Halloween celebrations in New Paltz, Highland, Gardiner and Rosendale

There are many explanations for the origin of jack-o-lanterns. (Photos by Lauren Thomas)

Ever hear the story of Stingy Jack? According to Irish legend, Jack was a trickster who took pleasure in pulling the wool over the eyes of everyone he met, even the Devil himself. When Stingy Jack eventually met his end, he was not allowed to enter Heaven on the grounds that he was mean and cruel and had led a worthless life on Earth. But when he sought refuge in the underworld, he discovered the Devil had a long memory, too. Barred by Satan at the entrance to hell, Stingy Jack was doomed, it seemed, fated to wander forever in the netherworld between Heaven and Hell.

He found his way through the darkness with a lantern made from a hollowed-out turnip into which he placed a burning ember from Hell, tossed to him in parting by the Devil. This sad soul wandering through eternity without a home was enshrined in Irish folklore as “Jack of the Lantern,” which eventually morphed into “Jack-o-Lantern.”


Inspired by the legend, the Irish are credited with creating the tradition of carving scary faces into turnips or potatoes, placing a light inside and setting the lanterns in windows or near doors to frighten away wandering evil spirits. Early waves of the Irish who emigrated to the United States and Canada brought this tradition with them, discovering in the process that the pumpkins so plentiful in their new home — unknown to their native country at the time — were ideal for making jack-o-lanterns.

There are more prosaic explanations for the origin of jack-o-lanterns, of course; some say they simply originated with the term used for night watchmen in 17th century Britain, where a man one didn’t know was called “Jack” and so an unknown watchman carrying a lantern became known as “Jack with the lantern.” Maybe. 

But the first use of “jack-o-lantern” in print was by Nathaniel Hawthorne in his Twice-Told Tales, a short story collection published in two volumes in 1837 and 1842. The first wave of Irish immigrants came to the U.S. in 1820, so if they brought their tradition of carving turnips into lanterns with them then and later adapted it to pumpkins, that would be just about right for Hawthorne to be familiar with the concept. A character in one of his stories, in speaking about a fabled gem, says, “Hide it under thy cloak, say’st thou? Why, it will gleam through the holes and make thee look like a jack-o-lantern!”

Following are a few good ideas for local ghouls and guys to celebrate the legends of Halloween without having to wander as far as poor Stingy Jack. And may all your jack-o-lanterns burn brightly to help you find your way home again.

Thursday, Oct. 24-Saturday, Oct. 26
Haunted Huguenot Street tours in New Paltz 

The 2019 Haunted Huguenot Street tours promise visitors a “macabre exploration of the human condition.” The tours go on all month, with the last scheduled Thursday through Saturday, October 24-26. Nightfall sets the stage for the restless spirits of New Paltz, who will tell the harrowing stories of how their lives came to a tragic ending and what happened afterward. Based on real people and historical events, the interactive theatrical experience will last approximately one hour. 

Tours depart from the DuBois Fort Visitor Center at 81 Huguenot St. at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Plan to arrive 15 minutes early and enjoy a campfire on the lawn between the Jean Hasbrouck House and the Dubois Fort Visitor Center. Pre-registration is strongly recommended, as tours often sell out. Haunted Huguenot Street interpretations and themes change every year. This year’s tour is rated PG-13; children under the age of 13 must be accompanied by an adult. Even for children 13 and older, the content may not be suitable for more sensitive visitors; the subject matter includes disease, murder, filicide and suicide. Wear comfortable walking shoes and dress warmly. Tickets cost $25 or $22.50 for seniors or military personnel and their families, available at https://www.huguenotstreet.org/.

Ghouls night out on Huguenot Street in New Paltz, Michele Zipp with her progeny Penelope and Hunter.

Saturday, Oct. 26
Bat-O-Ween in New Paltz

The Town of New Paltz Recycling Center will host a new Halloween-themed event this year. “Bat-O-Ween” on Saturday, October 26 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. is done in conjunction with Bat Conservation International’s Bat Week, held every October to celebrate bats and educate people about them. The event in New Paltz will be one of many happening internationally. In Ulster County alone, more than three million of the Little Brown Bat population was lost to Powder Nose Syndrome, first discovered in this region just a few years ago. The family-friendly event for all ages will offer educational booths, bat-themed crafts, and vendors. Artist and writer Barbara Bash, author of Shadows of Night: The Hidden World of the Little Brown Bat, will teach children techniques to draw bats while discussing their importance in our environment. Costumes are encouraged. 

Sugar Cookie Decorating Dance Party for preschoolers in Gardiner

The Gardiner Library at 133 Farmer’s Turnpike will host a Halloween-themed Sugar Cookie Decorating Dance Party on Saturday, October 26 from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Do the Monster Mash! Kids ages 2-5 are invited to come to the library in costume to decorate an assortment of Halloween sugar cookies, play games and show off their dance skills to hip, spooky tunes. Accommodations for those with dairy or wheat allergies may be made with advance notice. For more information, visit www.gardinerlibrary.org or the library’s Facebook page. No registration required.

UlsterCorps Zombie Escape in Rosendale 

Runners of all ages are invited to participate in UlsterCorps’ tenth annual Zombie Escape 5K on Saturday, October 26 at Williams Lake in Rosendale. Participants are given two flags each; the goal is to avoid flag-grabbing zombies on the run and get through the woods with at least one flag and all your brains intact. Enjoy the spectacular fall foliage and beautiful trails at Williams Lake in Rosendale while dodging zombies and other spooky surprises hiding in the woods, tunnels and caves. Top finishers earn awards in gender and age-group categories. Participants are encouraged to wear costumes. Runners may also opt to avoid being attacked by zombies and compete in the timed race without wearing the flags. Registration begins at 10 a.m. with the Zombie Escape at 11:30 a.m. The awards ceremony will be held at 12:30 p.m. The cost is $20 if pre-registered by noon on Friday, October 25 or $25 on the day of the event. All proceeds benefit UlsterCorps, a nonprofit that serves as a hub for volunteerism in Ulster County, connecting those who wish to volunteer with opportunities that are right for them. The UlsterCorps Zombie Escape is the organization’s primary annual fundraiser. Williams Lake is located at 434 Williams Lake Road off Binnewater Road in Rosendale. The rain date for the event is Sunday, October 27. For more information, visit www.ulstercorps.org. Pre-registration and more information are available at https://www.zippyreg.com/online_reg/index.php?e=1272.

Kids’ 1K Fun Run and 1K Fitness Walk in Rosendale (part of the Zombie Escape)

The UlsterCorps Zombie Escape event at Williams Lake in Rosendale on Saturday, October 26 includes a free 1K Kids’ Fun Run at 11 a.m. and a 1K Fitness Walk/Hike at 11:45 a.m. All kids participating in the 1K Fun Run will receive a prize. Williams Lake is located at 434 Williams Lake Road off Binnewater Road in Rosendale. The rain date for the event is Sunday, October 27. For more information, visit www.ulstercorps.org. Pre-registration is available at https://www.zippyreg.com/online_reg/index.php?e=1272. 

Juliah, Adam and Michelle Pregno of Highland at the town’s annual Halloween in the Hamlet event.

Halloween in the Hamlet in Highland

The Town of Lloyd celebrates Halloween with a family-friendly event in the hamlet of Highland, blocked off to vehicular traffic for the evening. This year’s eighth annual Halloween in the Hamlet is scheduled for Saturday, October 26 from 6-9 p.m. Last year’s event was cancelled due to weather conditions; check the event Facebook page before leaving home. But if all goes as planned, things kick off at 6 p.m. at the Methodist Church as the 20th Century Limited Drum and Bugle Corp lead the Lil’ Goblins parade of costumed kids and their parents through the streets. Prizes are awarded in a number of categories. After the parade, kids line up at From Stage to Screen acting studio for Dr. Frankenstein’s Interactive Lab to test their bravery. Warm up with friends and neighbors enjoying monster marshmallows at fire pits on the street manned by members of the Highland Fire Company. Local farms donate apple cider and donuts for the event and festive music is piped through the streets.

Sunday, Oct. 27
Community trick-or-treat at SUNY New Paltz dorms

SUNY New Paltz’s annual Community Trick-or-Treat will take place on Sunday, October 27 from 3-5 p.m. The college opens every residence hall to area families with children ages 12 and under to do activities in the common areas that will include games, haunted houses, crafts and contests. The students also give guided tours of the dorm for trick-or-treating. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.newpaltz.edu.

Wednesday, Oct. 30 and Thursday, Oct. 31
New Paltz Youth Program’s haunted house

The New Paltz Youth Program is planning their 26th annual haunted house at the youth center at 220 Main St. on Wednesday and Thursday, October 30-31 from 6-9 p.m. The theme this year will be “Area 845,” with visitors entering an eerie haunted military base housing aliens. Admission costs $5, with all proceeds supporting youth program activities.

Beetlejuice and a small superhero at the Halloween Parade in New Paltz.

Thursday, Oct. 31
New Paltz Halloween Parade on Main Street

New Paltz’s annual Halloween parade will kick off on Thursday, October 31 at 6 p.m. The event has been co-sponsored for half a century by the Lions Club, but they are handing over the reins this year to the New Paltz Rotary Club, who will sponsor the parade from this year forward along with the town and village. The event is also staged with the help of numerous volunteers including the New Paltz Police Department and the New Paltz Fire Department. Costumed marchers are invited to assemble at the middle school parking lot on the corner of Main Street and Manheim Boulevard. Parking is available on nearby streets (early arrival is recommended) and the sections of the street involved are closed off to traffic for the duration of the parade. Led by a marching band playing The Addams Family theme, participants head down Main Street to Plattekill Avenue. Taking a left turn, marchers end up at the firehouse, where members of the Rotary Club will await with apples and full-size Hershey chocolate bars for kids under age 13. 

Night of 100 Pumpkins at The Bakery in New Paltz

After the parade breaks up, head for The Bakery at 13 N. Front Street. to view the annual Night of 100 Pumpkins display of imaginative jack-o’-lanterns created by area residents of all ages. A tradition in the village since 1990, Night of 100 Pumpkins begins at 6 p.m. A panel of artists will select winners in categories that include “Classic Jacks,” prettiest, most petrifying and most peculiar. Prizes are donated by local merchants, and attendees at the event all receive free pumpkin bread, hot cider and cocoa to enjoy with the accompaniment of live music. Enter a pumpkin in the competition by filling out the entry form found at www.ilovethebakery.com and bring along with the pumpkin to The Bakery on Wednesday, October 30. All entrants receive a free jack-o’-lantern cookie for their efforts and the experience of seeing their creation lit and displayed with more than 100 others on Halloween night. For more information, call (845) 255-8840 or visit http://www.ilovethebakery.com/halloween/.

Trick-or-treat on Huguenot Street in New Paltz

Children and families are invited to trick-or-treat at the historic houses on Huguenot Street on Thursday, October 31 from 3:30-5:30 p.m. A portion of the street will be closed to traffic and the event is free and open to the public. Attendees can expect to meet costumed “residents” representing the street’s centuries-long history. Doors might be opened by Colonial era residents and Revolutionary War soldiers or Victorian-era socialites and Roaring ‘20s flappers. Refreshments will be available at the DuBois Fort Visitor Center at 81 Huguenot Street. There will be a campfire, and the entire street will be decorated for an immersive Halloween experience. For more information, visit https://www.huguenotstreet.org/. ++