Halloween is here again, and with it some of the best events of the year. If you are a New England native, or even a younger transplant, you are one of many whose fall memories include crisp afternoons spent picking apples, eating candy and popcorn under clear blue skies in local farms and festivals. Though many of our local festivals take place during the month of September, perhaps my favorite hidden gem of a festival is an October only affair, I’m talking about Dismas House Farm’s Festival.
Since moving to Worcester almost a decade ago, I have always longed for a low effort but high yield fall festival, and that is precisely what Dismas House’s Fall Harvest Festival has to offer. Since 2015, Dismas has been cooking up their homemade chili and butternut squash soups, served to keep visitors warm on the windy October days. Due to popular demand, the festival takes place over two separate Saturdays so as to give fans a couple of options for not missing out.
This year, Dismas’ Fall Festival will take place on the Saturdays of October 7th as well as 14th from 1-4. Visitors can enjoy the hay maze stuffed (and regularly replenished) with hidden candy waiting to be found, and then slide right down out of the barn. Dismas has ‘pumpkin’ painting stations, as well as face painting stations. There is always lively music in the background, and the friendly staff offers hayrides up the slow hill that overlooks the farm. It is an easy and picturesque way to spend the afternoon, while supporting a plucky farm with an important mission.
Not far from Worcester’s Tatnuck Square, the Leicester farm stand and local gem Breezy Gardens is located right down McNeil Highway. Every autumn, Breezy Gardens sets up their giant pumpkin slide for children to herald their busiest time of the year. I spoke with manager Kim Miczek who updated me on this year’s events.
“We start with our pumpkin festival to kick off festivities. This year will be the 30th of September and 1st of October. After that, every weekend in October as well as Columbus Day. We have an admission fee, and that covers hayrides, a small maze designed for families with young children, particularly children ages nine years and younger. Guests are welcome to pick their own pumpkins or visit the goats or take a hayride around the farm. We try to keep things new and updated every year. Indoors we have our corn kernel ‘sand boxes’. Some kids don’t ever leave those once they settle in. They’re so popular! The big attraction for some of the bigger kids is a giant pile of tractor tires that we set aside for climbing. Kids use it as another version of a jungle gym, but it’s unlike anything else around here. They love to play on it. We top it all off with a bouncy house and our classic giant Jack-O-Lantern slide.”
If you have a hankering for haunts, and ‘will travel’, consider celebrating October with one of Tom & Arlene’s D’Agostino’s ‘Dining with The Dead’ events. The October iteration will take place at the Publick House in Sturbridge on October 30th.
“We’ve been doing these events since 2007, and they’ve been quite successful. We’ve been using the Publick House for the past five years. We sell tickets on Eventbrite. Tom gives a presentation on the history of the haunts and place and the rooms where they’ll be investigating. We try to cap it at around 52 people per event and we often have a wait list.” Tom explains. “I’m a softy so I cave in and let extra people in.“ chimes Arlene.
The structure remains the same at each event. There is the presentation, a small window of ‘giveaways’, including things like books written on the subject of the paranormal, novelty tarot cards and the like. Next, there is an all you can eat dinner buffet. At the end of dinner, Tom & Arlene go over the equipment that will be used during the ‘investigation’. Once everyone is prepped on the equipment, the group breaks into four subgroups of about 14 people and they start exploring the four available spaces.
The D’Agostionos love sharing their most memorable events. Tom recalls an incident with Room 14, “One time during our investigation dinner at the Publick House, Arlene was in Room 40 and I was in the ballroom, when suddenly there was a loud crash in Room 14. It was loud enough that it sounded like somebody might’ve dropped a grand piano down the stairs. We all moved quickly down to the room, but when we unlocked the door, it was completely empty and still.” But that is only one of many memorable stories.
“At the public house, the cameras have motion sensors, and the cameras go on even when the room is empty. Sometimes you can see like a form moving around the table. It’s uncanny!” Arlene goes on. “Another time at The Publick House I was up in Room 40, I usually investigate that room, I was telling everyone about the haunts. All the sudden the whole room started to smell a sweet, cloying aroma like that of funeral flowers. No one sprayed any perfume or anything like that but the smell was very noticeable. It permeated the whole area. And as quick as it came on, it dissipated. It was very distinct. Another time, all of a sudden there was a very strong odor that smelled like ammonia, which is what we use to clean spaces. It was unmistakable.”
Arlene and Tom have compiled a long list of ‘anomalies’ that defy our perception of reality. “It’s really something. We love the work,” says Arlene, “At the end of each investigation we gather all the materials that we record and that participants record, and we make sure to make it available to everyone who attended. You never know who’s going to notice something unexplained, and that’s what we all want to see.” Indeed, what is Halloween if not the celebration of the unseen?
Tower Hill Botanical Gardens is celebrating the season of fright with its most magical display yet. Lea Morgan has been working all month to make her creative vision come to life, namely a nature-meets-art installation called “Myths, Magic, and Monsters”. The menagerie of magical creatures is currently up and available to visitors at Tower Hill Botanical Garden. Using inspiration found in nature, the team at Tower Hill has created eight creatures, including a mermaid, dragon, a phoenix and many more. I spoke with Morgan about the scope and strategy of this project.
“All these creatures are spread out in the ramble, which is the children’s area. I designed them but our education and horticulture team has been integral to the project’s installation. We are celebrating the project with an event called ‘Enchanted Weekend’, which will take place the weekend of October 7th through the 9th.”
Enchanted Weekend centers around this exhibit but includes much more. “There will be a local vendor fair, we are setting up craft activities for children, and we’ll have a live owl presentation. During lunch times we are even offering unicorn pony rides. We will have live Celtic music playing, and stilt walkers strolling about to add to the magical mise-en-scene. Kids are invited to come for the events, the craft workshops or just even to enjoy the variety of magical creatures roaming the grounds. It’s incredibly family friendly, and is sure to entertain people of all ages.”
There is no doubt about it, this new tradition of celebrating Magic and Monsters, serves as a very welcome lead up to Tower Hill’s already jubilant winter lights event. Even as the outdoor light dims, the inner light grows brighter.
While we are on the subject of inner light, the Dirty Gerund –the poetry staple at Ralph’s Rock Diner –is joining forces with the Worcester Writers’ Collective [WWC] to set up their own Halloween offering. For one night only, Monday October 30th at 8, the WWC will take over the Dirty Gerund and regale their audience with tales, poems, and vignettes celebrating mystery and horror. For anyone interested in the literary side of Halloween, this will be the one not to miss. If ever there was an appropriate setting for telling gory stories, Ralph’s Diner and its grungy energy is the perfect setting to hunker down with your beverage of choice and listen to local writers and storytellers perform their own magic.
“The Great Jack O’Lantern Journey” is back from September 28th to October 31st at Southwick’s Zoo. This well loved festival, at New England’s largest zoo, offers entertainment and family-friendly
fun. You’ll be transported to a world of Halloween wonder through stunning hand-carved pumpkin displays, each telling a unique story. This festival is suitable for all ages, with enchanting displays, tasty seasonal treats, and live entertainment is a Halloween must.
As always readers, Halloween in New England is a special time, perhaps even the most special time. So close to summer and yet already moving toward wintery depths, Halloween rides on the tension between darkness and light. Whether you are enjoying the flaming foliage against the clear blue sky while riding hay bales, or stalking magical monsters and ghosts in old saloons, you are celebrating the best that New England has to offer, the season that turns the seasons, and the month at the very heart of this transition that is October.