MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTOS
How could ringing doorbells and nabbing free candy get any better? But over the years, Halloween and trick-or-treating have grown into a multi-event annual institution with all kinds of associated traditions.
For many children—young and old—Halloween competes each year to become their favorite holiday. If Christmas is a season, now Halloween is, too. Stores start stocking Halloween candy before Labor Day, but some Halloween aficionados work on their decorations year-round. And Halloween activities begin as soon as the calendar marks fall.
Some families plan for a pumpkin-picking visit to a local farm, a trek through a corn maze and another stop at one or more haunted houses. And that’s well before Oct. 31.
“We always go pumpkin picking every year,” says Adam DePrano, 12, of Baldwinsville. “We look forward to pumpkin carving” and then baking the seeds. “We eat them in a big bowl like popcorn.”
Anne DePrano says, “We decorate the inside of the house.”
“—And the outside!” Adam reminds her. Last year they added an inflatable pumpkin with ghosts to the neighborhood scenery and Adam put a sound machine in his window to play scary music for passers-by.
“When we were kids everything was handmade,” notes Anne DePrano, the youngest of eight. “A few signs were in the window” of her family’s home. Her family’s traditions today include getting takeout dinner that night before she escorts her sons trick-or-treating. Safety is a big concern for Halloween in the 21st century, she laments. “Now you go (trick-or-treating) with your kids and you go only to houses of people you know.” In her childhood, “You could go much farther” and trick-or-treat for hours with friends and siblings—and no parents.
Area shopping malls offer another trick-or-treating route on Oct. 31. “It’s a gesture to the community to provide a safe, dry environment for the kids,” says Rose Hapanowich, marketing director at Carousel Center in Syracuse. Storefronts with orange posters signal those merchants are ready for trick-or-treaters from 5 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 31.
“If they still want to go out in their neighborhood or if there are parties going on, they can go out here first,” Hapanowich says. Merchants give away candy, stickers, stamps and even coupons. Under the lights of the mall, it’s easier to check out everyone’s costumes. “And get ideas for next year,” she adds.
Shoppingtown Mall in DeWitt and Great Northern Mall in Clay will also host trick-or-treating from 6 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 31.
For trick-or-treaters looking for a fright, some neighbors even set up their own haunted house—and it’s not just an old, messy basement. Mike and Jen Perkins couldn’t wait to get their own home and create a haunted house for visitors, which they did for the first time last year.
“Everybody likes a good scare once in a while,” Mike Perkins says, smiling not very wickedly. “It makes it fun for the parents, too.”
The house began on their driveway and extended into the garage and back out again. A scary witch, a chainsaw-wielding teen and a hockey-masked fellow inhabited the haunt, not to mention a skeleton. About 15 family members, friends and co-workers helped out.
“It’s a big production. You just have to feed them and they will come,” Mike says. “I work for the YMCA (in Oswego), so I like giving back to the community as much as I can.”
Adds Jen Perkins: “It’s always fun trick-or-treating when people try to create something entertaining.”
The haunted house will undergo some renovations this year, but the Perkinses would not divulge any plans. Stop by and see on Halloween, Mike suggested. The location is 43 Athena Drive, off Smokey Hollow Road, across from Lysander Park.
Every town seems to have its more Halloween-y area where trick-or-treaters fill the sidewalks on Halloween night. New residents should ask neighbors what to expect and stock up accordingly or find out where to visit. In the city of Syracuse, the Westcott Street neighborhood welcomes trick-or-treaters whose parents drive them over to roam the tree-lined streets in search of candy. Vans slowly follow some bands of costumed children as they make their way up Concord Place and down Allen Street. Some neighborhoods are planning daytime activities this year, such as apple bobbing, a costume parade and more games, to fill the anxious hours before trick-or-treating begins Saturday evening.
To fill the long days of anticipation until Oct. 31, many area farms offer hayrides, fresh cider and plenty to do.
At Critz Farms, at 3232 Rippleton Road (Route 13) in Cazenovia, families pay to visit once and then visit again throughout October for no additional charge.
“It’s just one of those things that has become a family tradition,” says Angela Murphy of Cazenovia. Her family goes year-round, but runs into many friends from the greater Syracuse area there during fall.
Pumpkin seekers may ride a tram from the farmhouse to the nearby pumpkin patch, select their pumpkins, and climb back on for a return ride. Kids also enjoy the large playground, which features a wooden train to climb on and in. Across from that is the petting zoo, where pony rides are offered. “It’s the whole package” that she and her husband and three children enjoy, Murphy says.
Entertainment is provided every weekend during this Fall Harvest Festival outside the cafe, where fresh apple fritters are cooked. (Check the Web site for the entertainment listing: www.critzfarms.com
New this year is a Cow Train for children to ride. Across the road, a large corn maze invites wanderers to find their way out. Admission to the farm is $7 a person; children under 2 are free. A discounted season pass is available via the Web site. Admission to the maze is separate. Weekend hours during the festival are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Weekday hours, when the cafe is closed, are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The family-operated farm also hosts a good beginner’s haunted house, designed for children ages 2 through 10. Parents may lead children by the mostly happy Halloween decorations. When kids are ready for scarier haunts, they could graduate to the haunted house at Chuck Hafner’s Farm Market and Garden Center on Buckley Road in North Syracuse.
It includes a barn full of scary-looking scenes and people, er, monsters—but none come alive or at you. (Check the Hafner’s Web site for hours: www.chuckhafner.com
.) Older children, teens and even grown-up kids also enjoy the various haunted houses set up on the state fairgrounds each year.
A small but still fun corn maze awaits children at Hafner’s. The haystacks aren’t piled too high so parents can keep track of where the little ones scurry. They usually find the maze’s exit and head right over to the animal feeding and petting area. If children pick out a pumpkin at Hafner’s, they can take their time painting it for an additional $1.
Beaver Lake Nature Center (8477 E. Mud Lake Road, Baldwinsville) becomes a magical Halloween site from 6 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 22, 23, 24 and 25. More than 400 pumpkins and luminaria line and light two trails that are designed to show off the woods at night and not be scary. Face painting, fortune telling and treats also are available. Admission is $3 per person; children under 3 are free. (Check out the events calendar at http://onondagacountyparks.com/beaver
If your family prefers to ride instead of walk, try “The Last Ride,” a haunted hayride located at 291 Johnson Road in Palermo, near Hastings. The family-oriented ride features at least seven “living” attractions for which the ride stops on its four-acre course. Visitors may also pick out pumpkins there, and when old enough—or brave enough—visit the haunted house, says owner Dan Catherson. Three scenes in the haunted house are new this year as are several attractions along the hayride, Catherson says. “We’ve been working on this since the beginning of August.”
The “VIP ride,” he says, is a ride in a hearse through the woods. This is recommended for those at least age 15 and up and costs $12 a person. The hayride is $7 and the haunted house admission is $7; a combination ticket is available for $12. “The Last Ride” is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through October; times are 6 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; 6 to 10 p.m. on Sundays. His attractions get more popular each year, Catherson notes. Fans of Halloween don’t just wait for Oct. 31 anymore.
As Mike Perkins, 28, the haunted house creator, says: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, Halloween’s one of those fun events—and then you get candy at the end.”
Eileen Gilligan of Baldwinsville teaches journalism at SUNY Oswego and tries to teach lots of things to her two children.