Do you remember hearing about "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" for the first time? Did the very idea of the headless horseman take you away from the candy and the costumes for a delicious goosebumps moment?
That's the very sense of childhood wonder and thrills Greenfield Village is hoping to tap with its bumped-up focus on the Washington Irving tale this year.
"It's one of the great American ghost tales," says Jim Johnson, event spokesman.
Greenfield Village's annual Hallowe'en programming is a family-friendly, mile-long, jack o' lantern-lit path decorated to the hilt and featuring 10 treat stops, storytelling and live-action characters ranging from dancing skeletons to singing pumpkins. This year, the Village is adding a new greeting character, Igor, plus four other new elements along the path, in addition to playing up the Sleepy Hollow angle with expanded storytelling and décor.
Hallowe'en focuses toward thrills more than chills. Sure, there's some spooky stuff; for example, you might want to veer the kiddies away from the scarecrows at the end of the cornfield (word to the wise — some of them aren't stuffed).
But no one is jumping out to scare you, and there's no blood and gore, Johnson says. It's all about old-school Halloween: black cats, witches, owls and lots of pumpkins (more than 1,100 carved fresh per week, including some by a pumpkin-carving robot).
"We purposely put a stake in the ground and veered away from haunted houses and hayrides," says Johnson, who has been involved in the Hallowe'en programming since its beginning in the early 1980s. "We chose to keep it more mysterious and fun as opposed to shock and awe. The setting is wonderful enough, and you have these fun encounters."
This year's new encounters along the path — which also has been tweaked this year — include a fictitious ghost soldier fight, a doctor harkening back to the era of the black plague, vampires and bantering fairy sisters. Some of that may not sound light-hearted, but Johnson says much is played for laughs.
The Village's Hallowe'en is largely informed by how the holiday features in American culture. It caught on here at the very end of the 19th century, Johnson says.
"So we looked at lots of period sources to see how they were celebrating," he explains about the dozens of pamphlets and publications from the 1890s through about the 1950s about putting on Halloween events studied in developing the event. "In doing that, we formed kind of a backstory ... some of the characters you encounter rely on gothic and adventure literature popular in America in the first half of the 20th century."
That includes Frankenstein's Igor, pirates from "Treasure Island," storytellers sharing Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" and, of course, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
The latter is told fairly true to the original in about 15 minutes by a couple actors in the Spofford Saw Mill, transformed here into a tavern representative of the one in Irving's story. Other buildings in the Liberty Craftworks area near the end of the jack o' lantern-lit path are given what Johnson calls "more Sleepy Hollowness" — in other words, made to represent other elements from the book such as the school yard and the Van Tassels' home — through graphics, signage, sound effects and lighting.
The headless horseman — usually the most popular traditional element, Johnson says — remains unchanged.
If you take your time, Hallowee'en is about a two-hour experience, Johnson says (the half-hour slots are start-times to pace the crowds, not limits on how long you can stay). And here's a great tip — fashionably late is your friend here.
"You can't come earlier than your time, but you can come later and stay as long as it's open," he says.
In other words, if you delay your arrival by 10 or 15 minutes, you'll have less wait time at the gate and can spend more of your time at the village munching goodies and soaking in nostalgic Hallowe'en.
Maureen Tisdale is a Metro Detroit freelance writer and editor.
Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village
Time slots begin every
30 minutes, 6:30-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 6:30-8 p.m.
Sun. through Oct. 26
$12.75 for members and $15 for nonmembers; children younger than 2 are free (visit website for a $2 coupon off select nights)