October 5, 2023

Halloween in Sleepy Hollow Country: Preparing for "Lyndhurst After Dark"

“If ever I should wish for a retreat whither I might steal from the world and its distractions, and dream quietly away the remnant of a troubled life, I know of none more promising than this little valley.... Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie.

They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving

Exterior of Lyndhurst mansion in the fall.

photo by: Clifford Pickett

Lyndhurst in the fall.

Nestled within Washington Irving’s Sleepy Hollow country is Lyndhurst, a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, where in fall 2023 visitors are in for a—shall we say spooky—experience.

Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow are considered one of the primary Halloween hubs on the eastern seaboard thanks to their historical connection to Washington Irving and his celebrated ghost story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Every September, in the spirit of the season, Lyndhurst’s curatorial team transforms the mansion into a gothic-autumnal delight with 19th-century touches related to Victorian mourning practices and traditions.

Step behind the scenes to see how you too can “dream quietly” at Lyndhurst After Dark.

A Macabre Cabinet of Curiosities

Each room in the mansion gets a theme to help with decor and collection selection. This provides staff with the opportunity to talk about our history in a different, shall we say, candlelight, and bring out items that normally stay in storage. The reception room is typically a “cabinet of curiosities” and features oddities and our more interesting collection items. This year visitors will find taxidermy animals on display.

View of some of the taxidermy birds in the reception area of the Lyndhurst Gallery.

photo by: Lyndhurst

A close up of taxidermy songbirds under glass on view in the reception room.

Interior of Lyndhurst's reception room. With a beautifully decorated ceiling and some taxidermy in glass cases.

photo by: Lyndhurst

The reception room decked out with collection items and floral decoration for the autumn/Halloween season.

Honoring the Dead

Lyndhurst’s second owner, George Merritt, was the only owner to have died at Lyndhurst, and the curatorial team suspects (although without clear documentation) that many service staff through the years also died on site. The main theme for Lyndhurst After Dark is talking about the lives of its owners and their staff, their deaths, and the fashions of the world in which they lived and died. William Paulding, Jr., George Merritt, Jay Gould, Helen Gould, and the many families tied to Lyndhurst are are honored and remembered through Lyndhurst After Dark.

Mourning decorations on one of the bed at Lyndhurst Mansion.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Second owner George Merritt’s bed with a black mourning wreath put out for his memory for "Lyndhurst After Dark."

Signs of Mourning

Those drapes of black cloth or ribbon? They're based on real traditions and customs for mourning from the 19th century. Lyndhurst staff researched and then modified the tradition to highlight the interior decor and architectural elements inside the mansion.

Mirror of Lyndhurst with some black cloth for funerary traditions.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Drapes of black cloth on one of the mirrors in Lyndhurst Mansion, with first owner William Paulding, Jr.’s portrait in the reflection.

Flowers, Flowers, Everywhere

Houses in the Victorian period featured fresh flower arrangements. Since the staff can't introduce real plants in a museum space, they opted for faux flowers and greens to decorate and make the house come alive!

Faux flowers laid out on blue carpeting to decorate the mansion.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Faux flowers laid out on the parlor floor prior to arrangement in a vessel.

Faux flowers in an arrangement at Lyndhurst Mansion. The image is framed by flowers with the vase in the distance on a window ledge.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Finished arrangements in historic vessels in the cabinet room.

By the Flickering Candlelight

Lyndhurst After Dark features a walk through the house with the lights dimmed, which means bringing out 200 plus battery operated candles to create a special ambience. The staff must turn on and off these candles each night the event takes place. It takes two people 30 minutes to complete from top to bottom, approximately eight hours total over the course of the event!

View of candles laid out on a table at Lyndhurst providing a warm glow to the room.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Candles on display for "Lyndhurst After Dark" in 2021.

Examine Washington Irving’s Head

While Lyndhurst doesn't have a headless horseman, they do have Washington Irving's head in the mansionʻs Picture Gallery. The first owner, William Paulding, Jr. knew the Irving family well (Paulding's sister was married to Washington Irving's oldest brother, his brother was best pals with Irving, and Irving's home Sunnyside is next door) and when he had literary and political masks added to the original library as decor, Paulding included Washington Irving. Don't forget to look for him on the northern wall above the window.

View of the bust of Washington Irving in the ceiling of the Picture Gallery.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Washington Irving’s face mask in the Picture Gallery.

Famous Vampires!

In the 1970s Lyndhurst played the set for the infamous Dark Shadows films that tell the tale of the Collins family, which included some really popular and iconic vampires. To mark the season, Barnabas Collins is one familiar face that comes out of storage for the fans that travel in the fall to see “Collinwood.” In 2023, visitors will have a chance to meet two cast members during our Dark Shadows Weekend.

A portrait of a Vampire sits within an opulent room.

photo by: Lyndhurst

A photo from 2015 of the portrait of the famed vampire Barnabas Collins from "Dark Shadows" on display for Halloween.

Dressed for Mourning

Each year Lyndhurst partners with other historical organizations to add to the decorations in the mansion! For the last two years, they’ve borrowed historic mourning dresses to put on display from the Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow Historical Society.

Mourning garments from the Historical Society Inc, of Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow. Displayed in 2021 at Lyndhurstʻs State Bedroom. The dresses are on model forms in front of a bed.

photo by: Lyndhurst

Two historical mourning dresses c. 1900 on display in the State Bedroom from 2021. Dresses courtesy of The Historical Society, Inc. of Tarrytown-Sleepy Hollow.

A black and white tintype photo taken at Lyndhurst in 2022. This is one of the activities offered at the site during their Halloween festivities.

photo by: Alyssa and Alexander Habig.

A tintype taken at Lyndhurst in 2022 by Victorian Photography Studio.

Go Back in Time

Each year, Lyndhurst brings Victorian Photography Studio, a wet plate photographer, who does modern-day tintypes for visitors using the same 19th-century processes and chemicals. This way visitors can bring home a piece of history. While this is something done in daylight hours during Lyndhurst After Dark, who knows what might develop in these images?

No Reason to be Afraid of the Dark

Lyndhurst After Dark is all about the mansion and highlights its history and its architecture; each year, the site adds in seasonal lighting outside for visitors to enjoy. This might be the best and spookiest way to experience Lyndhurst!

Exterior of Lyndhurst with purple, orange, and green lights along the facade.

photo by: Lyndhurst

The mansion lit up at night for "Lyndhurst After Dark" in 2022.

Donate Today to Help Save the Places Where Our History Happened.

Donate to the National Trust for Historic Preservation today and you'll help preserve places that tell our stories, reflect our culture, and shape our shared American experience.

Emma Gencarelli is the film, photography, & collections coordinator at Lyndhurst.

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