Festivity in the Hudson Valley usually shifts into high gear around Halloween, with local historic sites such as Washington Irving’s Sunnyside and Van Cortlandt Manor hosting themed events. But this year, owing to pandemic-related restrictions, many of this region’s beloved seasonal attractions have been canceled, while others have been modified.
“Typically, we are very active in the fall — not just us, but other cultural organizations in our area,” Rob Schweitzer, vice president of communications and commerce for Historic Hudson Valley (HHV), said. “It all stems back to Washington Irving and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’”
Schweitzer said the coronavirus “significantly” impacted spring and summer programs at HHV properties.
“As we began to inventory the fall, we began to ask, ‘Could we go forward with this event, or that event?’”
One favorite Hudson Valley tradition, “The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze” at Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-on-Hudson, made adjustments in order to open with reduced capacity beginning Sept. 18. “That event lends itself very well to the environment we’re in,” Schweitzer explained. “It’s outdoors, it’s touch-free, there’s no interaction with others. So, we’re working within what New York State calls ‘Guidelines for Low-Risk Outdoor Arts and Entertainment.’ But our capacity is significantly reduced; we are requiring everybody to wear a mask and to maintain social distance throughout the experience.”
The biggest change is that, in accordance with State guidelines, HHV reduced capacity by 67%, which will have a dramatic effect on a popular venue that tends to be crowded, according to Schweitzer.
“This year, at a maximum capacity, you will have the sense of having a completely private experience,” he said.
To compensate somewhat for the attendance limit, HHV added more nights, and continuing every evening, weather permitting, through Sunday, Nov. 1, and on weekends later in November. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
Also in deference to public health, there will be no refreshments for sale at HHV events.
“The Blaze is famous for its cider doughnuts,” Schweitzer said. “But we learned from Disney that when they opened their parks, they were finding that people were buying their food or beverage and walking around with them, without their masks. So we’ve eliminated that from all our events this year, and there just won’t be any excuse for people not wearing their masks.”
Gone by the wayside this year is “Horseman’s Hollow” at Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow. “It is largely outdoors but has built environments that you enter,” Schweitzer said. “The ‘scares’ are typically what you might find at a haunted attraction. We couldn’t figure out how to do that safely this year.”
In addition, there will not be performances of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” by Jonathan Kruk and Jim Keyes at the Old Dutch Church in Sleepy Hollow.
“We couldn’t figure out how to do it in a way that made sense,” Schweitzer explained. “But we’re actually going to be debuting a film we shot, recreating a performance of Jonathan — check our website. That’s a way for people to get a taste of it this year.”
Kruk will appear in a different context this fall, at Sunnyside. Sunnyside has a tour called “Home of the Legend” that usually includes a visit inside Irving’s home. Although the cottage remains closed, visitors can sign up for a tour of the grounds, with masking and social distancing enforced. Kruk will appear there on Saturdays and Sundays in period costume, animating the characters in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Tickets are on sale for “Home of the Legend” through Nov. 8, but availability is limited.
In addition to the HHV events, there is usually a popular Haunted Hayride, Block Party and Oktoberfest in Sleepy Hollow, all of which were canceled due to the pandemic.
Tickets to tours of the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, including daytime tours with information about Irving and his work, and evening lantern tours, are limited and available only by advance purchase. The evening is spooky enough not to be recommended for children under 10.
Another favorite Halloween tour, “Jay Ghoul’s House of Curiosities” at Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, has been more zany than scary. This annual entertainment, featuring the Lyndhurst mansion transformed with creepy décor, eerie characters and moody lighting, takes place mostly indoors, and for this reason has been canceled as well.