October 27 2009 by Karla Henriquez
Thousands of years ago, the Celts celebrated the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter with bonfires, costumes, and parades. They believed that in the late autumn, the line between the worlds of the living and the dead was less distinct. In places where the seasons are marked, it's easy to imagine this to be true as we experience warm sunny days followed by cold nights, see living green leaves alongside brown and dead ones, and as the whole natural world transitions into a long slumber, almost a death. It really does seem to be a time when the worlds of the living and the dead mingle.
People today appear to have the same desire as the ancient Celts did to celebrate this time of year. Some of these celebrations are nothing more than a goodbye to the bounty of the summer - we visit farms and run through corn mazes, take wild hayrides, and drink apple cider. Other activities are more eerie - we carve sinister looking jack-o-lanterns; decorate our homes with spiders, cobwebs, black cats, and witches; or visit haunted spots, both real and make-believe.
In the spirit of these fall festivities, I'm devoting this post to corn mazes, hayrides, and haunted spots.
The first commercial corn maze was built in the early '90's, and since then the industry has grown rapidly. Farmers all over the country have carved designs into their cornfields and then allowed the public to enjoy getting lost and found in their twists and turns. Most corn mazes are open on Friday evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday, making them a fun and appropriate destination for people of all ages. Mazes come in different shapes, sizes, and levels of difficulty. I went to my first corn maze in the late 90's while still in college. I was with a group of friends and it was already dark outside so we were armed with flashlights and glow-sticks. Everyone wanted to lead yet no one really had any idea where we were at any given time. We argued loudly about which way to go and laughed when we ended up at dead ends or realized we were just going around in circles. The maze was huge and it took us quite a while to get out. Just a week ago, I was in a smaller corn maze with my daughter, my sister, my nieces and nephew. It was daytime and the kids led us confidently through the simple maze, taking only a few wrong turns. Both experiences were absolutely fun!
If you don't already have a favorite corn maze and are interested in checking one out, visit Corn Mazes America for a pretty comprehensive state-by-state directory. Additionally, here are a few tips to keep in mind before visiting a corn maze:
- Wear good walking shoes and clothing that's appropriate for traipsing through a cornfield - it might be muddy or dusty!
- Take water in case you're in the maze longer than you expected.
- Apply bug spray before starting your adventure.
- Take something to time yourself - part of the fun is seeing how fast you can find your way out!
- If you're going after dark, don't forget a flashlight.
Most of the time, I appreciate a nice smooth ride in an enclosed vehicle that minimizes the sound of the road and provides me with a comfortable, temperature-controlled atmosphere. However, a few times a year, it's fun to jump in the back of a horse-drawn wagon with nothing but some hay to cushion my behind for a wild ride down an unpaved farm road. You can't help but laugh when you're bouncing all around and trying not to end up in your neighbor's lap!
Just as there are corn mazes that appeal to different age groups, there are a variety of hayride experiences available in most communities. Little kids usually get their thrills from short and mild hayrides at a local pumpkin patch, farm, or fall festival for families. Teenagers and adults may be more inclined to seek out a haunted hayride at night. Usually these involve high-speed chases through an area full of surprising characters and scenes.
Have you been on a hayride? What was your experience like? Share in the comments section below!
For those who are really into experiencing the blurred line between the worlds of the living and the dead at this time of year, there are thousands of haunted spots all over the country. In some cities, historians and enthusiasts of the paranormal even offer guided tours of haunted spots. For example, in New York City, Ghosts of New York offers a variety of tours throughout the afternoon and night. One of the best cities to visit if you're looking for encounters with ghosts is New Orleans. For information on haunted tours there, check out Haunted History Tours, where you can find a guide to take you through the New Orleans cemetery, the Garden District, or the Old French Quarter. There is also a Voodoo tour and a Vampire tour - all of them sound informative, interesting, and spooky.
Of course, the country is riddled with popular haunted spots where locals have reported interesting occurrences and encounters. It's always fun to get a group of brave souls together to "test" one of these spots. Near my home in Connecticut, there have been reports over the years of a woman dressed in white who wanders out into the road and gets "hit" by cars - the drivers stop, truly believing that they've hit someone, only to find that there is nothing on the road and that their car is in perfect condition. At the Carbon County Jail/Old Jail Museum in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania visitors can see a handprint on the wall of cell 17 - it has remained as a testament to the innocence of the cell's inhabitant although sheriffs have tried to scrub it off, paint it over, and even torn down and rebuilt the wall.
To find a spooky spot near you, visit Real Haunts. Just reading through their comprehensive list of haunted places will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end...
Comment below to share a haunted spot or experience with the paranormal!