"Ghost of Abraham Lincoln" in Logan County Courthouse for Halloween in Greenfield Village, 1982 / THF146345
Our beloved Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It’s been a fascinating journey to have been involved from nearly the beginning, eventually leading the team that plans and produces this very complicated and detailed guest experience.
Throughout the entire history of the event, the true star of the show has been Greenfield Village after dark. I know of no better palette for our amazing creative team to have at its disposal to work magic year after year.
The year 2020 and its COVID-19 pandemic will be looked back on as a turning point for not only the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village program, but for all of The Henry Ford. The need for a safe environment and the resources available have forced the team to take a fresh look at the event and view things from a very different perspective. We are excited and invigorated by the plan we have brought forth and we hope our guests are too.
The Beginnings of Halloween in Greenfield Village
The Greenfield Village Halloween program began as an experience shared through our Education Department’s catalogue of classes and courses. This new concept of a family-based, Halloween-themed experience was first developed as a scary wagon ride experience, with stops and treats at various buildings in Greenfield Village. There were other fun seasonal activities, including dunking for apples, a costume parade and contest, and refreshments in Lovett Hall. The wagon ride was carefully planned out and tapped into Village stories, going as far as having as having a staff member’s child on board as a designated kidnap victim--a sign of the different times that were the early 1980s.
"Trick or Treat" at Wright Home in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146356
This program was presented on an ambitious scale. It was offered one night only and served a remarkably large audience. It was wildly popular and showed what future possibilities and demand lay ahead for the Halloween season. (You can read more about this very first Greenfield Village Halloween program here.)
A series of events led to the next phase of the Greenfield Village Halloween program. The Tylenol poisoning scare in the fall of 1982 changed people’s view of the safety of trick-or-treating. This, combined with new staff and reorganized Village Programs and Special Events departments, brought forth the novel idea of opening Greenfield Village at night as a safe place for trick-or-treating. Thus, the foundation for Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village was born: the basic format of the program we have used until now.
This first Village trick-or-treat Halloween program drew an unexpectedly huge crowd of over 5,000 people. No control measures for timed or paced entry times were put in place and the event was open to the public. As expected, the supply of treats ran out quickly and drastic measures had to be put in place to try and keep pace. I remember working at the first treat stop, the Loranger Gristmill. We gave out handfuls of loose candy corn (a nice thematic connection to the gristmill). I remember it being a very chaotic experience and the porch of the gristmill being coated in smashed candy corn, which could not be seen—only felt—under my feet. In the light of the following day, I was amazed to see single pieces of candy corn that had been pressed out to the size of my hand, still retaining their original shape and color!
"Trick or Treat" at Heinz House in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146374
Many lessons were learned that opening weekend. Moving forward, Halloween in Greenfield Village became a members-only event and entry times were established to slow and control the flow.
Developing the Program in the 1980s and 1990s
Halloween would remain a members-only event for the next 20 years. The first few years, Halloween only took place for one weekend in October. This would continue through the 1980s. By the early 1990s, the still members-only program would expand to two weekends and eventually three. During this time, staff were allotted a certain amount of free tickets, but were required to show up on a set day and time and stand in a very long line to get their tickets. Member tickets for the limited number of program days typically sold out very quickly.
In the first era of the program, there was a lot of emphasis put on the treats and their thematic connection to the Greenfield Village sites from which they would be given out. Different treats were picked out each year.
The inside of the brochure for 1983’s “Family Halloween in Greenfield Village” lists the thematic connections for each building treat stop. / THF146311
Connecting the trick-or-treat path were a variety of Halloween-themed vignettes or interactions, associated with historical events and characters with a nod to scary stories of the past. The effects were low-tech and, in some cases, took inspiration from the emerging haunted house industry. First seen in the 1970s, these haunted houses were grassroots amateur efforts, often sponsored and produced by local Jaycees, Elks, and other fraternal organizations as fund raisers. They relied on cheap scare tactics that involved being jumped out at, grabbed, and sometimes gory scenes. For years, we used some of these very same techniques. The Ackley Covered Bridge was notorious for this.
"Gorilla" on Ackley Covered Bridge during Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 1982 / THF146372
When it came to infrastructure, the Greenfield Village of the 1980s and 1990s basically resembled the Greenfield Village of 1929. There were very few, if any, streetlights and limited access to power to add additional lighting. Until the restoration of 2003, Halloween in Greenfield Village was very dark. Because of this, the jack-o’-lantern pumpkin path played an important role in lighting the way through the experience. A continuous thread to today’s program is the large number of hand-carved and candlelit jack-o’-lanterns that line the path—though now, they serve more to create ambience and atmosphere. Over 1,000 pumpkins are now hand-carved each week to achieve the continuous path.
Volunteers Carving Pumpkins for Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village, October 1981 / THF146327
Throughout the 1990s, the Family Halloween program, still a members-only event, continued to grow in popularity and had become a yearly tradition for many. Creative collaborations between the Special Events, Village Programs, and AV teams continued to improve the experience, and serious work and experimentations began with lighting and visual effects. A huge breakthrough was the discovery that Tim and Tom, the Firestone Farm black Percheron horses were decent riding horses. It was not long before the Headless Horseman made his debut in the front fields of Firestone Farm. He was soon joined by Ichabod Crane and a Halloween in Greenfield Village favorite was born.
By 2001, though the sophistication and fit and finish of Halloween in Greenfield Village had evolved dramatically from its early years, there was still great potential for growth. Previously, costuming had mainly been reworked or cast-off bits and pieces from the period clothing inventory, décor was minimal, and aside from the hundreds of pumpkins on the jack-o’-lantern path, the main emphasis remained on treats.
The New Millennium Brings a Turning Point to the Program
Workers Laying Conduit in Greenfield Village during Infrastructure Restoration, January 2003 / THF133585
In 2002, the big news around Greenfield Village was the impending massive infrastructure restoration that would begin to take place in the fall. The Village would close at the end of September and not reopen until the following June. Halloween would take a hiatus that year as the huge project gained steam. This would be a turning point and a newly imagined program soon emerged, keeping in step with the newly imagined Greenfield Village.
By the summer of 2003, a cross-functional team began planning the work. The team very quickly established a back story that would guide what the new Halloween would and would not be. The shock and gore, now so prevalent in haunted houses, was removed from the mix. Instead, there was a move toward a family-friendly experience that would rely on the power of Greenfield Village after dark and scary and adventure-based stories that fuel the imagination and Halloween spirit.
Another important inspiration was Halloween party guides, published from the early 1900s through the 1950s, in the collections of The Henry Ford. These handbooks gave endless advice on how to decorate, what games to play, what food to prepare and serve, and a whole host of other miscellaneous tips on how to throw the best Halloween party. Among the most useful and inspirational were the series of yearly Bogie Books, published by the Dennison paper and party goods company from 1912 through 1935. These pamphlets were filled with illustrations, some in color, that featured the huge array of crepe paper and other party products produced by the Dennison Manufacturing Company. Elaborate costumes and party décor were shown—along with the list of Dennison products one would need to replicate the awe-inspiring ideas featured. The colors, textures, and techniques guided our teams in both costuming and decorating throughout the Village.
Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 / THF96746
Trick-or-treating would remain the main vehicle for moving guests through the experience on a set path, but the look and feel of the treat stations would begin to change dramatically. The Period Clothing Studio became very involved and began to design a spectacular series of costumes to bring the gothic, fairytale, and adventure storybook characters to life—with a nod to costumes of the 1910s and 1920s. By 2005, these characters would become the treat station hosts, with their own stages and stage lighting. Other favorite characters, like the Woman in White, the Dancing Skeletons, the live scarecrow, and, of course, the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, made triumphant returns with new costumes.
Costume Studio Preparing for Halloween in Greenfield Village, October 2005 / THF12490
Another significant change at this point was the shift from Hallowe’en being a members-only event to a public event. Members still had first-pick when ticket sales opened, as they do now, but after a certain date, the public was invited to purchase tickets. As the popularity of the event continued to grow, so did attendance capacities.
The creative work to improve costumes, set designs, and theatrical lighting continued. Through the 2010s, staged theatrical performances of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and other fun, but dark fairytales, such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” were added to the mix. To set up the live Headless Horseman experience, Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was also performed. Along with the dramatic presentations, live Halloween-themed musical performances featuring a vampire trio, the Potion Sisters, and a musical pirate review rounded out the offerings. To top it off, the Top Hat Side Show became a fixture on Washington Boulevard, anchoring the 1920s carnival theme in that area.
The Top Hat Side Show performing at Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village for the first time in 2015. (Photo by KMS Photography)
By 2019, the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village experience had hit its full stride and welcomed a record number of guests. There were now several different ways to experience the program with the addition of evening dining opportunities, including the children-themed “Fairytale Feast” and the 1850s Eagle Tavern Harvest Supper.
Rethinking Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020
Signage outside the main entrance of Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in March 2020, announcing the closure of our venues due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy Ellice Engdahl)
Planning for the 2020 Hallowe’en program was well underway when the world as we knew it came to a screeching halt—and along with it, the entire summer calendar of Greenfield Village special events. As we cautiously reopened the Village and Museum over the Fourth of July weekend, The Henry Ford continued to learn and understand how safety measures should work, what the scale of program offerings needed to be, and what the future might bring. By the end of the summer, it was clear that we could consider a Halloween program in October. We knew it would need to be reimagined and presented in a very different way in order to comply with safety measures while at the same time allowing our guests to have a fun and enjoyable experience.
Based on decades of experience in planning and producing large scale public events, the Hallowe’en planning team took a fresh look at the program. It was immediately apparent that the entire concept of lining up for treats would have to be eliminated. Without the need for a set prescribed route, new possibilities opened, and the Holiday Nights model of enjoying the evening at one’s own pace and experiencing program elements in any order became the logical approach. Greatly reduced attendance capacities and timed entry would ensure a safe experience. Unfortunately, we were not able to offer our evening dining experiences this year, but happily, many familiar and favorite characters and experiences made a return.
A witch and the Hallowe’en Express welcome guests to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village in 2020. (Photo courtesy Jim Johnson)
A very exciting addition for 2020 is the Hallowe’en Express, a brand-new Halloween-themed train ride that makes a round trip excursion from the “Brimstone” Station at the front of the Village. Guests encounter all sorts of sights and sounds along the way. The presence of a live steam locomotive in the Village, with an eerie whistle created just for this occasion, adds an entirely new dimension to the overall experience for our guests.
Over the past 40 years, Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village has steadily grown and evolved. There have been many turning points in its long history, and 2020 will rank among the most significant. New beginnings can often be viewed as painful endings, but the Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village planning team is fully embracing this new beginning and is very excited to share the path we have taken.
Jim Johnson is Director of Greenfield Village and Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes at The Henry Ford.
Curt Braden, as the “ghost” of Abraham Lincoln, posing with the carved jack-o’-lanterns at the doorway of the Logan County Courthouse that marked treat stops. (Photo courtesy Susan McCabe)
The 40th anniversary of “Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village” seems like a perfect opportunity to reflect upon the first Halloween program in Greenfield Village. I was there with my husband, Curt, in the Logan County Courthouse. With his face covered in white theatrical makeup, he played the “ghost” of Abraham Lincoln for the evening, while I played his wife, Mary Todd. Other “ghosts” were stationed at various other Village buildings, awaiting the young trick-or-treaters who would show up at their doorstep. We all wondered whether it would work, this crazy idea of using the Village as the canvas for a historically-themed Halloween program.
As kids filed through the Courthouse that night, my “ghostly” husband handed them each a Lincoln Head penny while he told them, “Here’s a token in remembrance of me.” Some kids gawked at him. Others smiled and circled back again for another penny. Still others scowled and said, “Only a penny?” I honestly remember almost nothing from that night. It was all a blur except for a few snapshots I have, proving we were there.
Now, 40 years later, I feel compelled to find out exactly what transpired that night. So, I asked Brian Wilson, our Senior Manager of the Archives and Library, to see if he could dig out the original program description of it (which he did). I also got in touch with a few old friends who had helped plan it and participate in it. What I found was that, while our memories are sketchy and sometimes inconsistent, we all felt that night that we were on a mission, a mission to provide guests with a combination of fun and learning using the rich historical stories that pervade Greenfield Village. The magical quality of being in the Village at night (decades before there were streetlamps) didn’t hurt either.
Description of the Family Halloween Jamboree in the 1981 class catalog / THF610727
In 1981, the program was called the Family Halloween Jamboree and it was one of the many listings in the catalog of Adult Education, Teen, and Children’s Classes organized by the Education Department at the time. After the Greenfield Village schools had closed in 1969, the museum had become a strong advocate of offering educational classes for the general public. By the early 1980s, the class catalog was extensive, including page after page of lectures, tours, and an incredible array of craft classes, like glassblowing, blacksmithing, and tinsmithing. Children’s classes also involved a wide array of different take-home crafts and hands-on opportunities.
Colonial Cooking was a popular Adult Education class held in Clinton Inn (now Eagle Tavern) during the late 1970s. / THF112256
Harold Skramstad’s arrival as President in 1981 provided the catalyst to reimagine a wide variety of new educational programs. Summer Discovery Camps began that year, along with new Member programs. All of these new programs were characterized by a close alignment with our historical figures and stories. The Family Halloween Jamboree was no exception. Jim VanBochove, a graduate student intern that previous summer and a participant in the first Halloween program (and now Director of Organizational Culture at The Henry Ford) explained that, “That was one of the great things in those days—that you could really try some new things. There was support, even if it didn’t turn out.”
This program was the brainchild of museum professional Candace Matelic, hired earlier that year as Manager of Adult Education and Children’s Programs. She was helped by her able assistant, Susan Gangwere (now Susan McCabe), a graduate student summer intern like VanBochove who had just recently joined the Education staff. Inspired by Skramstad’s encouragement to be creative, break down old barriers, and try new things, Matelic and Gangwere put their heads together to create each of the elements for this, one of three holiday-related family programs that year.
A colorful and enticing flyer for the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree. (Image courtesy Donna Braden)
From the beginning, the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree was planned with children in mind—including “hair-raising stories of ghosts and witches,” making Halloween treats, and enjoying a variety of traditional games. In keeping with the focus on the historic nature of Greenfield Village, children were encouraged to come dressed as their favorite historic character, which they would show off in a “parade down a pumpkin-lighted path,” followed by a judged costume contest with prizes. Parents were encouraged to dress up for the night as well. The evening cost $7.00 per child, while accompanying adults were free.
This cover of the 1982 class catalog shows a portion of the 150 jack-o’-lanterns that volunteers had carved for the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree. / THF610728
Hay wagons took guests on rides from Town Hall through the Covered Bridge, around the loop and back to the Village Green. On the way, they encountered spooky characters, like the Grim Reaper and the Headless Horseman. Back at Town Hall, they could partake of cider and donuts, and bob for apples. A highlight of the evening was that guests could walk to several trick-or-treat stops in and around the Green. White-faced “ghosts” of historical figures connected with Greenfield Village buildings passed out treats that were specifically themed to each building or character. At the Courthouse, it was Lincoln Head pennies; at Stephen Foster Memorial (now the Sounds of America Gallery), VanBochove, as the “ghost” of Stephen Foster, handed out kazoos while singing excerpts of more “ethereal” Stephen Foster songs like “Beautiful Dreamer” and “I Dream of Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair.” Carved jack-o-lanterns, placed at the doorways, marked each treat stop.
Curt and I pause for a snapshot before heading to the Village for the big evening, 1981. Before the days of a department that researched and created historical clothing for Greenfield Village staff, I did my best to dig out some (rather historically inaccurate) vintage clothing from my own closet to wear for the evening. (Photo courtesy Donna Braden)
This one-night Jamboree attracted some 300 people. As VanBochove recalled, “We all thought that was HUGE. And there were many moving parts so lots of learnings.” Susan McCabe concurred that it was a great way to learn about the logistics of Village experiences, like how to move people through, how many supplies to have on hand, and how to get all those pumpkins carved!
Curt having his white theatrical makeup applied before the big night, 1981. (Photo courtesy Donna Braden)
Building upon the success of this first program, the next year’s program was expanded. Now costing $5.00 per person, it was held on two successive nights. The modest pumpkin-lit path for the children’s costume-judging parade now extended through many of the streets of the Village, with an accompanying map “to tell you the whereabouts of the ghost and spirits we expect to join us.” Candace Matelic remembers that two educational assistants “did nothing all night but keep the pumpkins lit, and there were hundreds of them.”
Description of the 1982 Family Halloween Jamboree, explaining the new navigation through the Village by pumpkin-lit paths and a map / THF610735
One goal of these early programs was to attract new audiences, people who did not ordinarily come to Greenfield Village. As Matelic recalls, “We reached people from all backgrounds…many of whom were coming to Greenfield Village for the first time.” It was also a way to attract new Members by offering them first pass at signing up.
The popularity of the 1982 Family Halloween Jamboree was greatly aided by the Tylenol scare of that year, in which cyanide-laced acetaminophen was found placed on drugstore shelves and sold. This high-profile crime eventually led to the introduction of child-proof containers and tough Federal laws aimed at punishing those who tampered with drugs. No evidence of contaminated Halloween candy was ever found that year and, since that time, stories like these have become the stuff of urban legend. But, in 1982, the scare was real, parents were worried about letting their kids go trick-or-treating through neighborhoods, and that year’s Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village received a big boost in attendance.
Beyond this, Matelic thinks that these early programs were exceptionally unique because, “We clearly touched a chord in providing a safe and memorable family experience in those early years, in response to a community need. I like to think of it as a gift to the community. It was fun, interactive, and welcoming. We had fun and that let visitors have fun. We made a connection to a beloved American tradition and started a new relationship to the community.”
By 2018, the year of this photograph, “Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village” had become a mega-event that lasted 11 nights and attracted 70,000 guests.
These two early programs laid the groundwork for today’s extravaganza that thousands anticipate every year. Why does it remain as popular as ever? Having spent time at many treat stations over the years, VanBochove remarks that, “it has always amazed me that even with the thousands of guests who come on any evening, almost everyone has a sense that the program is just for them, that they are there with family, and that this is a special memory that only we can help create.” Matelic, who has worked at several museums since those early days and mentored hundreds of students pursuing museum careers, reflects that, “While the focus and contents (and size and length) have broadened over the years, the program is still touching hearts and minds, offering an opportunity for generations to continue making cherished family memories.”
Do you have a cherished memory of the 1981 Family Halloween Jamboree in Greenfield Village?
Donna R. Braden, Senior Curator and Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford, would like to thank Candace Tangorra Matelic, Ph.D., Susan Gangwere McCabe, Jim VanBochove, and Curt Braden for their willingness to share their memories of this groundbreaking program.
The costumes featured in Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village are made for all types of weather conditions. Just like trick-or-treaters walking through their own neighborhoods on October 31, our presenters and staff members must be ready for any weather scenario.
Try these tips from our costuming experts in our Period Clothing Studio.
Our Hallowe’en costumes are made of a water resistant, breathable, nylon athletic material called Supplex, so that they can be worn in the rain. When that material isn’t used, our lightweight cottons are sprayed with Scotchguard or have a wool outer layer that naturally protects the wearer. If you purchase a costume made of thin polyester, make sure you can layer a windbreaker or waterproof athletic shirt underneath for rainy weather. Most of the characters during Hallowe’en also have umbrellas that match their outfits in case rain is in the forecast.
When the temperatures are warmer than normal, our costumes are built to be worn over lightweight cotton layers, like T-shirts and shorts or leggings to wick away sweat. Conversely, thermal underlayers can be added for cold weather to add protection without added bulk.
Need a Greenfield Village example? The Lion costume is worn over cotton layers with an ice pack vest to keep the presenter cool in the heat. The vest is not worn during cold weather.
Some of our costumes have additional overlayers for very cold weather, but they are built into the design. For example, the Mermaid has a separate bodice lined in wool to be worn over the sequin-and-net bodice of the dress, and has earmuffs decorated with hair wefts to look as though they are a part of her wig.
Don’t forget - wear comfortable, waterproof, slip-resistant shoes, just like us. You can always cover sneakers with spats or ice skate covers to match your costume.
Visibility is key when it comes to creating a costume. Many of our costumes feature waterproof lighting which can be an added safety feature for costumes worn in the dark. We use decorative fairy lights, like those used for special outdoor events, which have waterproof battery packs. The lighting is sewn into channels under a sheer decorative layer or tacked into the costume with the battery packs easily accessible at the waistband.
If you are wearing a mask, practice wearing it in low lighting before wearing it outside. You can cut away the eye holes in plastic masks or extend your peripheral vision by swapping out sheer jersey eye holes in soft masks with tulle or net and use makeup around your eyes to disguise the transition.
Halloween costumes and accessories don’t have to be brand new. Try repurposing and upcycling old clothing by dyeing it and then adding trim to give texture. This year our female pirate costumes are repurposed 18th century dresses from stock that were dyed, altered, and trimmed to fit the theme. A past mermaid costume net cape was repurposed as trim in the yellow ochre pirate’s dress by dyeing it and stitching it to the peplum to create texture.
Is your costume’s color not quite right or the fabric can’t be dyed? Try using fabric paint and a sponge to gently tone down the color. The Bad Fairy wings were originally a bright green metallic lace, but we sponge painted over the material with emerald green, spruce green, and navy fabric paints to create a darker ombre effect to match the rest of the costume. But watch that paint - some must be heat set, while others can take 24-48 hours to fully dry.
Still looking for costume inspiration? Try taking a stroll down our pumpkin-lit path this month during Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village. You never know which character may ignite the Halloween maker in you.
Anne Suchyta Devlin is Senior Manager of the Studio at The Henry Ford.
Back in the late 1990s when The Henry Ford offered the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Story of Ichabod Crane program in Greenfield Village, there was a need to flesh out some areas with unique, yet iconic “set dressing” that would augment the rural and spooky flavor of the story we were trying to tell. Scarecrows were ubiquitous fixtures of kitchen gardens and some field crops over the years to deter birds and other such creatures from unintentional feasting. “Scarecrows” are still used today although a variety of designs, materials and articulations are very few of which take on a human form or shape - a far cry from the days of old.
It didn't take long until our team was challenged with the premise that we needed something large enough to make a visual impact and yet manageable and nimble enough to be used as temporary structure. Inspiration began to pour in from various imagery, films and shows, and descriptive language from literature, along with my own imagination, I created a 16-foot tall scarecrow affectionately named Mr. Irving after author George Washington Irving. Since those autumn nights more than 15 years ago and still today, Mr. Irving has been a part of the Greenfield Village’s fall and Hallowe’en programming. He has been photographed by thousands of guests and his inspiration lives on with many Mr. Irving lookalikes popping up in yards all over southeastern Michigan.
New to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village this year is the Top Hat Side Show. Led by Andrew D'Ascenzo, a professional circus and fire performer, the vaudeville-style show features unique acts in several fields including circus, fire, sideshow, magic, and comedy. Vaudeville performances aren’t new to The Henry Ford; every summer in Greenfield Village our dramatic programs in Town Hall combine music, comedy, and dance revues that pay homage to the great music and zany humor found in vaudeville.
Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village is a time-honored tradition at The Henry Ford. But, this doesn’t mean we’re afraid of shaking things up a bit! Much in the spirit of the spooky holiday, our Productions team likes to trick guests and keep each year a surprise in and of itself. This year has been no different, and with just one weekend left to enjoy the sights and sounds of Halloween, guests have been, and will be this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in for a treat.
According to Senior Manager of Exhibitions & Program Production, Greg Harris, Hallowe’en is a staff favorite, so he’s constantly taking a look back and asking how they can upgrade and improve with each year.
This year that surprise has come in the form of a brand new route and some never-before-seen experiences.
That’s how Jim Johnson described Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.” The 1820s short story is the inspiration for the grand finale of sorts at Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village – where visitors cross the bridge and encounter the infamous Headless Horseman.
Irving’s story, Gothic literature, legends and other spooky tales are fundamental elements for much of the fun at Greenfield Village’s annual Halloween event.
“After the renovations to Greenfield Village, we decided to lift our Halloween event to a new level,” said Jim Johnson, who is senior manager of creative programs at The Henry Ford. “With the village as our backdrop, we wanted to find our own niche that had something for everyone and was family friendly.”
Just being in the village at night is a unique experience, and it provides the perfect setting for a Halloween event inspired by the past.
Jim said they looked at how the holiday evolved. “We found interesting things about how the celebration of Halloween changed over time,
“Customs started to take shape toward the at the end of the 19th century and almost click through a process that takes us to where we are today - where we decorate our homes and go house-to-house for trick or treating.”
Coming into the 20th century, Halloween wasn’t necessarily a kids’ holiday – other than they commonly pulled pranks like knocking over outhouses, putting wagons on rooftops, etc., Jim said. In order to curb the kids’ enthusiasm for a little mayhem, municipalities got into the action by planning themed parties and offering games and treats as a diversion from the destruction.
To meet the party trend, at the turn of the century and into the 1920s and 30s, there were a multitude of Halloween party guides and booklets published mostly by women, and candy and novelty companies.
A popular inexpensive resource was Dennison’s Bogie Books. Dennison’s sold crepe paper used to decorate and make costumes. Jim Johnson keeps these reproductions on hand for reference and inspiration.
Adventure stories and Gothic literature were popular at that time and have sustained elevated interest at Halloween time. Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventures of buccaneers and buried gold in Treasure Island continues to inspire as seen in recent movie tales of tropical pirating. At Greenfield Village, pirates with sensibilities old and new populate the Suwanee Lagoon and walk among visitors, giving them a taste what it might be like conversing with an 1880s-style high seas treasure seeker.
With a nod to Gothic literature, Dr. Frankenstein has a perfect workspace - setting up shop in Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory.
Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein still holds the attention of audiences today, even though the book was first published in the early 1800s.
Another famous character from Gothic literature is making his debut at the village this year. A silent film based on Bram Stoker’s 1887 Dracula is shown near Sarah Jordan Boarding House.
Visitors are captivated by the large projections of the 1922 vampire film Nosferatu (Dracula).
Works of the master of the macabre – Edgar Allen Poe – are highlighted in two prominent stops.
The ravens resting on the railing at Eagle Tavern are treated to the eerie tale twice: narrated once by a famous actor and once by a fictitious man. Visitors can hear the chilling story told by actor Christopher Walken and again by cartoon character Homer Simpson.
Poe makes another appearance near Town Hall where actor Anthony Lucas provides a mesmerizingly haunting performance of the mad man at the center of the Tell-Tale Heart.
A first person account of the Brothers Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel (with a surprise twist) keeps audiences of all ages intrigued.
Throughout the village – authentically or whimsically – many costume creations are inspired by characters from famous stories of old. Hunchbacks, witches, Little Red Riding Hood, mermaids, fortunetellers, strong men, Merlin the Magician...
… and even a character from Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser.
Near the end of trick-or-treating through the village, visitors can take a seat and listen to the tale that sets the scene for the remainder of their journey – through the dark candle-lit tangles of the Mulberry Grove (not-too-hauntingly) transformed into Sleepy Hallow.
Actor Seth Amadei gives a riveting account of the series of events that led up to the mysterious disappearance of schoolmaster Ichabod Crane in Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hallow.
Visitors just have to pass through the hallow and over the bridge …
Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village - inspired by old, new, mystical, whimsical and just the right amount of spooky.
This selection of postcards represents a uniquely American blend of Hallowe'en traditions that by the early 1900s included the popular activity of sending and collecting these holiday-themed greeting cards.
The colonial American traditions of Hallowe'en centered on celebrations of the harvest, fortune-telling, and even matchmaking. Later immigrants brought new layers of customs and practices, including the jack-o-lantern that is perhaps today's best-known symbol of the American holiday. By the 1890s the growing print media publicized Hallowe'en from its pockets of regional variation across the country, making it a truly national affair. Over time, the holiday became a community observance of eerie fun for all ages.
Based on early 20th-century Hallowe'en celebrations, our annual Greenfield Village Hallowe'en is one of our most attended public events. Since 1981, we have often given guests attending this evening program a reproduction postcard as one of the treats. (This year's Hallowe'en postcard, pictured above, was designed by Ellen Clapsaddle in 1917.) As an amusing addition since 2010, we have created a photo opportunity vignette using an enlarged version of the postcard giveaway. Our Phoenixville Post Office also offers for sale and mailing a selection of Hallowe'en postcard repros from past years, starting in the autumn.
Hallowe’en is one of our favorite times of the year here at The Henry Ford and although we’re suckers for tradition, guests should expect some surprises on the horizon at this year’s spooky celebration.
You see, for us, it’s not about the scream-inducing theatrics, but the history and background of Hallowe’en. That’s why the aesthetics we use to transform Greenfield Village are inspired by the 20th century to the early ‘60s.
Wondering how we know so much about what Hallowe’en was like more than 100 years ago? Well, let’s just say we know how to do our research; it’s not an easy or short process, though.
Our creative team works on Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village 365 days a year.
“We are constantly researching and looking into anything that triggers our thought process. Additionally, new technology that can we can incorporate is always emerging,” says Jim Johnson, our Senior Manager of Creative Programs.
Dennison's Bogie Book: Suggestions for Halloween & Thanksgiving, circa 1925 (Object ID: 90.228.474).
Our most inspirational and useful sources of information regarding Hallowe’ens past come from party guides and pamphlets ranging from the early 20th century to the 1960s and Dennison’s Bogie Books.
Surprisingly, Hallowe’en was a much different holiday when it first began, as compared to the terror-ridden night of horror we are accustom to nowadays.
Hollows Eve actually started as a night of romance, even more so than Valentine’s Day. It was a night of finding your future companion by way of a fortune teller or completing a special list of activities at midnight so the face of your true love would be revealed.
In fact, the trick-or-treating tradition we all know and love didn't come into play until the 1930s and was not prominently practiced until the ‘50s.
This year, we’ve decided to implement a masquerade theme, featuring a nod to some classic literature and Frankenstein circa 1820s, complete with new visual, lighting and sound effects, fresh characters and a twist on some of our program staples. (Sounds pretty cool to me.)
“Although we will have a few new elements,” Jim explains, “It’s not about what’s new, it’s about what’s ‘cool’. We’re more focused on ‘looking back’. This year’s program is very cool and definitely sparks the imagination of people of all ages.”
Well, there you have it. History buffs we may be, but we’re nothing if not cool. We believe it’s all about continuing to evolve and that is exactly what we intend to do through our Hallowe’en event and beyond.
Brianna Garza is a media relations intern at The Henry Ford.
Sunday is – at long last - the day we head to Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village. I say “at long last” because the countdown to the next Halloween pretty much starts while our kids are inspecting their candy haul from making the neighborhood rounds.
Our littlest goblin can’t wait to see the “gary gelletons.” Those glowing and dancing skeletons in the gazebo near the covered bridge made a quite a lasting impression during last year’s visit. I recorded a bit of their performance on my phone, and hands-down that clip is the most revisited video in my mobile library. Clifford, now three, has watched it countless times. Whenever he sees it, he feigns frightful shivers, and as much as he enjoyed the video, we enjoyed his reaction. (So thanks to The Henry Ford for that little gift that just kept on giving.) Whenever we pass that gazebo during summer visits to the village, he reminds me of those bony, xylophone-playing dancers.
I took my son Henry to the village Saturday to watch the plowing with the 1904 Port Huron Steam Engine and Percheron horses at Firestone. It was chilly, so we decided to head to Eagle Tavern to get warm and have lunch. (I’m always ready for an excuse to stop in for Squash Soup and an order of Bubble and Squeak.) Henry pointed out some of the decorations already in place for Hallowe’en in Greenfield Village.
“These look different in the daytime,” he said looking at the headstones arranged on the Village Green. Then he noted that the coffin looked “too new.” He said he thought it should look more worn. When I explained to him that a fresh pine coffin meant a fresh body, I learned that even in broad daylight a fake cemetery can move a shudder through the shoulders of a 10-year-old boy.
With each year, even as the older kids know some of what to expect, they seem to anticipate it with excitement and a little nervousness.
We have so many fond memories. Our 20-year-old still tells the story of when she was little and was so mesmerized by the huge bonfire that she completely missed the silent Grim Reaper - until he was right in front of her. Her ridiculous reaction was anything but silent, and we still laugh about it.
We also look forward to being inspired by some of the more 900 jack-o-lanterns that light the village since we’ve yet to carve ours.
Our kids are good historians of our visits over the years. They always keenly look for their favorite things, seeing what’s replaced what, what costumes are new, what vignettes are different or have been moved, etc. It seems someone always misses something, since there is so much to see. I look forward to the discussion on the ride home.
I know, my daughter looks slightly petrified in this photo – but have no fear – she can’t wait to see the Headless Horseman again this year. She’s determined she won’t be the slightest bit frightened.
A few weeks back, I had the opportunity sit down with Jim Johnson, senior manager of creative programs at The Henry Ford, and learn about a few changes in which I’m sure my kids and others will delight. I can’t wait to see what he described and see my children’s reactions.
But until then, mum’s the word. Or maybe even Dracula is the word. Who knows? Should be exciting with just the right amount of spooky and not-too-scary fun.