Irving is the author of the famous Legend of Sleepy Hollow and, better yet, Rip Van Winkle, which takes place in the Catskills. Irving once said that "of all the scenery of the Hudson, the Kaatskill Mountains had the most witching effect on my boyish imagination."
This classic story helps recall the Hudson Valley's great history - a history that makes it a great place for ghosts and ghost stories. For some wonderful tales of the paranormal, visit the website bearsystems.com/ghost/ghost.htm. The site features more than 20 Hudson Valley ghost stories arranged by their setting. They're written by non-professional writers, and feel both real and frightening. The writing ranges in tone from confused confession to well-formed narrative, and features Ulster County and Wappingers Falls locations. If you've had an encounter with a local ghost, submit your own story.
Seasonal activities before October 31 help ease us into the right mental space for Halloween:
Catskills Corn Maze
Catskills Corn Maze, situated on the 500-acre Paul's Farm in Hurley, is way more than a sweet stroll; it's an entire world carved out of 16 acres of cornfield. Seen from above, this year's maze reads "Hudson" at the top and "400 yrs" at the bottom, with a wonderful old-fashioned ship sailing the sea in between. It is a tribute to the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's river voyage.
All together, there are three mazes varying in size. If you think corn mazes aren't scary on their own, then come to Catskills Corn Maze during the weekends leading up to Halloween. One of the mazes will be haunted. Whoooooooooo. Clank, clank, clank. Swoooo-shhhh.
On October 31, there will be a treasure hunt for kids. Catskills Corn Maze offers many other activities including hayrides, pumpkin-picking and drive-in movie nights, which start at 8 p.m. and are free. But the main attraction is, of course, the corn maze, which costs $10 for adults, $5 for children 5 through 12 and free for tots four and under.
Paul's Farm is located at 1375 Hurley Mountain Road. To see pictures of the mazes from years past or for more information, go to www.catskillcornmaze.com or call (845) 328-7276.
Haunted Huguenot Street
If you like your scares with a nice dose of history, head on down to Historic Huguenot Street, which, starting October 29, becomes Haunted Huguenot Street. Huguenot Street is a National Historic District featuring stone houses dating to the 1700s, a stone church and a burial ground. This is the eighth haunted year for Huguenot Street, and it is exploring the darker sides not only of the European settlers but also of the Native Americans.
There will be scary vignettes performed and chilling stories told by the tour guide as groups travel from house to house. The tour is about 40 minutes long, and preregistration is recommended. On October 25, Huguenot Street holds a treasure hunt for kids. There are a variety of hunts based on age; admission is $5 for kids, free for adults. To reserve tickets, go to www.huguenotstreet.org or call (845) 255-1660.
The Bakery's Night of 100 Pumpkins
Pumpkin-carving is one of the season's favorite traditions. To see the best pumpkin-carvings around, visit The Bakery, located in downtown New Paltz at 13a North Front Street, for the 19th annual Night of 100 Pumpkins. A couple of days before Halloween (but no later than the 30th), people drop off their creatively carved pumpkins. On Halloween, tents are set up and, as drummers provide the score, local artists judge the pumpkins. There are many winners and many great awards, donated mostly by local stores. Last year, The Bakery gave away more than 60 prizes.
From 6 to 8 p.m., the pumpkins are lit and The Bakery gives out free cocoa, cider and pumpkin bread. Last year, The Bakery hosted more than 1,000 people, and they are expecting another big year, so come early and dress warm! If you'd like to find out more visit www.ilovethebakery.com or call (845) 255-8840.
Van Cortlandt Manor
There is also the great Jack O' Lantern Blaze, which this year will feature more than 4,000 hand-carved pumpkins meticulously organized at the Van Cortlandt Manor. The pumpkins range from your standard Jack O' Lantern to extremely elaborate abstract designs, lit up throughout the landscape of Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson according to theme. The creative director of the Manor, Michael Natiello, considers the Blaze a "land art installment."
This year is the fifth anniversary of the Blaze, and there will be a "UFO and outer space gallery," as well as old favorites like Undersea Aquarium, Pirates' Cove and Buzzing Beehive. The Van Cortlandt Manor event even features its own score performed by local musicians. Go to youtube.com and look up Jack O' Lantern Blaze to see videos of years past. This year's Blaze started on October 3, and the Manor is open every weekend until November 1. Tickets go fast and can be purchased at www.hudsonvalley.org ($15 for adults, $5 for children 5 through 17 and under 5 free with reservation). Van Cortlandt Manor, a historic house built in the 1750s, is located at 525 South Riverside in Croton-on-Hudson. For more information go to hudsonvalley.org or call (914) 631-8200.
If the Jack O' Lantern Blaze feels too far away, you might want to head over to Ulster Park's Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted House. The site has received much acclaim over the years, having been rated the Number One Haunted Hayride by American Airline Magazine and, more importantly, voted Number One Scream Park in the country for the third time in five years by HauntWorld magazine, which calls itself the only trade magazine for professional owners and operators of Halloween attractions.
HauntWorld has also rated Headless in the 2009 Top 13 Haunted Houses again for the fifth year in a row, giving it the following praise: "Headless Horseman is a force to be reckoned with. It includes one of the best haunted hayrides in America, where the Headless Horseman himself chases you over an old rickety bridge! Also included in this massive Halloween event are haunted houses, a cornfield maze, gift stores and so much more. Headless Horseman is nestled on an old, eerie farm providing an authentic Halloween experience that's sure to terrify all who enter."
The Headless Horseman is quite a commitment if you also take in John Shaw's "Pandemonium" sideshow. At the height of the season, the whole night is three hours plus. But if you want to be scared out of your wits, it's well worth it. This is the spot that everyone talks about. It's the area's must-do Halloween haunt. And, because it is dedicated to scaring people silly, it is not recommended that children under the age of eight come along. Children five and under are not even allowed, so that should give you some idea of the atmosphere if you have never gone in past years. To find out more, go to www.headlesshorseman.com.