Halloween isn’t a big deal back in New Zealand, but here in the States people go all out! I went into a cosmetic store called “Ricky’s NYC” around Halloween to buy some hair product and immediately thought I’d walked into the wrong store! From floor to ceiling the walls were covered in Halloween products; costumes, make up, props, wigs, etc. all hanging from racks attached to the pre-existing shelves. The was no telling where their normal products were or how to get to them behind these new racks which were fixed firmly over the shelves behind them. This obviously wasn’t a problem though because the store was paaacked with people trying to buy all this Halloween stuff! Aside from this, there were several pop up Halloween stores dotted across New York, and the big stores like Michael’s and Target etc also stocked their shelves full of these Halloween goodies. So yeah…Halloween is no joke in New York City!
Another difference between Halloween in the USA and Halloween back home is, I think, quite a biggie because it’s the first thing I picture when I think of Halloween – bright orange pumpkins! They go hand in hand with Halloween and carving them out, making jack o’lanterns is one of the most popular activities at Halloween along with trick or treating. You see these pumpkins all over, decorating people’s front porches etc much like Christmas ornaments do in December. New Zealand doesn’t have orange pumpkins, we get these ugly alien looking green things that are usually much smaller. They’re also insanely hard to carve or even cut into. In fact, a relative of Tammy’s was once trying to cut one up to make for dinner and it was so hard that with the pressure she was putting on the knife, it ended up shooting off and breaking her ribs – so yeah…they’re pretty tough!!
Being in the USA for Halloween, we decided to join in the festivities and go ahead and get ourselves a pumpkin each to carve. Here are our masterpieces:
As excited as we were to create our own jack o’lanterns, the process took about 15 minutes from start to finish and we were soon left wondering what to do with them now…? Living in an apartment on the 5th floor we hardly had any front yard or steps to decorate and so they sat on the kitchen bench for about a week before they started to rot and shrivel, causing the faces to go from looking scary to just looking sad, at which time they got chucked.
For Halloween weekend Tammy booked us a surprise trip to Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown which are in upstate New York. This was the the setting for the 1820 classic halloween short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving which features the famous “Headless Horseman”. There was a movie adaptation in 1999 starring Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken which we watched just before going up. Thanks to this story, Sleepy Hollow is considered to be one of the most haunted places in the world! Being Halloween, it gave us a perfect excuse and place to go on a little adventure!
So early in the morning on Saturday 29th of October we caught the Metro-North train up to Tarrytown from Grand Central Station. We quite liked the ride as we were used to the solid plastic seating of the subway trains which rattled along underground with nothing but darkness out the windows. This train gave us cushioned seats, plenty of legroom and a comfortable ride above ground with plenty to look at outside on the way up. We arrived in Tarrytown at about 11am and decided to find some breakfast. We suddenly realized how small this town really was as there was only one place open for breakfast – the local Diner. After a short wait for a table we ordered some coffee and some pancakes before heading out to explore the town. Again, we were soon reminded how small it was as we strolled down the street and found ourselves ‘leaving Tarrytown’. Apparently that was it. That was Tarrytown. A few small shops in a row with one or two restaurants thrown in and you had yourself the local town. There was nothing wrong with this, it just caught us off guard after having spent the year in one of the biggest cities in the world. So as we continued North and left Tarrytown we entered Sleepy Hollow, the setting for the famed Headless Horsemen. What was interesting was how this village had completely identified itself with Irving’s famous story. Roadsigns, restaurants, even the fire engines were branded with a picture of the Headless Horseman. I suppose this helps add spirit to the area and bring tourists from all over to visit. But still, it was strange to see.
We walked down the street and through a park until we came to Sleepy Hollow’s famous cemetery, where Washington Irving (author of the story) was actually buried. There were a lot of people visiting the cemetery and there were even tents set up just inside the entrance selling hot food and drinks. I mean, where else would you go for a beer and a bite to eat if not the local cemetery?! We took a wander around the cemetery (it was huuuuge) and using Google Maps tried to connect onto a walking trail at the very back. Turns out Google Maps doesn’t show fences…
So after returning to the cemetery entrance we caught an Uber to the motel we’d be staying at. After dropping our stuff off and having a little rest we caught a bus back into Tarrytown where we enjoyed dinner at a small pub called “Horsefeathers”. As we were eating we could hear the Halloween parade going past in the street outside and once we were finished we joined the crowds of people on the sidewalk watching. We followed the parade along the street until it turned off the main road and headed down towards the river. We continued along the main road however for about 30 minutes and made our way towards Lyndhurst Mansion (a National Historic Landmark) where we had a Halloween tour booked. The property was large (67 acres) and the long drive leading towards the Mansion was flanked either side by hundreds of these eery looking ‘figures’. Initially we thought they were people all standing dead still and hesitantly we moved forward fully expecting someone to jump or shout and give us the fright of our lives… But then we saw a wooden stake sticking out the bottom of one and knew they weren’t real, just stakes with clothes and masks on. Still though, in the dark with only a faint glow of light they were daaaaamn creepy!
We arrived at the mansion early for our tour so had some hot apple cider while we waited. It turned out that our tour guide was the “Mad Hatter” from Alice in Wonderland and the tour seemed to be targeted at a much younger audience than us, with various Alice in Wonderland characters appearing in each room we visited. It was still fun and something different though and within about 30 minutes we were heading back up the driveway, past the spooky stick figures, and into an Uber.
After breakfast the next day we tried to catch a bus back into Tarrytown but as it was Sunday there was a reduced bus schedule. After waiting for 15 minutes the bus finally came…….and went……with us still at the bus stop. I guess we hadn’t been close enough to the street for him to tell we wanted to catch the bus, despite the bus stop bench being in the middle of NOWHERE, with only that ONE bus supposed to stop there! So instead of waiting an hour for the next one, we got out old trusty Google Maps and figured out a route to walk. Here came yet another reminder of us NOT being in the city as we found ourselves having to walk along a country road winding up, down and around with no sidewalk for miles until finally joining back up with a main road. This country road wasn’t exactly wide either but we figured, if we were careful, what’s the worst that could happen? Our question was soon answered when we came across a dead deer at the side of the road. After seeing this we were constantly jumping into the ditch whenever we saw cars to avoid getting flattened like Bambi back there. We eventually made it to the end though after an hour and half, we walked along the main road, and down to the train station.
All in all, our Halloween trip was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of city life. Sometimes all you need is one night away somewhere different and it can feel like you’ve been on holiday for a week! Staying in a little motel somewhere doesn’t have to cost a lot either. Sure you can stay in the centre of town but at a much higher price. We’ve found that if you stay a little further away you can keep some costs down which means in the long run you can go on trips like this more often!