Special Feature: The Procrastinators Guide to Halloween

While some of you plan on going all-out this Halloween, some of you will be sitting on your couch waiting until the last second to conjure up some entertainment. Bloody Disgusting’s Chris Eggertsen understands where you’re coming from and is proud to present to you The Procrastinators Guide to Halloween — The Four Best Under-the-Radar Places In the US to Spend Your Favorite Holiday. Hopefully some of you will take on one of these opportunities and report back with details.
Being the sick bastard that I am (I know you can relate), no other holiday makes me feel all warm and tingly inside like Halloween. Unfortunately for me, I’m a broke son of a bitch so I’ll probably be hitting up the world-famous West Hollywood Halloween Costume Carnaval yet again, something I find myself doing year after year, just like clockwork. Listen, I realize I’m lucky to live in a city with such a massive, balls-to-the-wall celebration, but it’s a little crowded, and if you attend you can be damn sure that at some point during the night you will be dodging puke. Sure, it’s scary – but more on account of the eight-foot-tall drag queens strolling around on their ten-inch spike fuck-me pumps (trust me, those bitches can get pretty nasty). Ah, home sweet home.

I guess the disheartening feeling of déjà vu I experience every year is a common feeling among many during Halloween, particularly those of us who consider Freddy Krueger a more sacred cultural icon than Santa Claus. Therefore, I decided to put together this little list of the four best under-the-radar places in America to spend the holiday, for those of you without any definitive plans yet who are so inclined to shake things up a bit this year (and for those who have, um, what’s it called – money).

I wanted to highlight the places you might have never thought of before, the towns and cities that go all out on Halloween but that don’t enjoy the high awareness level of tourist-traps like Salem, New Orleans or New York City’s Greenwich Village parade. In other words: places where you can actually snag a hotel reservation with less than two weeks’ notice. So enjoy – and if for some reason you do find yourself trolling along Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood come October 31st, say hello if you see me. I’ll be the sour-looking dude in the half-assed Dave Navarro costume bitching about the crowds.

Where: Sleepy Hollow, NY/Tarrytown, NY/Greater Hudson River Valley Area

Why: Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown were the inspirations for Washington Irving’s classic short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (no kids, it wasn’t just a Johnny Depp movie). Needless to say, both towns (not to mention the surrounding area) host their fair share of Halloween events, but more than anything it’s a place to steep yourself in the real history behind Irving’s legendary tale.

Who: Literary hounds and history buffs who aren’t necessarily looking to party-hearty. In other words: those who enjoy soaking up the local culture of a place without feeling the need to get insanely drunk and stupid (aka old people).

What: For starters, you’ll have the opportunity to visit many places featured in Irving’s story: the millpond, the covered bridge crossed by Ichabod Crane while fleeing the Headless Horseman (ok, so it’s a more modern bridge now, but it’s the same site), the Old Dutch Church and Burying Ground (where you can find the graves of the real Van Tassel family), the monument of Andre Captors, etc. In addition, you can visit Washington Irving’s own grave site located in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery itself, which borders the Burying Ground.

You’ll also want to check out Sunnyside, the wisteria vine-embraced, Dutch-inspired cottage where Washington Irving made his home (and that looks like it could have sprung straight from the imagination of Irving aficionado Tim Burton). Only a short walk away is Lyndhurst Mansion, which was the setting of the Collinwood Estate in the feature film House of Dark Shadows, based on the Gothic soap opera. The Mansion, which was built in 1838 in the Gothic revival style, sits on 67 acres and almost looks like an old English castle.

After you’re finished sight-seeing, you’ll also want to take in the annual Great Jack-o’-Lantern Blaze, hosted on the expansive grounds of the historic Van Cortlandt Manor. The event, which you must buy tickets for in advance, features over 4,000 jack-o’-lanterns scattered throughout the property in various thematic displays (it’s basically a giant jack-o’-lantern art installation), all against the spooky backdrop of the heavily forested Hudson River Valley countryside. If you’re jonesing for a little liquid satisfaction after all that, you can head on down to Beekman Street in Sleepy Hollow, which boasts several bars and taverns. Hey, it ain’t NYC, but it’ll do for a cocktail or seven.

Links:

Great Jack-o’-Lantern Blaze: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/content/view/195/198
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery: http://sleepyhollowcemetery.org/
Old Dutch Church & Burying Ground: http://www.olddutchburyingground.org/
Sunnyside: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/content/view/13/43/
Lyndhurst Mansion: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/content/view/18/48/

Where: Savannah, GA

Why: Savannah is regularly highlighted by paranormal enthusiasts as one of the most haunted cities in the country. Its famous town squares (allegedly built on top of several cemeteries – I can just hear Craig T. Nelson now!), overhanging foliage, historic architecture and countless ghost and cemetery tours make it one of the perfect places to spend the holiday. Oh yeah, did I mention they have a Haunted Pub Crawl? Let’s just say that if you’ve been on a ghost tour before and weren’t drinking simultaneously, you were doing it all wrong.

Who: Ghost hunting freaks, Goth-nerds and people who like hanging out in cemeteries just for the hell of it, but who also appreciate the joys inherent in drinking unreasonable amounts of alcohol (except for you, kids – you’ll have to wait until your 21st birthday, just like I did, haha).

What: Everything, really. Savannah is very similar to New Orleans in that it’s a Southern city renowned for its high concentration of demonologists, paranormal experts and witches. Not only is the city steeped in history, it’s also a fantastically creepy setting that will get you in the Halloween spirit right quick. Explore the historic downtown area with its 21 town squares (there were originally 24, although one of the “lost squares” is currently being restored and there are plans to restore the other two as well), each with its own distinct characteristics. Also, there’s apparently a lot of “Southern hospitality” in store, or at least that’s what the Savannah Visitor’s Bureau tells me. Whatever, just go for the spooky shit.

The city also boasts four old, creepy cemeteries, one of which, the Bonaventure, was featured in John Berendt’s bestselling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Ghost tours (one takes you around in a hearse) are rampant throughout the city, and explore the too-many-to-count historic homes, cathedrals, taverns and cemeteries that are almost too good to be true for devotees of all things paranormal. One of the coolest things about Savannah is that it preserves all of the old architecture, and thusly the character, of the city; most of the buildings you’ll visit have been kept in pristine condition.

After you’ve had your fill of irritating tour guides and faux-paranormal moments, it’s time to start down the road towards a long, painful morning of hangover-fueled regret. River Street seems like your best bet for Halloween night, as it reportedly features lots of costumed drunkards streaming in and out of the numerous bars and restaurants located along the riverfront there. You might also want to take advantage of a moonlit riverboat ride being offered on Halloween night (billed as “the strangest and most mysterious cruise EVER!”), although from the looks of it you’ll probably have to deal with a few insufferable period actors dressed in pirate garb. Did I mention there’s also a Haunted Pub Crawl?

Links:

Halloween Cruise: http://www.savannahriverboat.com/packages_specials.php?special=36
Sixth Sense Savannah Ghost Tours: http://www.sixthsensesavannah.com/
Haunted Pub Crawl: http://www.ghostsavannah.com/haunted_pub.aspx
Bonaventure Cemetery: http://www.bonaventurecemeterytours.com/

Where: Austin, TX

Why: Yeah, I know, I know, it boasts a larger concentration of hipsters than any other city in the country (which alone gives me the creeps) but even a beatnik-averse guy like me has to admit that those pretentious skinny-jeans-wearing scumbags know how to do it up right on Halloween. The city not only claims a great nightlife/music scene, but a couple of the most praised haunted house attractions in the nation.

Who: Hipster douchebags, wannabe-hipster douchebags, people who enjoy laughing at hipsters. Oh yeah, and those who dig sweet haunted houses and possibly a little heavy drinking.

What: To get yourself in the mood, I’d first plan a visit one of Austin’s famed haunted houses. The House of Torment is routinely rated one of the best of its kind in the country, and spans 20,000 square feet of hipster-crafted horror. Another is the Mansion of Terror, also very highly-rated and during which you will supposedly be splattered with fake blood (although they offer raincoats for pussies [hipsters] that don’t want to get their precious clothes wet).

If you’re in the mood to experience more “genuine” supernatural events (although let’s be honest, nothing ever actually happens on these things), you can embark on one of Austin’s many ghost tours. One of the things you’ll learn about is the notorious “Servant Girl Annihilator”, a serial killer in the late 19th century who murdered eight young women and was never caught. In fact, some conspiracy theorists (aka people with too much time on their hands) are convinced, convinced I tell you, that the Annihilator and Jack the Ripper were one and the same (cough). There’s actually a tour that specifically focuses on those murders, although it doesn’t look like they offer it around Halloween. But it looks like even some of the more general tours take you to some of the locations involved in the killing spree.

The most jam-packed place to hit the streets in Austin on Halloween night would have to be Sixth Street, where a reported 60,000 people parade around in costume until the wee hours of the morning every year (the street is blocked to traffic on the holiday). If you’d rather take in some live music, I’m sure there’ll be a bunch of similar-sounding indie bands playing in venues around the city’s celebrated Red River District. Either way, you’re undoubtedly going to find yourself shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of painfully self-serious emo kids. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will.

Links:

House of Torment: http://thehouseoftorment.com
Mansion of Terror: http://mansionofterror.com/
Austin Ghost Tours: http://www.austinghosttours.com/
6th Street/Red River: http://www.6street.com/

Where: Estes Park, Colorado/Stanley Hotel

Why: Estes Park, a scenic little town high in the Rocky Mountains (I’ve actually been there!) is home to the Stanley Hotel, the place that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining during his stay there in the 1970′s (which can also partly be attributed to the massive amounts of peyote King was smoking at the time). If you book a room there Halloween weekend, you can revel in the awesomeness that is the hotel’s annual Shining Halloween Costume Ball. Too late, you say? Nah. As of this writing, there are still rooms available. The only catch: there’s a two-night minimum on Halloween weekend.

Who: Anyone who’s a big fan of either the book and/or the Kubrick movie and/or the TV miniseries (parts of which were actually filmed in the Stanley Hotel, as opposed to Kubrick’s version which was shot largely on soundstages). But really, it’s for horror fans everywhere who are looking to immerse themselves in a one-of-a-kind experience this Halloween (and completely geek out on Shining nostalgia).

What: The 138-room Stanley Hotel isn’t just the inspiration for King’s novel – it’s also renowned for its “paranormal activity”. The hotel offers ghost tours through several of its spook-infested areas, where you’ll learn about the history behind some of the otherworldly occurrences. You’ll also get a look inside Room 217, where King originally stayed when he got the idea for the book (and where he reportedly embarked on several acid trips). One cool tidbit: the hotel will host a screening of the Kubrick film the night before Halloween – and if you tune in to Channel 42 on the TV in your hotel room, you’ll find that the movie is on a constant loop.

Before the Ball, you can enjoy some of the other Halloween-style activities Estes Park has on offer. Take a “haunted” wagon ride among the evergreen forests, through supposedly haunted Aspen Hollow; or, if you prefer to strike out on your own (i.e. without the endless “spooky talk” from one of those aforementioned irritating tour guides), there are numerous historic buildings to take in around town, including the Dark Horse Bar, the Park Theater and the Birch Ruins (the remains of a bungalow overlooking the town that burned down in 1907).

On Halloween, several blocks in the downtown area are closed to traffic, and costumed revelers parade through the streets while local businesses hand out candy. From the videos I’ve watched and the research I’ve done, the holiday seems to be a pretty big deal in Estes Park – but of course the main attraction is still the Stanley Hotel and its annual celebration. Another cool tidbit: Stephen King himself has been known to show up at the Shining Ball on several different occasions. God, I love him.

Links:

Stanley Hotel: http://stanleyhotel.com/
Shining Halloween Costume Ball: http://www.stanleyhotel.com/shining.html
Listing of Halloween stuff in Estes Park: http://www.estes-park.com/go/halloween.html

For further information on any of the above, use Google.