Senior Member
People on the Internet have expressed bemusement over this old photo...

Is this little girl dressed as a Nazi Witch? Neither!

My best first guess was: This dates to about 1920 or so. Just intuition. It just looks like the orthochromatic film of that era. If one of the girls had blue eyes I could tell for sure. I think there's a good chance that the littler girl's costume was red not black.

The date I've found that seems most reliable is October 25, 1918:

I can also say with pretty good confidence that this is the US. Back then the swastika was a common good luck charm in the US. Not just that, but a common decorative symbol in general.

The swastika has a long history and appears in places all over the world. But in the US it was known because it was a symbol used by American Indians. Especially the Navajo and Hopi. My mother had a turquoise ring with swastikas; she grew up in Tuscon in the '30's.

This was the unit insignia of the 45th National Guard Infantry Division from 1923-1939. My Dad (who grew up in Prescott, AZ) enlisted in the 45th just after they switched over to the Thunderbird insignia.


It became particularly popular as a good luck charm for aviators.

The inside surface of the propeller spinner of the Spirit of St Louis signed by Ryan Aircraft employees.

So what about the costumes? Are they witches? No. They're dressed as the commedia dell'arte character Pierrot.

Pierrot has a long history and has gone through lots of permutations. But the character took on this look in the late 19th century and became very popular. There were "Pierrot shows."


It's interesting that the ubiquitous blackface minstrel shows were knocked off the stage by the new "whiteface" Pierrot shows.

There's one left.

The character became popular in art and pop culture in general.

This is from a play in 1897 called Circus Girl. Although it's set in a circus in France these aren't circus costumes. In this particular scene these characters are at a "fancy dress ball" - a costume party. It's an American play so I think these are costumes that you'd commonly see at a costume party in America.

Even the pose the little girl is hitting is similar, so I guess there was a kind of persona and set of movements that went along with the costume. Costume parties seem to have been very popular back then.

This painting was well known at the time: Maxfield Parish The Lantern Bearers 1908. The way the little girls are holding the pumpkin probably means they're being little lantern bearers. But in this case it's a jack o'lantern.

If you want to know more about the very complicated story of Pierrot, go to the Wikipedia article.
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Z.W. Wolf

Senior Member
1899 "clown suit and cap"
View attachment 29944

This is interesting because this costume is identified simply as "clown's suit and cap."

The costume of this 1907 "white-face" circus clown looks very similar.

But this site says the white-face clown is a direct descendant of Pierrot.

It looks as if there's no clear distinction between where Pierrot ends and the white-face clown begins. It seems to be a subspecies. While the Pierrot costumes typically have a ruffle collar they have straight shirt sleeves and pants legs. The clown costumes have ruffles at the wrist and ankle.

If you talked to those little girls in 1918, would they say they're dressed as Pierrot or as a clown?
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Senior Member
As a bit of a classical music buff, I know of a Danish composer named Louis Glass, who as a theosophist chose to name the fifth of his six symphonies (Composed around 1920) the 'Sinfonia Svastika', it's pretty clear that he was celebrating the old sun symbol, rather than the later use of the same sign.

Same with the Finnish Airforce



The swastika was a very common architectural motif in Britain (and elsewhere) up to the late nineteen thirties. The motif appeared in floor tiles, walls, carpets and many other places.

A few examples:

India House in the Aldwych, London (not even covered up during WWII).

The WWI war memorial at Balmoral, Scotland. They had to append a sign to it stating that it had no sinister overtones.

Hounslow Bus Station, London, circa 1930.

The Carlsberg brewery in Copenhagen (blow the picture up and look at the rear flank of the right hand elephant). It’s unlikely they are Danish Nazi elephants.

The problem is that the association of the ancient fylfot with the Nazi hakenkreuz is so complete that people apply the wrong filter to their interpretation of these old pictures.