A New England Halloween

Sunday, October 29 – Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A couple of months into our journey, it was wonderful to receive a visit from Denise’s sister Darva, our brother-in-law Rick and Vance’s cousin Ella. They flew up to Boston to join us for a for a long Halloween weekend. The sight of family members after our largely solitary voyage was welcome indeed. As we would be a bit cramped in the camper with 6 people, Rick wisely opted to make hotel reservations, situated about half way between where we were camping on Cape Ann (near Gloucester, pronounced ‘gloss-duh’) and Boston.

Our initial plan was to spend Halloween evening in Salem, Massachusetts, figuring it was ground zero for Halloween festivities. Indeed, we had been viewing numerous people in costume the previous weekend in Salem. However, we’d been warned repeatedly that Salem was simply a zoo – the MBTA was adding extra trains from Boston, parking was said to be impossible, and we’d heard numbers thrown around of 70-100,000 people cramming into a few block area, including 30,000 Wicca Witches. It sounded rather interesting, if a bit crowded. However, we had several days with Rick and Darva and we didn’t want to spend all of them walking the streets of Salem.

While in Vermont, a couple of gentlemen from the Boston area had highly recommended Old Sturbridge Village to us. Sturbridge is a recreated village set in the 1820’s, located about an hour west of Boston. Thinking this might be something everyone would enjoy, I looked at their website and learned about the ‘Things that go Bump in the Night” Event hosted by Sturbridge on the Saturday & Sunday prior to Halloween. After dark, the old village is transformed into a haunted Halloween spectacular, offering trick or treating for the kids.

We had a lot of fun at Sturbridge. We got there early enough in the afternoon to walk around the village. Sturbridge offers a wide variety of buildings, often with people in period costume (and acting in character) doing displays. For example, we saw a huge apple press being used to make cider.

Normally I would have made it a point to really stick with Vance and ensure he paid attention to all the various demonstrations and displays, but we’ve seen so many of these style villages that I think he’s pretty well got it down by now. There was a demonstration of a water powered up and down sawmill, which both Vance and I found fascinating. We’ve seen several circular sawmills, but we’ve only seen up and down sawmills as static displays in several museums. It was really neat to see how rapidly the water power would move the saw blade, cutting a sizable log.

After awhile, Rick and Darva took the kids back up to the Visitors Center, which had a play area. Denise and I walked around visiting some of the other buildings in the village, including a blacksmith making an iron chain, and an old farmhouse with a couple of women inside in period costume stringing chunks of pumpkins to dry. It felt strange, and it took us a minute to figure out why – this was the first time Vance had been out of our sight in nearly 3 months! We didn’t have all that much time, but we very much enjoyed our little stroll by ourselves through the old village.

Finally, nightfall rolled around, and Vance and Ella suited up for Trick or Treating. Vance had picked out a Ninja outfit while we were in Salem, and Ella was decked out as a witch. The village provided a great setting with many of the old buildings decorated for Halloween. There were hundreds of lighted carved pumpkins scattered all around, scarecrows, witches brewing up concoctions, monsters hanging around campfires in the field, and ghosts walking around a graveyard. Inside an old tavern was a comfy fire, fortune tellers, and cotton candy. In the meeting house, a storyteller related ghost stories, and there was no shortage of candy for the kids. My favorite was a coffin laying on the ground – if a child would knock on it, the person inside would cheerfully ask in his best Boston accent: “Whad’ can I do fah ya?”, and slide his arm out with a piece of candy!

With it getting dark at 4:45pm, we finished up reasonably early. Sturbridge proved to be a warm-up for Ella and Vance and they announced that come Halloween night, “they wanted to trick-or-treat at real houses”!

On Halloween itself, Darva wanted to see Concord, which Denise had been raving about ever since we visited it a few days prior. Concord and Lexington, in addition to being the locations where the American Revolution started, are also lovely New England villages. We decided to ride out there, and seek out a family friendly neighborhood for Vance and Ella to go Trick-or-Treating.

After browsing thru the shops in Concord (pronounced ‘Con-cahd’), we took an interesting tour though the Old Manse. The house is adjacent to the Old North Bridge battlefield (where Colonial Militiamen for the first time were ordered to open fire on the King's troops, officially starting the American Revolution). Amazingly enough for a house located at such a historic location, it was also once the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, where David Henry Thoreau was both his gardener and friend. Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) was a neighbor, and tutored Emerson’s children. Later, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his new bride, Sophia would live in the house for 3 years.

Our guide was very enthusiastic, and gave a great tour of the house. Most of the furniture is original, with Hawthorne's and Emerson’s writing desks still at the house. Of particular interest was some ‘graffiti’ carved into windowpanes by Hawthorne’s bride. Sophia Hawthorne scratched several messages about her paintings, and their daughter viewing the snow, into the windowpanes using her diamond ring.

Emerson was inspired by this house and its location to write his famous Concord Hymn:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world

Back in Concord, Denise, Rick and Darva all asked for some advice about neighborhoods for trick or treating from various shop owners and real estate agents. One consensus recommendation was a short stroll from downtown, and after suiting up Vance and Ella, we headed that way.

We couldn’t have done better if we’d tried. The neighborhood was packed, and I mean packed, with children of all ages, and house after house was decorated to the nines for Halloween. It was a beautiful evening, mild and mostly clear, with the moon shining brightly overhead. Watching Vance and Ella walk up to all of those historic homes, many over 200+ years old, seemed like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. It was a reasonably affluent neighborhood, judging by the cars and the interior of the houses, and they weren’t being chintzy about handing out the candy. In about an hour both the kids had filled their bags to capacity.

If anyone from Concord ever reads this, I just want to say thank you – your village treated our children wonderfully.

I almost forgot to mention the best part of the day – we had parked the car right next to the village green in Concord, which was home to multiple maple trees. There were lots of leaves, and Vance started gathering them up in a big pile at the end of a series of granite benches. Once we all joined in, we rapidly had a large pile of leaves which the two of them had a great time jumping in. I truly believe we could have done nothing else all day and the two of them would have been happy as clams. Even after finishing trick or treating, Vance and Ella jumped in the leaf pile a few more times, and very reluctantly got back in the car to head back to the hotel. Sometimes, it’s just the simplest things that are the most fun. I think Vance really enjoyed having someone he knew to play and make the rounds with. Ella also opted that "it was the best Halloween ever"! Mission accomplished ;-)

From there we had planned to catch a train into Salem, and just people watch for a few hours. It had been interesting enough the previous day, watching the Wiccans file in, the tourists start to cram the streets, and fire breathing evangelical Christians loudly informing everyone walking by that the whole scene was dooming us all to hellfire. Quite a show, and it only promised to get better. We were all pretty tired though, and opted to just head back to the hotel. Vance protested a little: “what about the 30,000 witches?”, but he got over it pretty quick, and rapidly settled down to cataloging his loot.

Vance: We began Halloween at Old Sturbridge Village. Ella and I dressed up as a ninja and a witch. It was spooky in the old village. There wasn’t much in the way of candy giving there, so I went around twice. Later we went Trick-Or-Treating in Concord, Mass on Halloween night. One person who was giving candy was a witch.

There were many amazing costumes at both places. Concord was a Trick-Or Treater magnet. The neighborhoods had very good candy. Some kids were even giving out candy. Later we went back to Ella’s hotel. We traded candy, and watched some spooky Cartoon Network Halloween specials!


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