Small State, Big Scares

Trees burst into flames against the sky, air grows increasingly crisp, and jackets expand on the shivering backs of students. Foods and drinks are spiced, mulled, and excessively pumpkin-ed. This is autumn in Providence, and as the city is immersed in all that is October, thoughts turn to the adventurous and the frightening. At the moment, the most terrifying aspect of the season remains exams, looming like so many ghosts and demons overhead, but people will no doubt soon be turning to other forms of thrill seeking.

Growing up in rural Connecticut, Octobers were filled with trips to the Haunted Hayride. Every fall, a group of childhood friends and I would clamber aboard the rickety wagon, hay poking through our heavy jackets. Shivering, we watched our breath rise like smoke in the chilly early evening air. The wagon lurched, groaned, rolled forward. And thus the ride would start, the night suddenly punctuated by leaping, screaming, and strikingly swift appearances from terrors hiding in the all-encompassing darkness. Hearts beating frantically, we would emerge afraid and alive, ready to warm our hands with cups of hot apple cider.

I can’t imagine Halloween without thinking of those nights, which always left me exhilarated. The state of Rhode Island seems to know the proper way to create exactly this. I have heard there are many ways to experience the New England fall spirit here; excited to discover them, I sought out the season’s best jack-o-lanterns, costumes, thrills, and ghosts. My research found no shortage of options. The Providence Ghost Tour, Monster Dash, and Halloween Iron Pour are easily accessible for busy Brown students. By venturing slightly further, you can experience an even wider variety of events, including the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, the Fortress of Nightmares, and the Field of Screams.

Halloween Iron Pour: October 24

One visual extravaganza in Rhode Island this time of year is the Halloween Iron Pour at the Steel Yard, which takes place on October 24. The theme for this year, the tenth anniversary of the annual Iron Pour, is Monster versus City, with a fiery vision of Providence fighting off a molten scourge. Past shows have involved science labs, Viking funerals, and volcanic eruptions created by liquid iron and hot flame bubbling and brewing in carefully wrought exhibitions. Over 1,000 people attend this event yearly, coming not only for the incredible show, in which artists use the furnace to pour out 2,500 pounds of molten iron, but also for local food, music, and artists who set up shop nearby. Doors open at 5pm for the show that starts at 7; tickets cost $10. This event takes place at 27 Sims Avenue in Providence.

Monster Dash: October 25

If you are seeking a more active way to get in the Halloween spirit, look no further than the Monster Dash. This 5K run starts at Wild Colonial Tavern on South Water Street in Providence at 11 am on October 25, and includes passage through the RIPTA bus tunnel before returning to the original location. There is a $30 entrance fee; proceeds go to Mobile Loaves and Fishes, a program that aims to “love thy neighbors as thyself” by providing food to homeless individuals. Monster Dash runners are encouraged to wear costumes, and Zombie Walkers are more than welcome. Teams can register to run together and scare the competition with their spirit. All participants receive free t-shirts at the end.

Fortress of Nightmares: October 16-18 and 23-25

To find a slew of true scares, however, you may wish to venture a bit further. At Fort Adams in Newport, RI, the Fortress of Nightmares offers a variety of frightful excursions. For $15, you gain access to the Tunnels of Terror, the Officer’s Quarters Ghost Hunt, the Killer Film Fest, one round of the Zombie Hunter Challenge and, of course, a variety of (hopefully less terrifying) food vendors. The Tunnels of Terror are an underground tunnel system in which “twilight inhabitants” wait to leap out at wandering entrants. This system was entirely redone for this year’s season to provide a more extensive range of terrors than ever before. The Haunted Officer’s Quarters are the areas of the fort that the TAPS Team from “Ghost Hunters” examined; armed with an infrared thermometer, an EMF meter, and flashlight, you too can hunt for ghosts. In the Zombie Hunter Challenge, experience laser tag with a twist—your opponents are zombies. The Killer Film Fest is also screened in an adjacent room. Guests can come and go as they please, and short horror films play throughout the evening. The fort is open from 6-10 pm over the weekends of October 16-18 and October 23-25.

Field of Screams: October 16-18, 22-25, and 29-31

If you are looking for what Providence Journal described as the “Best Boo for the buck,” look no further than the Field of Screams in West Greenwich, RI. Tickets are $18 (although you save $2 if you choose to go in costume) and include the Haunted Insane Asylum, the Dead River Haunted Hayride, and the Cirque du Souls (described as “New England’s only 4D haunted maze). It takes about 40-60 minutes to make your way through all three portions. At this location, you can also partake in Zombie Paintball for an additional $20. Boarding a 30-foot, 5-ton military truck, you are provided a paintball gun and enough paintballs to last the journey. Along with your teammates, you must shoot moving zombies and other live targets. Both the Field of Screams and Zombie Paintball are open from 6:30-10:00 pm on the weekends of October 16-18, 22-25, and 29-31 (please note that, with the exception of the first weekend, the attractions are also open on Thursdays). It seems that the Field of Screams is well-loved; reviewers describe it as “amazing” and “the best haunted attraction,” and that improvements are clear every year.

Providence Ghost Tour: September – November

The Providence Ghost Tour is available right at our back door; in fact, on my way to class, I have often walked past groups huddled around a figure adorned in old-fashioned dress, gesturing and telling stories to a crowd. This walking tour of the historic Providence neighborhood lining South and North Main (home to Brown and RISD campuses) stops at buildings believed to be haunted based on extensive research by owners Mike Gertrudes and Courtney Edge. Mike and Courtney searched for the sites of abnormal deaths—including suicides, accidents, fires, and murders—using sources ranging from libraries to death records, from newspapers to local lore. The neighborhood examined dates back to the 1630s, and many houses incorporated into the tour were built during the pre-Revolution era. This is not a tour that relies on jumping out to create scares; it revolves solely around research-based storytelling. The tour takes about an hour and a half, so it is recommended that participants wear comfortable walking shoes as well as weather appropriate clothing.

Tours occur nightly, from September through November, at 7 pm and cost $18; tickets can be bought online or in person and are non-refundable. Those who have gone on the tour are impressed by the knowledgeable and entertaining tour guides but warn not to expect a tour that provides physical thrills and chills. This does not mean that haunting is impossible; the website provides the following disclaimer: “The Providence Ghost Tour cannot be held responsible for any haunting, soul possession or poltergeist activity endured before, during or after participation on the tour.” Whether a cynic or a firm believer in the supernatural, the Providence Ghost Tour is an excellent way to explore the city while getting your fair share of Halloween spooks.

Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular: October 3 – November 1

Another local favorite this time of year is the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at the Roger Williams Zoo. This beautiful annual display, running from October 3 through November 1, features over 1,000 illuminated jack-o-lanterns created by a team of professional carvers, Passion for Pumpkins. This team spends 6-8 weeks creating the display, from carving the pumpkins themselves to organizing the themed music and lighting. This year’s theme is “The People’s Choice,” in which displays depict a variety of beloved events and works of entertainment produced over the past 27 years of the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular, including the Phantom of the Opera, the Golden Age of Hollywood, Charles Darwin’s trip to the Galapagos (complete with “active” volcanoes), and a myriad of other subjects. In order to maintain the beauty of the Spectacular, pumpkins are discarded and recarved as time passes. Annually, about 20,000 pumpkins are used, all of which are composted at the end of the event.

This year, the display also includes more light and image projections than ever before. Be sure to watch the tour’s grand finale, the Laughing Tree, an incredible display of hundreds of pumpkins laid out along the ground and in trees, further accentuated by fog, theme music, and spooky laughter. It takes about 45 minutes to go from the beginning of the trail to its end. Admission is from 6-10 pm nightly, extended to 11 pm on Saturdays, and the trail itself stays open one hour after the final admission. There may be up to a two-hour wait on busy nights, so those in a hurry could consider going on Halloween or the night after, which are two of the quietest nights of the season. Reviewers warn that going when it is busy may make the experience too stressful to enjoy the show (although most still maintain that the pumpkins are “incredible”). Tickets cost $14, Monday through Thursday, and $16, Friday through Sunday. On weekends, you can also pay an additional $25 to gain access to the Harvest Buffet, which includes BBQ pulled pork, turkey and gravy, maple-glazed butternut squash, cornbread, apple crisp, hot apple cider, assorted soft drinks, and more. Proceeds from the Spectacular go toward increasing quality of life for animals at the Roger Williams Zoo.

While I investigated the plethora of seasonal events in Rhode Island, I found myself recalling the Halloweens of my childhood. For me, Halloween has always meant a chance to laugh, eat, and scream with friends; there is nothing that encourages bonding quite like grabbing onto the person closest to you, shrieking unabashedly, and then calming your nerves with a warm cup of cider. Now, it is time to find that feeling here, in a small state with big scares. Here’s wishing you a Halloween filled with all sorts of delightful fear.

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