Category Archives: Halloween

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween from Muppet Labs!

Yellow Leaves and Red Books

Wow, has it really been more than two weeks since I last posted here?  Sorry to leave you hanging.  Apart from book work, we’ve been enjoying the fall, cleaning up the yard and flower beds, and preparing for Halloween.  Given our schedule this year (including Madi’s incredibly busy volleyball schedule, where’s she’s starting on the varsity squad as a freshman  — yeah, we’re pretty proud of her, too), we won’t make it to Sleepy Hollow for the first time in several years, so we’re decking out our place appropriately, including these two fellows near our back door:

Rest in pieces.

On a different note . . . if you’re a Jim Henson fan and you’re not reading the daily excerpts from Jim Henson’s Red Book . . . well, for shame, Doc, for shame.  What is the Red Book, you ask?  At the end of each year, Jim Henson would go through his personal calendar and write down in his red notebook everything that had happened during the previous year — or, at least, what he thought was interesting.  It’s a fascinating (and, oftentimes, funny) document — not quite a diary, but more than just a simple listing of events. Think of it this way: if Jim were alive today, these are the kinds of things he might put up on a Twitter feed.

Anyway, over at the Jim Henson Company, crack archivist Karen Falk is putting up daily entries — corresponding to actual dates, meaning if today is October 29, then she’ll put up an entry from October 29 — and, where appropriate or helpful, providing a bit of background.

Go get it — and if you’re on Facebook or Twitter, subscribe to it for daily updates. It’s fun.  Trust me.

This Is Halloween….

I love Halloween — though as I mentioned in my interview with Historic Hudson Valley, I’m more of a Christmas person than a Halloween person, mainly because I’m one of the world’s great chickens. 

Don’t get me wrong — I love horror movies and horror novels.  But I was one of those kids — and I’m now one of those adults — who can’t get my mind to shut off once I go to bed.  I watch a scary movie, or read a scary book, then go to bed and lie there in the dark, the covers pulled up around my ears, straining to listen to every sound, convinced the creak of the floor or the wind in the pine tree is the monster/alien/slasher/Joker coming to get me. 

Most of the time I can get over it.  However, there remain trapped in the dark corners of my brain several snippets from horror movies that still scare the daylights out of me.  Most of these I saw before the age of fifteen — just the right age to embed memories that can mess you up for the rest of your life.  So if you really want to scare me, just mention any of the movies mentioned below, and you’ll immediately have me reduced to a quivering, gelatinous mass.

Here they are, ranked from least to most scary — though even the least scary one still seems pretty darn scary to me.  Ready?  Here we go:

(5)   I Married A Monster from Outer Space (1958)

The movie itself isn’t really all that scary — and even the trailer isn’t gloriously dopey enough to give you a sense of what you’re in for — but the monster from this movie?  He absolutely terrified me.:



The same picture was included in an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland the ten-year-old me somehow convinced my mom to buy for me — and it scared me so badly I had to bury it in the bottom of my desk.  Meanwhile, my 7-year-old brother whimpered himself to sleep.  Need I add that this was also the last issue of Famous Monsters I would ever own?

(4) The Amityville Horror (1979)

I was eleven when The Amityville Horror hit the movie theaters — which means I was nowhere close to being old enough to see it.  But I remember the trailer for it running on television in the evenings — including one memorable evening when my brother and I were spending the night at a friend’s house.  Normally, one of us would leap up and snap off the television when an ad for a horror movie came on, la-la-laing loudly to ourselves and counting off the minute or so until we could turn the TV back on, safe from any horrifying sounds or images . . . except for one moment when we didn’t get up fast enough to turn off a variation of this trailer:

The trailer scared the daylights out of me — especially the voice croaking “GET OUT!”  I was so nervous about this movie I didn’t even try to sneak  a copy of the book from the library, as I normally would have with such taboo material. 

When I finally saw the movie on cable in the early 1980s, it was terribly corny.  The trailer, however, did its job well enough to make it onto this list.

(3) Poltergeist (1982)

Two words: clown puppet.

(2) Halloween (1978)

I watched Halloween from the back seat of my parents’ car at the drive in.  No, my parents didn’t take us to see it.  I think we had come to the drive in to see The Betsy or something equally as lame that didn’t hold my attention.  But Halloween was showing on the screen behind us, and my brother and I spent the evening squatting on our knees, looking out the back window at the flickering screen several hundred yards away.  We never could tell what was going on, but we felt we were really getting away with something.

Several evenings later, Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert discussed the movie on Sneak Previews and showed a brief clip.  And to this day, I still can’t believe they could get away with showing this moment on television.  It’s a moment that’s scared me for thirty years.  And it comes at four minutes and 45 seconds into the following clip:

(1) Black Christmas (1974)

From Bob Clark, the director of the family classic A Christmas Story, comes one of the scariest movies ever: Black Christmas — or, Stranger in the House, as it was sometimes titled (and as it was called when I watched it on HBO in the early 80s).   The set-up has become cliche — a maniac hides in a sorority house, makes creepy phone calls to the girls, then disposes of them one-by-one — but you’d be hard pressed to find any movie that’s done it in a scarier way. 

For proof, here’s a brief clip of Olivia Hussey — the heroine — answering a phone call from their mysterious caller:

Happy Halloween!

Trip Report: Blaze, Legends, and Sleepy Hollow

We had a great weekend up in Sleepy Hollow and the surrounding area — and the snow that was in the forecast never materialized.  Instead, we had a bit of rain, a bit of chill, but an otherwise perfect weekend for enjoying all that the area has to offer.  As Sunnyside curator Dina Friedman put it, “We like to think that we own the Halloween season here in Sleepy Hollow.” And they do.

On Friday night, we attended the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, an old Dutch estate up at Croton-on-Hudson lit up by more than 5,000 carved pumpkins.  Pictures of the event really don’t do it justice, but here’s a few shots I took to try to give you a feel for just how creepily cool it is.

Everything you see at the Blaze is made of pumpkins, attached to each other with stakes or posts. For example, here’s a bat, swooping down over your head as you enter the property.  Each wing is carved into its own pumpkin, then attached to the central piece containing the body.



Next, here’s the approach to Van Cortlandt Manor, lit by lots of yowling, shrieking cats and, if you look closely, even a few brave mice:

Approaching Van Cortlandt Manor.  Beware of cat!

Approaching Van Cortlandt Manor. Beware of cat!

And once you reach the house, Mynherr Van Cortlandt and his wife are waiting there at the top of the stairs to greet you:

The Van Cortlandts preside over the Blaze.

The Van Cortlandts preside over the Blaze.

Rounding the corner, you’ll see a few of the Blaze’s creepier effects.  First, a jungle full of ghostly dinosaurs rage and roar:

Where the wild things are.

Where the wild things are.

Next, it’s a nest of spiders and snakes — including an eerily glowing spiderweb, one of the Blaze’s How’d they do that? moments:



Snakes.  Why'd it hafta be SNAKES?

Snakes. Why'd it hafta be SNAKES?

Here’s a sea of grinning faces, peering out from the clearing:

"We seeeeee yooooou....."

"We seeeeee yooooou....."

Henry Hudson’s ship churns through a ghostly sea of skeleton fish:

"The seas boiled...."

"The seas boiled...."

Meanwhile, skeletons danced:

Grim grinning ghosts.

Grim grinning ghosts.

…and ghostly bees buzzed around a hive — another one of the Blaze’s surprising effects:


Finally, to give you an idea of the kind of artistry on display, here’s a close up of a pumpkin carved to look like a shell.  Incredible, isn’t it?



The next day, I spoke twice at Sunnyside, as part of their daytime Legends events.  Curator Dina Friedman and her staff were incredibly kind and helpful, and I had a good crowd, with lots of good questions.  Dina even recorded the talks for a series of podcasts Historic Hudson Valley is hoping to launch.  That took a bit of experimenting with the Zoom technology — hence, the first talk went unrecorded, but we managed to catch the second one.  I’ll let you know if and when the podcast will be up over at HHV.

Anyway, here’s just a few quick shots at Sunnyside.  Strangely enough, while I’ve been to Irving’s home many times and have tons of pictures of the place, I had never actually taken a picture of the place with my own camera. Here’s a shot of the path to Irving’s home.  You can see the kind of beautiful fall day we were having:

The road from Tarrytown to Sunnyside.  While today's visitors don't use this path, it's the road your carriage would have used to pull up to Irving's front door.

The road from Tarrytown to Sunnyside. While today's visitors don't use this path, it's the road your carriage would have used to pull up to Irving's front door.

Next, it’s the approach down the hill to Sunnyside, where guests were beginning to queue up to tour the home.  The Hudson River is visible just to the left:

A gorgeous fall day at Sunnyside.

A gorgeous fall day at Sunnyside.

Finally, here’s a shot of the front door — obscured by wisteria, but still giving an idea of its charm.  Both floors of the house were open for touring that day — a real bonus:



That evening, we went into Sleepy Hollow for the Evening Legends events at Phillipsburg Manor.  Here’s the approach to the property, spookily lit by colored lights, and reflected in ghostly image in the pond:

Phillipsburg Manor by night.

Phillipsburg Manor by night.

Legends evening is an opportunity to walk around the site of an old farm and mill and just watch spooky things happen.  We saw a great magician (who we jokingly called Ryan the Temp, due to his resemblance to a character on The Office), sang along with pirates, stood at the fence as the Headless Horseman galloped past, glowing pumpkin in hand (I tried to catch him with my camera, but missed) and shrieked only twice when we found we were being closely followed by a lumbering catlike creature.

As we passed the graveyard, we peeked over the fence and caught  a glimpse of a ghostly woman, wailing over the loss of her beloved:


Every once in a while, we would spot her strolling slowly through the crowd, staring blankly ahead.  Other times, a ghostly violinist would wander the property, playing creaky off-key music.  To keep the spooks away, we huddled near one of several Sleepy Hollow scarecrows:

"What party be ye with??"

"What party be ye with??"

And finally, as we strolled past the barn, we caught a glimpse of ghosts wandering aimlessly about just inside:


All in all, a memorable weekend.  Wanna go?  Check out Historic Hudson Valley for more details.

Everybody Scream!

One of our favorite things to do at this time of year is to get lost in an enormous corn maze.  Almost every year since Madi was a wee sprite, we’ve managed to find a corn maze at Halloween time where we can spend an hour–or sometimes hours–trying to find our way out. 

Each year, the Boys and Girls Club at the town down just the road hosts an enormous Halloween festival with haunted houses, hay rides, and, yes, a corn maze.  We went through their corn maze two years ago and got really, really lost — so lost, in fact, that we ended up cheating our way out, ducking down low and cutting out through some of the lower-growing corn at one corner. We finally emerged in a plowed field, then picked our way around the outside edge of the maze in the dark until we found society again.

This year, we decided to give their maze another try.  Madi was having two friends over to work on Halloween costumes, so we agreed to head over to the corn maze at around 7:30 p.m., well enough after dark for the maze to be really spooky.  I pocketed a flashlight this time, in the event we had to make another unauthorized escape, and at 7:30, all five of us — me, Barb, Madi, and two of her friends — stood just outside the entrance to this year’s enormous corn maze.

We had only made it about twenty yards inside when we saw a pile of hay bales stacked to one side–and as we approached it, someone in overalls and a creepy mask jumped out at us.  All three girls screamed, and we cut quickly to our left, making our way around several turns in the dark until we came upon a small group of people huddled in a wide spot.  There at the entrance to the next leg of the maze lay a body, very still.  The group in front of us laughed nervously in the dark.  There was no place to go but forward past the body, or turn back.

I clicked on the flashlight and ran the beam the length of the body.  Sure enough, it was real person, laying very still and just waiting for someone to take a step forward so he could make a lunge for their legs.  

Fair enough.  I took a wide step forward, just barely out of his reach.  He lunged anyway, and our girls screamed bloody murder.

Suffice it to say, we didn’t make it any further than that.