20 Aug 2014
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It Takes a Village to Put on Haunted Hayride

Dozens of people, hundreds of hours, and a ton of creativity go into our annual Sleepy Hollow Halloween event. And it’s all very much worth it.

Lest you think (from lack of first-hand experience) that the Sleepy Hollow Haunted Hayride might be this small-towny thing that is…well…small, than allow me to correct you.

Or rather, allow: the Animatronics folks busy building sets, the DPW collecting props, the Village Clerk posting notices, the finance department selling tickets, the Village Administrator accruing sponsors, the Rec Director manning the line, the dozens of volunteer “actors” from Wolfpack to Boy Scouts Troop 22 and JV Football spooking folks, the police controlling traffic…to correct you.

Putting on this weekend-long shindig – three days this year up from the usual two, from Oct. 26 through Oct. 28 – requires many dozens of people, hundreds of hours, and a ton of creativity. And it’s all very much worth it.

According to Village Administrator Anthony Giaccio, even though the hayride operates at a bit of a financial loss, the gains for the village are very measurable – “it enhances tourism and it enhances business for downtown.”

The village has sold more tickets at this point in the month than they have last year, when they sold about 2,000 tickets (800 for the first night and 1,200 for the second). With a third night, certainly there will be more. People on the ticket list so far hail from Texas, Oklahoma (last year there was a Juno, Alaska on the hayride), but mostly tend to come regionally from Pennsylvania, Long Island, New Jersey, NYC. 

It seems Sleepy Hollow is growing into that name more and more every year. Tourism is kicking here, especially during Our Month.

October is the best month for business in Sleepy Hollow, said Giaccio, noting that restaurants the weekend of the hayride are historically fully booked. “Tourism has really exploded here in the last few years.”

The village budget for the event is $100,000, a good portion of which depends on sponsorship. Sponsors include everyone from Vince Vaughn to Patch – look for us, but most likely not Vaughn, at the block party booth Friday night.

With just a week to go until show time, the rec department, DPW and others are in high-gear now. They’ve been at this since the beginning of October, and now the clock is ticking.

“You’ll be amazed how fast it all comes together at the end,” one worker said.

I got to peek into the Douglas Park shed that serves now as the secret headquarters of Halloween. There are rows and rows of scary masks on the wall (62 masks, to be exact), a huge homemade Sleepy Hollow sign, crates getting built, power tools buzzing. Outside is an interesting pile of…garbage.

“Your trash, our treasure,” said one of the workers, who explained how the DPW helps to pick up some select old appliances and furniture and drop it off here for set materials. The crews have to start basically from scratch every year since there’s not enough storage for it all. About 30 percent of the props and set fillers do remain in permanent storage, the rest comes largely from the curb. “It’s like people are donating to us, and they don’t even know it.”

Along the hayride route, there will be 12 to 15 stations with costumed characters and a full theatrical set each with a different theme, from timely (certainly there will have to be an Obama/Romney one in there somewhere) to blockbuster movies.

Rob Pell who is volunteering as a consultant for the village as a veteran Halloween man here and former parks foreman of North Tarrytown, recalled the 18 or so year history of the event. Pell said the hayride used to be put on by the fire department. But as it grew, it became too taxing and expensive and the village took over.

Several years ago, the village tried to farm the thing out. A professional production company ran it out of Sleepy Hollow High School, but Giaccio said the location wasn’t ideal as it was too separate geographically from the village and people mistook it for a school event. The company moved along to put on Horseman’s Hallow, which has been a hit and better suited, said Giaccio, to their skills at a walk-through event.

It’s the village, said Giaccio, that actually knows better how to put on a haunted hayride. “And it takes a village,” he said, to do so.

Both Giaccio and Pell had much praise for the hayride drivers themselves, about 10 DPW guys who have to drive a very slow 5 mph for 30 minutes, turning off their lights in the woods and pulling 30 people, again and again for hours.

There are the volunteers on the sidelines, waiting in their costumes at their sets, scaring one hayride party, waiting two or three minutes and doing it again, and again.

Then there’s Rec Director Robin Pell (Rob’s wife) who deals with all the folks in that line. “That’s probably the hardest,” Giaccio said.

You can expect to wait in a line. Organizers suggest getting there as early as 5:30 for a 7 p.m. ride. The line however does go fast, with the nine or 10 hayrides going on a 30 minute drive every few minutes.

The tour goes past the Old Dutch Church and into the cemetery, goes over a wooden bridge, “all part of the allure,” said Giaccio. Look out for the Headless Horseman himself, expect to get spooked 12 to 15 times at sets. Then it’s back out along Weber Park’s North Broadway, which gets all dolled up for the occasion. Some folks dress up special for the weekend’s events and hang out on their porches to greet the passersby.

Before or after your hayride (or instead of, if you are so inclined), there is the block party on Friday and Saturday night, which is growing each year – this time with music, bouncy castle, vendors (vending is free, please contact the village), and much more.

Put all this together and you have a “very high energy” affair, said Giaccio.

Has anything ever gone horribly wrong? Pell remembered one year when there was a guy coming down on a zip-line that broke and the man hurt his earlobe. And another year when it “rained like you wouldn’t believe.” Nothing of course compares to last year when the thing got shut down due to a freakish snowstorm. If you have tickets from last year you didn’t get to use, they will be honored this year if you bring them with you.

Welcome to the “controlled chaos,” described Giaccio. “It’s a wild undertaking.”

Being a spectator, however, be wild in a different way.

Tickets are $20 each (kids in the TUFSD get a $10 ticket with their student ID, although parental discretion is advised for those under the age of 8) and are on sale now on the Village website. Interested in vending, sponsoring, volunteering, more info? Contact the village at 914-366-5100 during weekday business hours.

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