But the funny thing is that the ancient Celts were way ahead of the curve on this cutting-edge scientific trend. In their worldview, time and distance were illusory measures, and there were indeed multiple coexisting planes of reality. The Sidhe (pronounced Shee) or Fae-Folk lived in a parallel realm that some humans might visit; but upon their return, they would find that an extraordinary amount of time had passed in the real world compared to what they had experienced in Faerie – rather like Rip van Winkle’s Catskill nap (or perhaps Einstein’s Theory of Relativity as applied to near-light-speed space travel). The Celts also believed that the shades of the dead lingered alongside the living for up to a year before the “veil” between worlds had thinned enough for them to “pass on.”
The point in the Wheel of the Year at which this veil became most penetrable is now upon us: What we call Halloween, and the Celts called Samhain (pronounced SAH-wen), was considered the end of the solar year. This was the time when all those queued-up recently dead folks could finally make it out of the station, and also when mortals had their best chance of catching a glimpse of the Sidhe making their annual procession, known as the Faery Rade. So it’s no wonder that popular culture still associates Halloween with a proliferation of ghosts and what we would classify as supernatural beings.
To the Celts, and to modern-day Wiccans and Pagans who keep the old traditions alive, there’s nothing about any of this that falls outside of the realm of nature. Samhain as celebrated among real witches is the most solemn of religious holidays; although it’s the equivalent of New Year’s Eve, the tone is closer to a combination of Yom Kippur and the Day of the Dead. It’s a time to honor your ancestors and other deceased loved ones, to make right any wrongs that you’ve done in the past year and to let go of grudges and other unnecessary psychic baggage. A typical Samhain ritual might be to write down something that you want to put behind you on a piece of birchbark, then burn it in a bonfire – not exactly the sort of orgiastic demon-worship envisioned by the folks who make cheesy Gothic slasher movies!
If you’d like to encounter some actual practicing Wiccans this Samhain, without delving too deeply, one place you can do that is by taking your trick-or-treaters for a stop at the Awareness Shop on Main Street in New Paltz, the epicenter of the town’s Pagan community. It’s also a good way to take the focus off sugary snacks, since what the folks at the shop always hand out to the youngsters on October 31 are polished stones – with magical properties, of course. Visitors can get an interpretation of what exactly those properties are from one of the (very benign) resident witches, if you ask nicely; and you’ll earn an extra smile if you remember that the proper protocol for addressing a Pagan is not “Trick or Treat!” but “Merry Meet!”
Of course, in non-Pagan America, Halloween is generally seen as a time for fun and frolic and perhaps a bit of rebellious behavior, rather than for self-analysis and the solemn contemplation of death and endings. Younger children associate the holiday with putting on a funny costume in order to amass ADHD-inducing quantities of improbably free candy from strangers; teenagers may think more about dodging zombies and chainsaw murderers at spook-house theme parks or of roaming their hometowns in packs to engage in low-level vandalism. For both levels of partiers, the mid-Hudson offers a bewildering array of choices of fun activities and portals to alternative realities in the weeks leading up to Halloween and on the night itself. Let’s start with this weekend:
Friday and Saturday, October 15-16:
- The East Kingston Volunteer Fire Department will present its Fall Festival & Haunted House, featuring more than 1,500 square feet of terrifying action and a haunted woodland trail through the dark forests of East Kingston. A fun, safe Halloween experience for all ages, it runs from 6 to 10 p.m. and charges $5 per person admission. Food will also be available. For more information visit
www.ulstertourism.info/event/east-kingston-vol-fire-department-fall-festival-haunted-house-0 or www.Facebook.firstname.lastname@example.org; e-mail EKFDHaunted@hotmail.com; or call (845) 336-8222.
- Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site, located at the corner of Liberty and Washington Streets within the City of Newburgh’s East End Historic District, will present “A Night at the Headquarters and Museum.” Every half-hour from 5 to 7:30 p.m., a night watchman will shine his flashlight beam on historic exhibits, real and unreal. Actors will portray real and fictional characters within the scenario of preparing for an evening visit with the Washingtons. Admission is $4 for anyone over age 6, and reservations are required. Call (845) 562-1195 to reserve a place on one of the tours, and visit www.nysparks.com for more on the site.
Saturday, October 16:
- At 10:30 a.m., as part of its ongoing Super Saturdays Performance Series for children, the Kingston Library, located at 55 Franklin Street, will present Spooky Science! with Erik Maldonado. Meant to spark imaginative learning with lots of audience participation, this new Mad Science Halloween program focuses on the science behind some common, scary science special effects. Children will see how common chemicals can be used to “melt” objects and then help melt a replica of the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. Using dry ice, Mad Science introduces the kids to the three states of matter (solid, liquid and gas) and then produces lots of fun demonstrations. Metal objects shriek from the cold; potions bubble and bubbles smoke; corks fly across the room and an eerie fog crawls across the floor like the “cemetery effect” seen in scary movies. For more information visit www.MadScienceMidHudson.com or call (845) 331-0507, extension 7.
- The Madman’s Masquerade is a combination art show and dance party to be held at the Old Kingston Shirt Factory at 77 Cornell Street in Kingston. The Halloween Art exhibit will be showing original works by over 40 eclectic artists, and you can shop for one-of-a-kind original paintings, sculptures, functional art pieces, jewelry and prints while viewing life-size spooky wax dioramas by Sigrid Sarda. There will be a costume contest, live music by Psycho Charger, disc-slinging and a light show by Deejay Crazy Frog, Tarot readings, a cash bar with wine and beer, candy-hawking zombie girls, games and Zombie Prom Photos. Halloween/zombie readings by Half Moon Books and the Halloween Exhibit Room will be free and open to all ages from 5:30 to 7 p.m.; after that, there’s a $10 cover charge for the adults-only festivities that will last until midnight. For more info contact Heather at (845) 382-9902 or e-mail MyEclecticMind@yahoo.com.
- From 9 p.m. to 2 a.m., Backstage Productions’ Old Vaudeville Theater at 323 Wall Street in Kingston will host the True Blood Halloween Bash. A benefit for the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center, it will feature a drag show with performances by Isis Vermouth, Demanda Dahling, Shealita Baby, Anna Budget, Lily Sa’vage, Miss Pat and “special ghoulish guests from New York City.” Expect over-the-top costumery, so dress in the spirit. This event is open to folks aged 18 and up only, with a full bar for those 21 and up. Admission is $20 at the door, $15 in advance, $10 per person for parties of ten or more. For more info call (845) 331-5300 or visit http://lgbtqcenter.org/news/halloween_2010.html.
- Beginning at 8 p.m., Saugerties will experience a Village Invasion dubbed Crawl of the Dead. Prizes will be offered for the Best Dead Celebrity Look-alike, Best Executed Zombie and Best Pin-up Zombie. For details e-mail email@example.com or visit www.crawlofthedead.com/crawls/info/village_invasion.
Friday, October 22:
- This season’s Friday Film Series at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) in Kingston kicks off (pun intended) with a 7:30 p.m. screening of the Granddaddy of modern zombie flicks, George Romero’s low-budget, black-and-white 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. All seats are just $5, and it is advertised that zombies will be admitted free of charge (although what type of ID will be required is not specified). Tickets are available through the UPAC box office at 601 Broadway in Kingston, (845) 339-6088; at the Bardavon box office at 35 Market Street in Poughkeepsie, (845) 473-2072; or through TicketMaster at (800) 745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com. For more information, log onto www.bardavon.org or www.upac.org.
Monday, October 25:
- From 2 to 4 p.m., Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz will host its second annual Haunted Hunt for Kids ages 2 to 10 and their families. Hunters will be assigned a special scavenger hunt based on their age. Every child who participates will go home with a prize, but those who come in costume will receive a special prize. Healthy treats and beverages will be served. Admission is $5 per child. Meet at 18 Broadhead Avenue. For information call (845) 255-1660, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.huguenotstreet.org/about_us/calendar.php.
Friday, Saturday & Sunday, October 29-31:
- Historic Huguenot Street in New Paltz offers its annual Haunted Huguenot Street event, billed as an opportunity to see the “dark side” of this National Historic Landmark District. From 7 to 11 p.m., you can see characters come to life, sharing the superstitions and macabre events of the local Dutch and Huguenot culture of the 1700s. Admission is $9 in advance, $11 at the door. For more info phone (845) 255-1660 or visit www.huguenotstreet.org/about_us/calendar.php.
- From 6 to 10 p.m., the Teen Seen at 220 Main Street in New Paltz will present its annual Haunted House, created and populated by the kids who participate in the New Paltz Youth Program. A nominal entry fee helps support NPYP activities year-round. For info call (845) 255-5140, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.npyp.org.
Saturday, October 30:
- From 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., Skate Time 209, at 5164 Route 209 in Accord, hosts Howl-O-Weener, a costume party for dachshunds and other small friendly dogs and their humans. There will be a costume parade and talent contest, plus booths representing Dachshund Rescue of America and the Ulster County SPCA. For info call (845) 626-7971 or visit www.skatetime209.com.
Saturday and Sunday, October 30-31:
- From 12 noon until 5 p.m., the Headless Motorman will be haunting the Trolley Museum Car Barn at 89 East Strand in Kingston. But take heart and be brave: Lucky Beckett, the valiant red golden retriever, has returned and will be there to protect you. (Warning: Even Lucky Beckett may turn tail and run away to hide.) And don’t come expecting a treat, say the folks at the Trolley Museum; the Headless Motorman will trick you, and then trick you again. You are warned to hold on to your treats, or alas, you may lose them. Come dressed in a disguise for protection and a free ride; the event has a Wild West theme, so spurs and six-shooters are suggested attire. Admission is $10 per person. For more info, call (845) 331-3399 or visit www.tmny.org.
Halloween, Sunday, October 31:
- The Hudson Valley Mall in Lake Katrine will host a Halloween Fun Fest at the Food Court and throughout the Mall from 1 to 4 p.m. It will feature trick-or-treating, Bee Bee the Clown, Triumph Karate demonstrations and tunes from WBPM radio. At 3 p.m., folks in costume can participate in a Frightening Fashion Show and register for a chance to win a prize from a random drawing. For more info visit www.shophudsonvalleymall.com.
- At 3 p.m., the Rosendale Theatre at 408 Main Street in Rosendale will host a multi-media performance of live music, animated illustrations and storytelling for children and adults featuring the cartoon character Gustafer Yellowgold, followed by a Halloween costume party and trick-or-treating on Main Street. Tickets are $8. For info call (845) 658-8989 or visit www.rosendaletheatre.org.
- From 3 to 5 p.m., SUNY-New Paltz welcomes children ages 12 and under and their families to visit the campus for the Annual Community Trick-or-Treat, which visits all residence halls. There will be games, haunted houses, crafts and contests. Park in the Hagerty Administration Building Lot #15 or Lot #28, both off Route 32. For a campus map go to www.newpaltz.edu/map.
- Follow the sound of the drums to the Bakery at 13A North Front Street in New Paltz, which will once again host its Night of 100 Pumpkins. Everyone is invited to carve or paint beautiful, weird, frightening or creative pumpkins to be judged and displayed on Halloween night. Bring your carved or painted pumpkin to the Bakery on October 30 with your name, phone number and age written on the back, then return on Halloween between 6 and 8 p.m. to see all the pumpkins lit up! Whether you enter the contest or not, you’re invited to enjoy free hot cider, cocoa and David’s famous pumpkin bread. For details call (845) 255-8840 or visit www.ilovethebakery.com/halloween_fun.htm.
- New Paltz’s annual Halloween Parade starts at 6 p.m. at the Middle School at Main Street and Manheim Boulevard. Put on your costume and follow the marching band playing the Addams Family theme down Main, make a left at P & G’s (a favorite vantage point for spectators) and head up Plattekill to the parade’s endpoint at the Village Firehouse, where the Lions’ Club will distribute apples and candy. From that point, little ones can scatter to trick-or-treat in the neighborhood; older kids with a stomach for a bit of gore can head uphill one block to Hasbrouck Park for New Paltz’s much-anticipated annual community haunted house, originated by Dan and Ann Guenther and now sponsored by the YMCA; and families can head a couple of blocks downhill to view the prizewinning jack o’ lanterns at the Bakery.
- Perhaps inspired by the longtime success of the beloved “Guenther House” in New Paltz, Robert Pumphrey, owner of Hudson Valley Computer Geek, LLC, is launching a similar community haunted house in Red Hook. Clowns and Zombies will open to the public from 6 to 9 p.m. at 13 Cornell Avenue. Promising to be free, scary and fun, it is a fully orchestrated house of horror that takes approximately five minutes to walk through. The Spirit of Halloween store in Kingston donated supplies for the event. Only children over the age of 12 and adults will be allowed to go through the production; those under 12 are welcome to get candy at the entrance. For more information, call (845) 835-8177 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Weekends through October 31:
- From 7 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday evenings, Puttin Plus at 455 Washington Avenue in Saugerties welcomes those 8 years old and up with strong constitutions to visit the Haunted Cages. Children aged 8 to 13 must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Warning: The Haunted Cages is an attraction that is performed in the dark. Appropriate attire is required for uneven walking surfaces, low visibility, fog, damp or wet conditions. This attraction involves strobe lights, audio and visual distractions that are described as “unnerving,” and persons who are pregnant, prone to seizures, claustrophobic or have heart, back or respiratory problems are urged not to participate. Admission is $10 per person; $5.50 additional gets you access to the Go-Kart track. For info call (845) 246-4501 or visit www.puttinplus.com.
- In Lake Katrine, the Barn of Terror returns with a promise of dark doings and “all-new horrors for 2010” to 25 Thru View Farm Road on Old Kings Highway. It’s open from 7 p.m. until midnight (or until they run out of bodies) every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through October 31. Admission is $20 per person, $10 if it rains. For reservations or more info, call (845) 336-5242, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.TheBarnOfTerror.com.
- The theatrical structure better-known as Wing’s Castle, located at 86 Creamery Road off Route 82 in Stanfordville, this year becomes Frankenstein’s Fortress, open Fridays and Saturdays from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. and Sundays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Even the trail leading to the fortress is haunted with ghosts and ghouls. What makes Frankenstein’s Fortress unique is that 95 percent of the material used to build it is recycled material from the community. Items from garage sales, objects found in dumpsters and old lumber given to the Fortress are foundations for this ghastly structure. Each show is different from the last. Admission is $14 for adults and $5 for children age 10 and under. For information call (845) 868-7782 or visit www.frankensteinsfortress.com.
- Rated the Number-One Haunted Attraction of the Hudson Valley three years in a row, Kevin McCurdy’s Haunted Mansion, located near Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, marks its 34th year this Halloween. It’s known for being extremely interactive with its guests, and for having topnotch participatory technologies. The Haunted Mansion features three exhibits: “The Madness” takes place in a 1950s asylum, where a new treatment is being tested on the more deranged subjects. At “The Legend” you can hear the story of the outlaw Elmer McCurdy. “The Nightmare Castle” relies on ghosts, clowns and darkness to put a scare in visitors. Hours of operation are Fridays from 7 to 11 p.m., Saturdays from 7 p.m. to midnight, Sundays from 6 to 9 p.m. and Thursday, October 28 only from 7 to 10 p.m. Admission is $22, but you can save $2 by texting keyword Haunt411 to 91011*. On Sundays only, children age 10 and under get in for $10. If you’re looking to skip the lines, pay $30 to skip to the front. Group rates can be arranged by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Parking is free. For information call (845) 297-BATT (2288) or visit www.theHauntedMansion.com.
- Finally, the Big Kahuna – the Hudson Valley attraction that ends up on all the national Ten Best lists: the 45-acre Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses, located on Route 9W in Ulster Park. With a staff of over 100 people (a disproportionate number armed with axes and chainsaws) and designed and built by professionals from the lighting, costume, sound, set design, special effects and make-up industries, Headless Horseman includes a one-mile hayride, a labyrinth-style corn maze, five professionally created haunted houses, food concessions and gift shops. New for the 2010 season is the Dead Memories Photo Experience. Additional nightly entertainment includes the Original Synners Stunt Show Spectacular starring John Shaw and Lady Diabla, the world’s youngest female sword-swallower. It’s open Fridays through Sundays, plus Thursdays beginning October 21, with the first hayride typically heading out at 7 p.m. Ride tickets are $33 per person, age 8 and up only. Reservations are highly recommended to avoid the legendary long lines at the gate. For more info call (845) 339-2666, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.headlesshorseman.com.