Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Finding the Lost Generation: Of Hunger and Hoovervilles

When her picture was published in newspapers, it caused an emotional stir across the country. The U.S. federal government sent thousands of pounds of food to the camp where her photo was taken, but by the time it arrived she and her family had already left to look for work elsewhere. The pea fields at that farm had frozen, which meant no work and no pay for migrant workers. Near the end of her life, almost fifty years later, her son put an appeal in the San Jose Mercury newspaper for people to send money to help with her overwhelming medical expenses as she was struggling with multiple health issues. Letters with money came in the mail from all over, much of it in the form of crumpled one-dollar bills. People responded because they had not forgotten her.  There was a connection they had always felt to her because of her picture.

There are certain images that have been ingrained onto the consciousness of the past few generations - one of these would be "Migrant Mother." It is not only the most iconic picture from the Great Depression, it is one of the most significant images of the 20th century. I thought until recently that the legendary woman in this photo was still anonymous, but near the end of her life she was identified as Florence Owens Thompson. Until now, I never saw the baby in her arms.

Dorthea Lange/Library of Congress/Public Domain

Why we cannot get over this photo is not just because of the mental exhaustion on her face or the creases on her brow that should not yet be present on the skin of a woman only 32 years old. It is more so because we see the inestimable greatness that is in her. In this woman's eyes is a strength that goes beyond Greek myth, in her face is the wisdom rooted in her Native blood, in her composition is fear wrestling with profound courage. Florence Leona Christie Owens Thompson could pick 500 pounds of cotton in one day, which was more than most of the men who worked the fields with her. This is a mother who raised ten children, and who worked any kind of job she could in fields, waiting tables, bar-tending, or doing factory work. Her father abandoned her even before she was born. She was already a widow at the time this picture was taken in 1936. Her family history was connected to the Trail of Tears. If anyone has ever known the depths of heartache, this soul did. And you can see it all in her immortally beautiful face. 

Lange/Public Domain
"Hoovervilles" were groups of shacks located on the edges of cities during the Great Depression. These shacks were often made from cardboard or scrap wood. The same name was applied to roadside temporary shelters that destitute families looking for work erected as they tried to escape the Dust Bowl and migrate to California. These shelters could be made of bed sheets or canvas and could be held up with tree branches.

In this same area, even now, Hoovervilles still exist, even if they go by a different name. As my husband was driving us onto a freeway recently, I looked over the edge to a reservoir, to where people go for water, and community, and to pitch tents on the grass. What I saw that day was a man sitting in a red folding lawn chair in a florescent yellow shirt, the morning sunlight falling onto his tired blue eyes staring off into the distance, much like the tired gray eyes of the migrant mother. The man was clearly Generation X. He is probably someone's father. If not, he is someone's son. A man in a neon yellow shirt in front of the backdrop of brightly colored, modern-day camping tents can seem so far away from the black-and-white images of the Depression Era. We see the agonizing images of poverty in America almost a century ago and want to believe this kind of suffering is safely in the distant past. Kerosene lamps have been replaced by solar powered flashlights, and tin pie pans have been replaced by plastic containers. Everything was different between the man in the red folding chair and the image of the migrant mother sitting on a wooden box, yet everything was hauntingly the same.  

Florence Thompson, was asked once, "Did you ever lose hope?'

She responded, "Nope, If I'd'a lost hope, this country never would have made it."

Her words tell us to never give up hope, because your hope sustains not only you and your own family,  your own individual hope is what sustains us all collectively.

May we never give up hope that tomorrow can be better, or next year, or that the next decade can be better. May we never stop hoping that our children will have a better life than we did.

Let's not forget the suffering of the migrant mother and her family. Let's not forget the man who sleeps tonight on the cold ground in Silicon Valley, in the shadow of affluence, by the reservoir on the side of the freeway.  


Black and white photography by Dorthea Lange, 1936, Nipomo Valley, California
Color photography by Chloe Koffas, 2016, Napa Valley, California
Writing (c) 2017 by Chloe, all rights reserved


A large number of the parents during the Great Depression were from the Lost Generation. A large number of the children were from the G.I. Generation. Being from a generation is partly about the year you were born, though I feel it is much more about your life experiences. Florence Thompson was born in 1903, and while I consider her part of the Lost Generation, by some definitions this would make her part of the G.I. (Greatest) Generation. Either way, she is legendary and I send her my love across space and time.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Finding the Last Lost Generation: Emma Forever

When she walked, history walked with her. With every step she took, she moved one step further away from the Dust Bowl. Stories she told me of her youth were tinged with beauty and sorrow. She had Oklahoma roots and got married at the heart of The Great Depression.

A few months after her husband died in the early 1980's, I moved onto her street. What had brought my family to this small New Mexico town was an oil boom, it was probably something similar that had brought her family there in the 1940's. Her name was Emma and she was all that was good about the last Lost Generation.

       A House Full of the 20th Century

The photo of her as a young woman on an Art Deco dresser celebrated her flapper-style hair - a symbol of the Gilded Age. She had a turn-of-the-century typewriter with yellowed keys that I'd softly touch in order not to break them. She had a classic phonograph with a stack of records neatly stacked inside brown paper envelopes. I would lift the lid to peak inside, imagining the ragtime, jazz, and all of the roaring '20s that would've emerged from it.

When I'd come over, my 1980's bright pink school bag would lay against her tired blue 1940's couch. I'd set down my Houghton Mifflin readers on her Mid-Century end tables, stacked with piles of 1970's Reader's Digest magazines. She had collected furniture from the 1920's through the 1950's until the year came when the house was fully furnished. Knickknacks from every decade up until the 1960's congregated in her rooms until the day came when the shelves no longer held any space.

As if the Whole 20th Century Lived at One Address...

Her rotary phone would spin around with a soft tat tat tat as she would call a friend. I would finish my homework and watch Leave It to Beaver after turning through the channels with a loud clack clack clack on her monolithic TV. For 30 minutes, I could experience an idealized Golden Era American family in black-and-white pixels after eating peanut butter on saltine crackers. She would make me iced tea on hot days in 1950's aluminum cups and hot chocolate on cold days from 1920's Fiestaware cups.

As a child, it felt as if all of space and time of the 20th century came together in her post-war house, where I would sit at the breakfast bar of her retro kitchen, and on a gold-speckled, Atomic-Age laminate counter top I would eat a bowl of her Depression-Era stew, and feel full, and loved. And when I sat there, next to her piles of letters and Christmas cards, I was connected to all of the decades, and to the people who had lived in those decades, and to their sorrows and joys.

She had a faraway, foreboding look in her eyes when tornadoes ripped across the land. That same look reappeared when she spoke of the dust storms that had devastated Midwest farms in the 1930's. When the sky would go dark and the twisters would touch down, we would hide in the closet in the middle of the house. May 27, 1982, was one of those days. The red, handheld transistor radio in her shaking hands gave us the news that twin tornadoes were ripping through our small town.  Her quiet strength sustained us because she had survived things like this before and could survive it all again.

She and most of her friends lived in Texas-style ranch houses.  And always above them was the pure blue New Mexico sky, the desert sun, and the brightest pink sunsets in the evenings. I would walk the blond brick edging of her front yard like a tight rope. Tiny pink blossoms would emerge on her trees as the grass would tenaciously turn back to green after a long winter.

That town had gone through many phases of boom and bust long before I ever got there, and continued in this pattern long after I left there all those decades ago. Twenty-somethings now put sub-woofers in their houses where old Victrolas used to sit, and what the younger generations do not know - but that they will soon come to know - is that there is nothing new under the sun.

Emma's life was beautifully ascetic. For her, every season was Lent. She was quick to give away a meal she was about to eat if someone else needed it, like the selfless heroes Steinbeck wrote of who had once lived in Hoovervilles.

The Golden Years and Little Golden Books 

She was an incredibly altruistic caregiver to her friends in their final stages of life - some men, mostly women, many widowed. Some of them were in hospitals or nursing homes, most of them chose to die at home. She would be babysitting me on those after-school afternoons or long summer days, so she would take me with her to their houses. I remember their post-war kitchens,
pink and blue monuments to a delayed American dream. 

Some mornings, we would pop over to a friend's house and put sugar cubes in melamine cups to the comforting bubbly sound of a percolating coffee pot as we'd chat at their kitchen tables. 

Some days at lunch time, we would take them hot dogs and fries with root beer or fried chicken and mashed potatoes with cream soda.

Some afternoons, Emma sat at their bedsides to comfort them in their final days as I would thumb through sets of Little Golden Books that had once belonged to their children or grandchildren, or I would play on their rusty backyard swing sets next to patches of dirt that had once been victory gardens. She had so many friends, many of them a decade or so older than her, and so many of them were dying. 

Two Kinds of Death

Some of their deaths were peaceful, as if they were looking back on their lives and the love they had given and were satisfied. You could see in their eyes they were looking past the horizon, to the other side, as they began to ascend from this world. They were reflecting on the grace of the story of their lives, and seemed to be moving miraculously beyond whatever scars life had left on them.  As days passed, even as their breaths became more shallow, their joy became more deep. Sometimes they would look at my young face with this radiant love, telling me I was the hope of the future. Sometimes they would give my hand a gentle squeeze as if to physically pass on some encrypted ancient wisdom for humanity to carry on.  They knew, as I did, that I was deeply fortunate to stand in their holy space as they began the journey from this life to the next.

And some of her dying friends would hint that I should not have come along to visit...that I had no understanding of their suffering. Some of them looked at me, as we would walk into the painful space of where they were struggling to exit this world like I had no right to be there. And maybe I didn't. What did I know of the factories they had worked in as children, or the poor houses they had lived in as teenagers, or the soup lines they had stood in as adults, even after surviving the Great War? Sometimes, as Emma took care of them, I was asked to leave the room for a while, and though it was not easy for her to do, she would hear their final confessions. I would go from looking at the amber plastic prescription bottles on the TV trays in their bedrooms, to the 1940's green jadeite dishes on the shelves of their living rooms.

Some of the deaths of Emma's friends were not peaceful. They were angry, even bitter, and in a place of palpable loneliness that maybe they had created for themselves, or maybe because most everyone they loved was already gone. Sometimes their curtains were closed tightly even while sunlight waited disheartened by their window. They would be shivering with cold though the intense heat of summer was hanging in the street. It was hard to understand with my child-mind why they were like this, but life eventually takes us all to the edges of despondency at one time or another so that it is hard to let any light into the room at all. In those days, I quietly learned the significance of letting go of hate, because seeing hate in a dying person's eyes, the kind they were completely unwilling to let go of, may be the worst thing I'd ever seen.

It was a fiercely beautiful and and intensely ugly experience to watch all these people in their final days. As a young elementary school child, I watched the Lost Generation die.  

Sometimes, we would stop by someone's house and we would find her dying friends watching game shows. I remember her saying that when you are dying, it may be time to turn the TV off.  As a nine year old, game shows became synonymous in my mind with a reckless diversion - getting to the end of our time on earth and avoiding the unfinished business of our lives. To this day, when a game show is on, I get this intense anxiety that I am neglecting the inner work of my soul. While it could seem morbid or unhealthy that I was exposed to so much death at such a young age, it was a profound gift. It made me realize that each person around us is precious and temporary, that we should use every ounce of our energy to serve others and every resource we have to help one another as well. As a child, she taught me the greatest lesson ever: how to live in the right way so that I may someday die in the right way.

Sitting on the Back Row

When I would stay at her house over the weekend, she took me to the First Christian Church. We would sit on the back row together, and open the hymnals, her sweet voice wavering from age as it soared across the songs that had steadied generations who needed hope. Those hymns, as she sang them, made me understand the way one faltering generation passes on their faith to another.  

 After a few short years in a desert county, the early 80's oil boom was over, and we were leaving town along with most everyone else. I did not know when I hugged her goodbye that it would be our last embrace, I only knew that it hurt me fiercely to leave her behind.  But she had seen the Dust Bowl and the desert, and everything in between. She was a survivor because she was from a lost generation.  

I wrote Emma a letter many years later to tell her that her selflessness had stayed with me and that she'd inadvertently had an enormous impact on the person I became and the faith I had. She was, and still is, from my perspective, a saint. If we can have just one person like this in our lives during our formative years, it can sustain us through a lifetime. She was a true embodiment of the Lost Generation, and because of the enormous amount of time she and her friends spent with me in my most formative years, I can say that I was, to a large extent, raised by the Lost Generation.  

Sweetest Emma, you were an example of profound compassion, a light in my darkness. I will stand beside you again, on some back row, where we sing to God with voices no longer fragile and wavering, but with voices that are eternal. Some from your generation died with regrets, yet you died knowing you gave every moment you could to others. Your embrace made an enormous hole in my heart disappear, even if just for a moment in time.

Emma who we loved.

Emma Forever.

(c) 2017 by Chloe Koffas.  All rights reserved.  

As of this writing, there is only one known person still alive from the last Lost Generation. Her name is also Emma and she was born as the trees dropped gold and red leaves in the autumn of 1899.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Finding the Last Lost Generation: Langston Hughes and the Deep of Rivers

In my quest to reach back to the last Lost Generation (those who would've been roughly the age that Generation X is now, a century ago) I am looking back to see what advice, hope, or wisdom they left for us. An essential voice from among that generation was Langston Hughes. Not only was he part of the Harlem Renaissance, he was a contributor to classic literature that has since been read and studied by multiple generations.

My favorite people have this way of balancing wit and the heaviness of life with grace. Through my growing-up years, pieces of Langston Hughes' poetry would pop up in the literature classes I took. For weeks afterwards, his message would resonate in my mind. With each piece, he would would open my eyes more and more to the suffering endured by African Americans.  More recently, I made my way through the perceptive and unshakable poetry he wrote through the earlier decades of the 20th century.  Hughes' words and stories, like his ancestral heritage, covered a wide range of American geography and beyond. He wrote of the stress and frustration of the people in crowded cities struggling to pay their rent and of the pain and isolation of people in small rural towns, tired from working the land.  

In my first experience of the Mississippi River as a nine-year-old, I stood in awe of the potent water as I floated across it on a ferry.  It was powerful and magnificent, and I could feel the history of it emanating all around me: an intense sorrow and a thousand untold stories lifting from it, mixing with the heavy summer humidity.

I felt something similar as a college student the first time I saw the Kansas River from the window of a plane as it wound through the frozen winter circles and squares of farmland, like the patches on a threadbare quilt. Not so long after that, I saw Lawrence, Kansas for the first time where Langston Hughes spent most of his childhood and walked the same streets that my paternal grandfather from the GI Generation had walked during his days as a professor at the University of Kansas. How strange it is to walk where someone walked that you feel you know on some level, yet their life ended before yours began.  Sometimes it seems that we can get a glimpse (or maybe some fleeting electrical impulse) of the connection we have to those people by walking where they walked, by opening the door of some small shop on some busy street, hoping their hand once touched the same door handle.  Of antiquated doors that I pulled open to small shops or buildings around the university - on Massachusetts Street, or Tennessee Street, or Kentucky Street in Lawrence, Kansas, I can only hope that my grandfather, or that Langston, opened one of those same doors.

...I've known rivers: 
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins. 

My soul has grown deep like the rivers...

When a generation, a Lost Generation in particular, who grows up and lives most of their life in a time of Crisis, what we can do is to take what wisdom we have gained from our suffering and to use it to make the world more just, with our stories, with our voices. Hughes wanted an America where everyone is free and equal, and his words are just as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. His writing is one of the reasons that we see classic literature as necessary to culture - it is a way to remind of us of what wrongs we are likely to fall back into as a society if we are not vigilant.  In fact, many of the things that were wrong with society when he wrote his words are still wrong.  Hughes stressed racial consciousness in his writing and that message is just as needed now as it was a century ago.   

It sometimes seems that when you stand by a river, you can feel, even if just for a moment, everyone who has stood there at that same place before you. I know it's true of the Kansas River and of the Mississippi, I imagine it is true of the Euphrates and the Nile. It is the experience of standing quietly, intently, by rivers, and in searching for the wisdom of previous generations that our souls can grow deeper.  Let your soul grow deep.  


(c) 2017 All rights reserved.  Writing and and photography by Chloe Koffas.  Photo: Boise River, Idaho

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Finding the Last Lost Generation: The Last Time I'll Ever Read Hemingway

Among the most well-known authors of the last Lost Generation is, of course, Hemingway.   In my one-year journey of finding the last Lost Generation, I hope to bring to light what he and many other of those writers have to tell us about our present situation - the world of the 2010s.  Because Gen X is also considered a Lost Generation, I am especially interested in what they have to say to us. One place I am going on this journey is to the pages of classic books where they consciously left their wisdom for us in print. After all, as Carl Sagan said, "Books break the shackles of time..."

As I opened the first page of The Sun Also Rises, it had the following quote from Ecclesiastes in old King James English:

"One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever....The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose....The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits....All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again."

There is something of a cosmic connection between my life as a Gen Xer and Hemingway, because my great grandmother (who was one of my main connections from the last Lost Generation) and Hemingway were born only a couple of hours and months apart.  What is fascinating to me as a generational writer is that as a child, I was held in the embrace of both maternal and paternal great-grandparents - people born in the 1890s or very soon after, and when I hold my daughter who was born after the millennium, I sometimes pause and feel amazed at the fact that my skin has felt the embrace of people who came from three separate centuries.

Within Hemingway's stories are those deeply affected by WWI; those trying to not remember it.  After the war, there is this partying and bar-hopping lifestyle that many younger people took on as they attempted to blot out the bad memories of the war.  With that lifestyle came this futility, this lack of joy, a realization that excess leads to nowhere.  That may be one of the biggest similarities between the current Lost Generation and the last one: a need to blot out the bad memories

To borrow from another Hemingway book that many of us read in high school, A Farewell to Arms, a story about the young men of WWI, "They were beaten to start with.  They were beaten when they took them from their farms and put them in the army.  That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start.  Put him in power and see how wise he is." The deep discontent of the last Lost Generation resonates with the current one, with Generation X.  Society frayed apart throughout our entire youth, more subtly than it did during WWI, but it crumbled, and it left many of us bitter and cynical.   In many cases, it also made us wise.

In The Sun Also Rises, a character says, "Don't you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you're not taking advantage of it?  Do you realize you've lived nearly half the time you have to live already?"

This is the last time I'll read Hemingway.  While our youth is full of firsts, once we reach middle age, we begin to experience all of our lasts.  His words often make me feel like I am standing, completely alone at an empty beach and the person who was supposed to meet there to watch the sunset with me never showed up.

"You are all a lost generation."   -Gertrude Stein

Sometimes, the only hope we have when we are standing completely alone on the shore is that if yesterday was not what we hoped it would be, and if today was even worse, the sun will rise again tomorrow.

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places..." -Hemingway


(c) 2017 writing and photography by Chloe Koffas - photo at Rockaway Beach, Oregon

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Finding the Last Lost Generation: The Christmas Truce of WWI

To go back in time exactly one century ago, the world found itself at Christmas time, about halfway through WWI.  Because of how the cycles of history go, you can reach back to a similar era to better understand the present one.   As the cycles of generations go, once every four generations is a Lost Generation.  This is what Generation X is, this is what the soldiers of WWI were.

In the spirit of seeing history and time as cyclical and not linear, I am beginning a new project as the year comes to an end.  It is a journey of reaching back to the last Lost Generation to find synchronicity between their generation and Gen X. Beyond that, I want to see what messages, what signposts, they left for us, to help us and to give us hope, because the journey of Generation X is much like theirs.

The main event that defined the last lost generation was WWI.  An extraordinary signpost they gave us very early in that war was the Christmas Truce of 1914.  French, German, British, and other soldiers declared impromptu truces along areas between the English Channel and Switzerland.  Not everyone in the war stopped fighting that Christmas, but individual units dotting the Western Front put down their weapons as a sort of rebellion against the violence of war.  Stepping out of their trenches to exchange a smile or a handshake, to have a drink or smoke together, to sing Christmas carols, and to bury their dead.  Those who chose to participate saw a humanity in each other they could not see before.  Soldiers spoke to each other in broken forms of each other's languages, in every European accent you can think of, to make a genuine connection with the other side.  A similar spontaneous situation took place on the Eastern front, the first move coming from Austro-Hungarian commanders, and Russian soldiers reciprocated.  At Easter 1915, Orthodox troops created truces with the other side as well.

There are times when we find ourselves so lost, the only place we feel even remotely at home is in No Man's Land. Yet, this can be the place where the best of human moments exist, a place where we are the least alone.  In our current political climate,we see an enormous split, where many have dug into ideological trenches.  We can step out of these trenches, these digital veils, and open our hearts to hear the stories and struggles of those on the other side. We can choose to see the faces of those who believe differently than we do as truly human, and know that we all feel anger, fear, heartbreak, and hope in the exact same way.

In just three minutes, this powerful clip gives you a glimpse into that extraordinary day that changed history because of human kindness.  (Or search YouTube for Sainsbury's official 2014 Christmas ad).

When we can climb out of our trenches, and extend a hand, we can see the divine in others, and they can see the divine in us.  May we all have moments this season where we show kindness that we, in some way, change history.

Joyeux Noël
Fröliche Weihnachten
Vrolijk Kerstfeest
Buon Natale
счастливого Рождества
Boldog Karácsonyt

  Merry Christmas.  

(c) Chloe Koffas 2016

sources: Wikipedia, History.com

Sunday, November 6, 2016

In Spite of Everything

In Spite of Everything, by Susan Gregory Thomas, is a memoir I read recently that is a reflection on the larger collective experience of Generation X.  While her thoughtful honesty and humor drew me in, there was this painful familiarity I felt as her story echoed the experiences of my own life and many Gen Xers I have known.

She mentions in the book that according to U.S. census and other data, almost half of all Generation X children's families split and 40 percent were latchkey kids. She makes the point that the "benign neglect" concept that was commonly embraced by Boomer parents in how they raised Gen Xers during the '70s and '80s wasn't so benign after all, and in many cases, it was truly just neglect.

There is a lot of insight in the book on how the difficult childhoods of many Gen Xers has made us want to give our kids what we didn't have, and has made us become the kind of parents we wish we could've had, and how in spite of everything, our best intentions don't always lead us to where we thought we were going. She does a beautiful job of telling her story as part of our larger generational story: her parents divorced the same year mine did.

With extensive knowledge of classic literature, she makes references to everything from Greek mythology to Proust to illustrate her struggles, and to a large extent the struggle of the lives of many Xers as we have tried to recover from childhood wounds and to hold our relationships together in the present.  Among the timeless literature she references, she points to the Bible and sees scripture as a way of finding peace among the stress, confusion, and loneliness of our lives.  She mentions the technique of Lectio Divina, which she began to use when going through a dark point in her life.  She points to God as a place of solace, she points to Christ as "the very definition of hard-core punk." No doubt that is the highest compliment a Gen Xer could give -- I have always felt that way, too.

An excerpt from the book that explains what has defined each generation over the last several decades:

"It is a hard truism that each generation is shaped by its war.  The Greatest Generation was forged by WWII; Baby Boomers were defined by Vietnam and the civil rights and antiwar movements. Generation X's war, I would argue, was the ultimate war at home: divorce.  We didn't get Purple Hearts or red badges of courage, nothing that could be culturally shared or healed.  Our injuries were private, secret, solitary..."

The hope that rises from her suffering is that in spite of the fear that we all are randomly in orbit around some larger force out of our control, we may actually be deeply connected because all matter in the universe is made of the same substance.  In spite of our fear that we are ultimately alone, it may be that we are far more connected to one another -- much than we ever would've imagined.  


(c) 2016 by Chloe Koffas 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Ben Cooper and Collegeville: The Retro Halloween Costumes of Gen X

Staring at the illustrations on the costume box and admiring the mask through the clear cellophane just before I pulled out what I would wear for Halloween was a ritual that I remember with so much happiness. These memories come from the late 1970s and very early 1980s, yet I can still feel the fiber of the thin cardboard box against my small hands and I can still smell the vinyl as I would first pull the costume out of the box.  

And the Magic-Glo - there was nothing like the soft green glow coming from kid's costumes as the smell of caramel, chocolate, licorice, Blow Pops, and pop culture would come wafting from the plastic pumpkin shaped buckets or the super hero pillow cases little Gen Xers would use to hold their candy.  

At the time I never noticed the Ben Cooper brand on these costumes, though now that name is the perfect search term for looking up pictures of Gen Xers in Halloween costumes through the years as we grew up.  Considering how easily these types of costumes would fall apart if you tried to wear them more than just on Halloween night, I guess this company saw a market for "sturdy" costumes you could wear over and over, like when you just can't wait for Halloween, and maybe even when it's already Thanksgiving.  I have a vague memory of seeing this cardboard box in a fellow Gen Xer's toy box when I was very small:

Collegeville was the other main competing company to Ben Cooper at the time.  This is another good search term for looking up pictures of Gen Xers dressed as all the cartoon characters we used to watch.

My favorite Ben Cooper costume that I wore was Casper the Friendly Ghost.  Apparently both Ben Cooper and Collegeville had the commercial rights to Casper...here's what was going on behind the scenes for retailers who were thinking of selling the costumes in their stores that we bought and took home as little kids: 

Happy Halloween, Generation X.