Frightfully Fun Ways to Celebrate Halloween at National Trust Historic Sites
‘Tis the season for spooks and scares and things that go bump in the night. National Trust Historic Sites have had a few tricks and plenty of treats in store for the Halloween season. Here, we highlight five sites with frighteningly fun ways to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve.
Put on your costume, pull up a picnic blanket, and prepare for goosebumps: Each October, The Shadows, a National Trust Historic Site in New Iberia, Louisiana, hosts "Terror-on-the-Teche," an evening of scary stories told in the gardens of this 1830s manor. A collaboration with the Iberia Parish Library since 1983, the hour-long event features a professional storyteller who shares terrifying tales from around the globe. And there’s no better backdrop for a scary story than the gardens of The Shadows, with its Spanish moss swaying in the oaks above the guests and the sounds from nocturnal animals in the background.
Each year, Lyndhurst, a National Trust Historic Site in Tarrytown, New York, hosts a number of spooky activities for the fall season. During its Scarecrow Invasion, 200 students visit the site to create an army of straw figures across the greenhouse lawn, shown with contemporary metal sculptures in the Futurescape Exhibit.. Regular tours of the first floor are decorated with seasonal trimmings for Halloween (the second floor is kept in its usual state of splendor), and Lyndhurst members are invited to an annual Halloween party. In 2018, the site is introducing an all-new rendition of its annual event: Jay Ghoul's House of Curiosities, a murder mystery where you must journey through the mansion and meet a cast of zany archaeologists, local personalities, and unscrupulous smugglers.
With its imposing tower, thick limestone walls, and rooms full of old furniture, Villa Finale could easily pass for a haunted house year-round. But come late October, the Italianate house, nestled in a historic neighborhood in San Antonio, is decorated in the tradition of Victorian-era mourning periods, with dark bunting and wreaths hanging throughout the property. It’s all part of Villa Finale’s highly anticipated annual event, “A Spooktacular Halloween at Villa Finale.”
The family-friendly gathering is in the spirit of 19th-century Halloween celebrations, which were neighborhood events with food, costumes, and games. Geared toward kids ages 3 through 12, “A Spooktacular Halloween at Villa Finale” offers plenty of treats to eat, plus games, crafts, screaming contests, a costume parade, face painting, fortune tellers, and a trick-or-treat dash.
Halloween takes a retro turn at Woodlawn in Alexandria, Virginia, as the site hosts “An Evening at the Twilight Zone: A Parody!,” a night of 1950s sci-fi suspense. The annual event starts with a reception hour and is followed by the Picnic Theatre Company’s performance of three short Twilight Zone-inspired episodes that explore themes of Cold War-era fears in suburban America; artificial intelligence for daily living; and the promise and peril of contact with alien civilizations.
In the 1900s, Woodlawn was home to playwright Paul Kester, who used the proceeds of his plays to restore Woodlawn. That spirit continues today: All proceeds from this theatrical event benefit Woodlawn Pope-Leighey House preservation and programs.
Halloween is in full swing at Oatlands throughout the entire month of October. There are U-pick pumpkins and hayrides each weekend. And each year, folks flock to the site’s all-day Harvest Festival, with pumpkins, hayrides, music, games, bake sales, and crafts. Plus, Oatlands’ ever-popular Afternoon Tea events in the property’s historic carriage house takes a spooky turn, with Witches’ Brew Tea held for two days at the end of the month.
In the days before Halloween, Oatlands hosts its annual Paranormal Tours, taking visitors on a hair-raising walk through the grounds to share the creepy activity that’s happened at the site throughout the last few decades—unexplained images appearing in photographs, music playing when no one is there, and mysterious voices calling out from the dark. Try it, if you dare.