The Best Cities for a Frightfully Good Time

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

Salem Village Parsonage

Twisted, gnarled branches of ancient trees filter beams of moonlight onto a cold, barren ground partially hidden by gray mists of fog. The plaintive howl of an animal … a wolf, perhaps? … breaks the silence. A tiny shack, its windows cracked and the door slightly ajar, appears long abandoned, but a hazy, yellowed light seems to illuminate from inside the house before it slowly disappears. The faint sound of a footstep cracking brittle leaves is barely audible, but brings with it a certainty of doom …

Some places just shout “Halloween!” If you are lucky enough to be anywhere near these locations, be sure to visit this weekend for some great fun and a few frights.

There appears to be some debate over which town, exactly, has the oldest Halloween parade. Anoka, Minnesota was officially named the capital of Halloween by Congress in 1937. They claim to be the first city to have a Halloween parade, beginning in 1920. Halloween is so serious in Anoka that the event lasts 12 days.

But even though Anoka is officially the Halloween Capital, the residents of Hiawatha, Kansas disagree about whose parade came first. They claim that theirs is the oldest Halloween parade, a 98-year-old event that began in 1914. Hiawatha residents are so serious about their parade that they hold two – one in the afternoon for children on decorated bicycles, tricycles, wagons, etc. and another in the evening that includes the traditional marching bands, dignitaries, and floats.

Residents in Allentown, Pennsylvania are raising their hands, as well. Their Halloween parade began in 1905 and they say theirs is the real Oldest Halloween Parade in America.

The city of Rutland, Vermont claims to have the “largest and longest-running” Halloween parade in America. But, since their parade didn’t begin until 1960, they are actually the youngest among the contenders for “Oldest” Halloween parade. They are definitely the most original, though – comic book fans, this is the parade for you. This parade has a superhero theme that began around 1965, when Tom Fagan (a local writer and comic book fan) promoted the parade in several DC and Marvel comic books. The superheroes arrived in droves and have been multiplying every year since. The parade has even been used as a setting in several comic book adventures.

While the above towns compete over the “Oldest Parade” title, other locations offer different types of Halloween fun. Philadelphia, for example, is the location of what could be described as the most haunted jail in America, Eastern State Penitentiary. For those who appreciate a serious “creep” factor on Halloween, the penitentiary is holding a “Terror Behind the Walls” event. It’s what they are claiming to be a “Massive Haunted House in a Real Prison.” Eastern State Penitentiary has been featured on Ghost Adventures, Most Haunted Live, Ghost Hunters, FEAR, and American Paranormal.

If that doesn’t scare you, then you might be interested in the “Most Haunted House in America,” according to Travel Channel’s Most Haunted. The Whaley House is located in San Diego, California and was built in 1857. Visitors report everything from the sounds of footsteps to actually seeing the ghosts of former residents.

While the Whaley House may be the most haunted, it isn’t the oldest – that honor goes to the Fairbanks House, built around 1637. Also supposedly haunted, the Fairbanks House is the oldest house in the US. It was built by Puritan immigrants in Dedham, Massachusetts. The Fairbanks family still owns the house, although it is now a house museum and a National Historic Landmark. People who visit the house claim to hear children laughing and sounds of footsteps.

Of course, no city or town is more perfectly suited for a Halloween fright than Salem, Massachusetts. The Salem Witch Trials are a legendary part of American History, and a visit is fascinating any time of year. If you travel to Salem, be sure to visit the Witch Dungeon Museum – you’ll feel as though you’ve just stepped back into 1692. Watch a witch trial adapted from actual 1692 transcripts, then tour the dungeon. Be sure to visit all three museums located within walking distance of each other.

So where is the best place to spend Halloween? That honor has to go to the Historic Hudson Valley – the burial place of Washington Irving and the setting for his classic story, The Headless Horseman. Visit the actual Tarrytown, New York and the community of Sleepy Hollow. If you are brave enough, attend the Horseman’s Hallow event, held at the 300-year-old Philipsburg Manor, a National Historic Landmark.

While you are in the Historic Hudson Valley, head to Croton and visit Van Cortlandt Manor, the site of the Great Jack O’ Lantern Blaze. Over 5,000 hand-carved Jack O’ Lanterns are on display. The brick and stone house was built in 1665 and is a National Historic Landmark. This is an amazing event – travel through the Tunnel O’ Pumpkin Love, see flying pumpkin ghosts, an undersea aquarium, snakes, dinosaurs, and this year, a 2012 Pumpkin Prophesy doomsday grandfather clock.

Even if you can’t make it to one of these amazing cities for Halloween, be sure to check out your city’s parades, haunted houses, and events.