Story by Jeff and Stephanie Sylva
The beach parties and clam bakes of summer have ended, the Labor Day holiday is past and the fall season is in full swing. With the Thanksgiving holiday too far in the future, people are looking for another holiday to celebrate. This craving to celebrate has spurned a tremendous interest in Halloween-related events and all their haunting customs and legends.
And what better legend than Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow and its haunting tale of the Headless Horseman to inspire an exciting line-up of events and haunting happenings in the same setting of Irving’s famous narrative – Sleepy Hollow. Just a short drive north of New York City, Tarrytown and the Village of Sleepy Hollow have embraced the history of Irving and his Legend, and serve as a focal point for a variety of events here and in nearby towns of the Historic Hudson Valley that are sure to spark your imagination and enjoyment of the Halloween season. We spent a fun-filled two days enjoying the full line-up of haunting events, fascinating history, and some great food for a wonderful weekend getaway.
Pumpkins a’ plenty
Among the most popular attractions in Hudson Valley’s haunted line-up is The Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze at
the historic Van Cortland Manor in Croton-on-Hudson. Taking the art of pumpkin craving to its maximum degree, the Blaze is an elaborate walk-through experience featuring more than 5,000 hand-carved, illuminated jack o’ lanterns. We were amazed by the intricate details of the pumpkin carvings and arrangements of them. Particularly impressive were the field of super-sized dinosaurs, the undersea aquarium, and a towering pumpkin bonfire, all crafted from hand-carved, illuminated pumpkins.
The Blaze is presented over 22 nights in October and early November with many of the nights selling out in advance, so be sure to visit the Historic Hudson Valley’s website for information and advance tickets for the Blaze and any of the other themed events.
Of ghosts and ghouls
Another not-to-be-missed attraction is Horseman’s Hollow, located at the historic Philipsburg Manor just across the street from the Old Dutch Church. The Manor is transformed into a terrifying community of ghoulish and insane beings driven mad by the Headless Horseman. Be vigilant as you walk the dark paths leading to the haunted Manor, as the ghostly rider lurks among the shadows. Once inside the Manor’s horrifying maze of special effects and scary scenes, elaborately costumed creatures are all too ready to scare the wits out unsuspecting visitors. Among the many fascinating special effects both animated and live, the one of the Crown Prince of Evil, Satan, is outstanding.
A legend for all time
One event that truly captures the spirit of the season and the local history is the dramatic performance of
Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by master storyteller Jonathan Kruk. The historic Old Dutch Church, with the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery located just outside its windows, serves as a perfect venue for this enjoyable retelling of the classic tale featuring the Headless Horseman, Ichabod Crane, Brom Bones, and Katrina Van Tassel. Kruk’s faithful retelling, accompanied by some spooky organ music and a sprinkling of humorous contemporary comments, is captivating and fun.
A visit to a cemetery might not be the first thing that comes to mind for you, but we recommend a tour, either guided or self-guided, of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The cemetery’s art and architecture, as well as its famous and infamous residents, make for a fascinating visit. Washington Irving’s gravesite is most notable, along with other historical figures including Elizabeth Arden, Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, and William Rockefeller. Two-hour guided tours are offered day and evening (the guided lantern tour is very popular). Advanced reservations for the guided tours are necessary. Visit the cemetery’s website for more information and reservations.
Self-guided tours are permissible during visiting hours of 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and are enhanced by the full-color map and guide to more than 50 special features of the cemetery, which can be purchased at the cemetery office or at the Philipsburg Manor museum shop.
Another celebration of the history and contributions of Washington Irving takes place at the Legend Celebration at Washington Irving’s homestead Sunnyside. This event is especially good for families and is a perfect prelude to an evening at the Blaze, Horseman’s Hollow or Kruk’s dramatization of “Legend.” Tour the house and grounds where Irving lived and wrote, listen to ghost stories, and watch the Sunnyside Players “loose interpretations” of Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” and “The Devil and Tom Walker.” The audience involvement make these presentations fun for all ages.
We had a great time playing some old-fashioned games and partaking in some of the hands-on activities like make-your-own scarecrow, as well as enjoying the puppet shows, story-telling and magician demonstrations, all of which are great fun for families. A small café serves food, and picnicking is allowed on the beautiful grounds of Sunnyside which overlooks the flowing Hudson River. Visit the Hudson Valley website for information on times and tickets.
Dark Shadows and more
Lyndhurst Mansion, a National Trust Historical Site, gets into the haunting mood with its Lyndhurst After Dark
tours. This semi-self guided tour of the summer mansion of Robber Baron Jay Gould presents a history of the stately mansion and its three families of owners, as well as numerous artifacts and effects highlighting the mansion’s appearance in two Dark Shadows movies, House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971) featuring the vampire Barnabas Collins.
Fifty-minute Historic Tours with a Halloween Twist are offered during the daylight hours. Walk the grounds of Lyndhurst and the skeletal remains of the estate’s greenhouse to view the outdoor contemporary art exhibit, Scarecrow, which presents artists’ interpretations of the theme of scarecrow and the “Scarecrow Invasion,” a display of hundreds of scarecrows created by children from local school districts. For more information and tickets visit the Lyndhurst Mansion website.
Dining options are plentiful, but we have two that we would highly recommend. Bistro Z in Tarrytown at the Doubletree Hotel is a modern American bistro with a menu blending fresh ingredients and some imaginative creations in a relaxed yet elegant setting. We enjoyed wonderful entrees of Chilean sea bass and domestic lamb chops while seated in front of the wood burning fireplace
A second choice that we loved is Goldfish in Ossining. Serving a wonderful selection of fresh seafood, steaks and oysters prepared with a Mediterranean style, Goldfish has won several dining awards. Our experience would confirm this recognition, as we were delighted with entrees of seared tuna and seared sea scallops.
Consider a two-day visit to Tarrytown and the Hudson Valley region in order to take in all of the haunted events and attractions. An overnight stay is easy, as a number of major hotels and some unique lodging options can be found on the Hudson Valley website.