Halloween comes from the holiday All Hallow’s Eve, which originates from the ancient Celtic festival, “Samhain.” Of Gaelic culture, the festival celebrates the end of the harvest season. The pagan event means it’s time to prepare for winter, getting all food stocks together. Pagans believe October 31st is the one night of the year where the boundary between the dead and the living remains at its weakest. Therefore, spirits could wander the earth and raise havoc. The tradition of wearing masks and bonfires stems from pagans warding off such ghosts.
Celebrating Halloween for its 32nd year, Poplar Grove Plantation will continue their own ritual of celebration October 11th through the 13th, and 18th through the 20th. A nonprofit organization, whose main revenue comes from house tours or school groups (no state or federal funding), Poplar Grove’s Halloween Festival is one of their main fund-raising events throughout the year. Funds earned here help keep the plantation open, maintained and free to the public.
Much like previous years, the festival will welcome its attendees with a haunted barn and hayrides, a kid’s fun house, tarot card readings, as well as palm readings by Madame Sloopenstein, costume contests, carnival games, rock-climbing walls and a bungee jump. As well, pony and camel rides, gem-mining and a small train ride can be enjoyed among the many food vendors that will be on site.
“Last year, over six nights, we had around 5,000 visitors come through our grounds,” Caroline Lewis, executive director of Poplar Grove Plantation, says. “At its inception, we had close to 500 attendees. Some of the best costumes we’ve seen thus far have been a Sun-Maid raisin, a Shell gas pump and entire families dressed as super heroes.”
Costume contests will take place for both humans and their furry friends. The “Dandiest Dog Costume Contest” takes place on October 12th at 4 p.m. (registration at 3 p.m.), and cats are welcome, too. The biped contest takes place on October 19th at 7 p.m. (registration at 6 p.m.). Six different categories, from babies up to 18 and over, can be entered, with first place for each category winning a $50 gift certificate to Spirit Halloween and a hand-forged medal from Poplar Grove’s resident blacksmith. Prizes exist for second and third, as well.
The students of the Topsail High School Drama Department are assigned a curriculum-centered project, and every year they create the script, and stage the haunted hayride and barn as part of their fund-raising efforts. Monies raised support the arts in the public schools. This year they researched Victorian wakes and mourning practices.
“The Drama Department has created Terror Town, 15 scenes of horror along the trail ride to include a saw mill, a barber shop, and the wheel of misfortune,” Lewis lists. “The Haunted Hayride has evolved scene by scene, year by year. Each year, the students and everyone involved have gotten more ambitious based upon the feedback from our visitors.”
Creating such an event takes a lot of helping hands and Poplar Grove has been fortunate to have so many people and groups involved to continue in their success for this event. The Poplar Grove staff, Topsail High School students, their parents and volunteers have worked on this project, putting the pieces together.
“The effort this year is being led by our director of community programs, BJ Ryan,” Lewis states. “Without her leadership, this event would not be as well coordinated!”
Tots are welcome to the festivities, too, without the worry of too much fear. Day time rides will be more kid-friendly and won’t have actors. As well, less scares exist in the Goblins and Games Fun House. But for those who wish to put hair-raising to the test, all sorts of excitement will arise.
“We are opening the Manor House up for haunted tours for the first time in over 25 years,” Lewis adds, “to not only show off our renovations but for visitors to experience the Manor House under the dark shadowy night of All Hallow’s Eve. The drama students were fearful of awakening the real dead here on the property so they refused to have a séance scene in the house!”
Though entry is free, there is admission for the haunted hayride and Manor House. Individual tickets run $10 each. This year a combination ticket will be available for both experiences for only $15. Other activities are priced separately by the vendor. Donations are always appreciated; the fire department will be on hand for parking and accepting donations as well.
Poplar Grove Halloween Festival
October 11-13 and 18-20, Fri., 6-11 p.m.; Sat., 2-11 p.m.; Sun., 2-9 p.m.
Events priced individually. Dandiest Dog Costume Contest, 10/12; Biped Costume Contest, 10/19.