A witch sat wordlessly in a dark corner of the barn at Duck Creek Farm in Springs late Saturday afternoon, her hat pointed, her face wizened and her stare steely.
Before her, a single question swirled aloud among the costumed children making their way through the haunted barn: Was she real?
“She’s real,” declared one.
“She’s not real,” countered a pint-sized ninja. One curious boy simply stared back at the witch and, gingerly and a tad mischievously, tapped her toe with his. She did not flinch, but another witch glided out of the shadows, silently warning him to keep his distance.
The witch was very much real, and so was the Halloween fun.
For the first time ever on Saturday, the Springs community turned the drafty old barn, which sits on a Community Preservation Fund-purchased lot on Squaw Road, into a haunted house for children, primarily those who attend Springs School, though it was open to all, at no cost. Donations came from the community and school’s Parent Teacher Association. Surrounding the haunted house were outdoor games, such as a witch’s hat rat ring toss, and apple cider and donuts.
“We want to develop this into a real community resource,” said Ira Barocas, the president of the Duck Creek Farm Association, and a member of the haunted barn’s creative team. “All of these beautiful buildings are great as artifacts, but they don’t help anybody. We don’t need to live in a museum; we’d rather use it.”
“But not into something that’s commercial,” School Board President Liz Mendelman chimed in, as she and Mr. Barocas looked over the barn a few days prior to the haunt.
The idea arose when a small group of community members gathered at the house of hamlet Citizens Advisory Committee Chairwoman Loring Bolger one day and discussed using the property and barn to host a Halloween event, according to Ms. Mendelman. The group pitched the idea to the town and partnered with the PTA.
“It takes no ‘tricks’ to succeed when a project is led by Liz Mendelman, Loring Bolger, and Beth Meredith,” said Zach Cohen, another member of the team who is also chairman of the town’s Nature Preserve Committee. “But the real ‘treat’ is bringing back a holiday tradition to the youth of Springs.”
On Saturday, the haunted barn was open during the waning daylight hours, as it ran on no electricity. A costumed Ms. Mendelman greeted—or spooked—children as they arrived and Mr. Cohen ushered them and their parents inside, past a welcome mat that said, “Go Away!”
No actors leaped out to frighten the youngsters, opting instead for a stiller, creepier kind of scare: hovering and glaring.
Inside was a spider’s lair (a Martha Stewart idea that repurposes white ballet tights as spooky spider sacks), a portrait whose eyes seemed to flicker in the sunlight shining behind it. Gossamer black mesh billowed in the wind. A brain sat on display on a table, while gravestones marked the burial spots of bodies, some of which were only partially submerged. Fake rats loomed unpleasantly and ghosts and witches lurked. A bloodied hand and foot poked out from beneath a black cloth, a skeleton stared at her reflection in a vanity mirror, while a live witch ladled out “treats” for kids, an unappetizing grayish goop. Near the food were bottles of poison and other ominous ingredients, like tapeworms, tainted lentils and zombie weed. At the exit, children received real goody bags, doled out by another wordless witch, who stroked a fake raven in between handing out sweets.
Outside on that crisp autumn day, children stuck their hands in a coffin to touch icky items labeled eyeballs, monster intestines and snot, (really pearl onions, oily spaghetti, and toy slime) among others.
Ellen McDonald, a parent, explained that she had plenty of practice preparing the brain-fooling substances from Cub Scouts. This coffin and the games, she said, were sponsored by local Girl Scouts.
Madison Lappin, a Springs sixth grader, said the most horrifying part of the haunted barn was not knowing if the witch in the chair was real.
“We didn’t know if she was alive or not,” she said. “We didn’t know if she was breathing.”
Virva Hinnemo, a parent whose sons Mikko and Viggo Negroponte came dressed as Pokémon characters, said the barn was “pretty scary.” Mikko, a fifth grader, nodded in agreement.