From scary movies to haunted houses, many of us enjoy the bone-chilling terror of things that go bump in the night – especially on Halloween.
It’s widely held that the holiday originated from Samhain, an ancient Celtic festival meaning “summer’s end,” when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to dispel harmful spirits.
Today’s traditions are somewhat tamer. We carve jack-o’-lanterns, hold costume parades, and, of course, trick or treat. But depending on where you live, Halloween may be much, much more. Some towns will celebrate Halloween for the entire month; at least one has permanent scenes to entertain visitors all year. And some communities use the holiday to raise awareness and help those in need.
In that spirit, let’s look at seven small towns that will be celebrating Halloween in frightfully fun styles. If you’re looking for a fun getaway, check them out!
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. (population: 10,100)
For many, just the name “Sleepy Hollow” conjures up the image of Washington Irving’s Headless Horseman. If you aren’t familiar with the story, master storyteller Jonathan Kruk is presenting a dramatic performance of the tale in the town’s Old Dutch Church October 19 – 21 and 25 – 31. Visitors can also tour Irving’s final resting place, the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (we suggest the lantern-lit nighttime tour). Plus, there’s haunted hayrides, Gothic mansions, blazing pumpkins, farmers markets, live music, street fairs and parades leading up to the holiday.
Salem, Mass. (population: 43,100)
Throughout October, visitors to this quaint New England town can experience events surrounding its infamous witch burnings of 1692 with guided tours, mock trials and hanging re-enactments, fireworks, parades, and a witch’s circle. Be sure to visit the Witch House Museum, former home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, one of the witch trial judges. Halloween night features magic shows, witches balls, séances and fireworks. Find more information here.
Anoka, Minn. (population: 17,400)
Known as the “Halloween capital of the world,” Anoka is believed to be one of the first U.S. cities to host a Halloween celebration. Starting in 1914, the town hosted an event to prevent local kids from pulling pranks like soaping windows and tearing down fences. Anoka’s first celebration featured a parade, a bonfire and plenty of candy and popcorn. Today, it’s a month-long party with three parades and more than 30 events, including a giant pumpkin contest and Halloween wine tasting.
Independence, Kan. (population: 8,800)
Independence, in southeast Kansas, has celebrated Neewollah (“Halloween” spelled backwards) since 1919. Originally held to keep playful youngsters from mischief-making on Halloween night, this year’s event (October 19 – 27) offers entertainment for people of all ages. There are three parades, the crowning of Queen Neelah and a chili cook off, plus carnivals and nightly live entertainment. It’s the largest annual festival in Kansas, attracting some 70,000 visitors each year. Find more information here.
St. Helens, Ore. (population: 13,500)
You may recognize this town’s name from the iconic Disney movie Halloweentown, the story of a witch who helps save the town from other supernatural creatures. The movie was filmed here, and locals preserve the scenes, attracting tourists year-round. Last year, the movie cast reunited to honor their late costar Debbie Reynolds. With this being the 20th anniversary of the movie, St. Helens is going all out. Every weekend in October there will be special photo ops, tours and costume contests.
Romeo, Mich. (population: 3,600)
While residents of some cities go all out with streets of Christmas displays, residents of historic Tillson Street band together to decorate some 40 homes for a month-long Halloween tribute. During designated days and times, the entire street is closed down for “Terror on Tillson,” allowing locals a safe venue for trick-or-treating. Organizers sell T-shirts to benefit the local high school and U.S. veterans. They also set one day aside so children fighting juvenile cancer, and their families, can enjoy the displays and treats. Find more information here.
Estes Park, Colo. (population: 6,400)
This mountainside village is where you’ll find The Stanley Hotel, infamous for ghostly sightings and experiences. Events have been reported there since 1911, when a housekeeper was electrocuted during a lightning storm (though she was not killed). That room, 217, is a rumored hotbed of paranormal activity. After staying in the hotel in the 1970s, Stephen King was inspired to write “The Shining.” There are several upcoming events at the hotel to get you into the spirit: a murder mystery dinner October 19, the “Shining Ball” October 20, and a masquerade party October 27. Find more information here.
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