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Get Into the (Spooky) Spirit of Halloween

Get Into the (Spooky) Spirit of Halloween

New York State Capitol Building. Photo credit: New York State Capitol Tour Program

Halloween is a great excuse for bringing on candy — and spookiness. It’s a time of stark transition, the trauma or excitement (depending on your tolerance for winter sports) of which is ameliorated by a ritualistic chocolate overload and scream fest on this most costumed of national holidays.

For New Yorkers, Halloween is perched right between the lovely part of apple-picking, cider-sipping, sweater-wearing, leaf-peeping fall and the hideous arctic blast Old Man Winter is blowing into town. But from whence does it come?

Halloween hails from the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would casually light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts. In a bid to stymie the pagan fun, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st as a time to honor saints and martyrs, but, as with many other Christian holidays, All Saints’ Day simply incorporated much of the pagan revelry and fun, while discarding the package it arrived in like an unwanted candy wrapper.

Despite that religious appropriation, the secular aspects did not just survive but have prevailed for us, and, while other places certainly celebrate Halloween with gusto, no one does it quite like New York.

Below, find some of our favorite ways to get spookiness with a side of candy (and a chaser of history) in New York:

NEW YORK STATE CAPITOL

Watching politicians go about their daily business can be terrifying, but for a real scare, New Yorkers head over to the Capitol for the annual Halloween Tour. There’s just enough real history to add some intellectual frisson to the proceedings. In addition to gawking at the marvel of 19th century architecture, visitors will learn about the night watchman who died in the Capitol fire of 1911 and is said to still make his rounds today and the two United States presidents who visited the Capitol after they died.  Also find out where the Assembly Chamber’s “lost” murals are located and what happened to the tortured artists who created them.

The Capitol building is rife with gargoyle-like carvings and strange figurines, one of which is allegedly a “secret demon” who has cursed the building and its inhabitants. Tours happen throughout the month of October, Monday through Saturday. Registration is necessary, but the guided tours are free. The Capitol is located on a hill, on the corner of State Street and Washington Avenue in Albany. Register here or call (518) 474-2418. Bonus points: Head over to Krause’s Homemade Candy on 1609 Central Avenue to stock up for the big night.

FORT WILLIAM HENRY MUSEUM

History is far from dead at the Fort William Henry Museum. The area was the site of epic battles in the French and Indian War (1754-1763), in addition to being the site of terrible disease outbreaks at various times over the century. And not all of the dearly departed have vacated.

Depiction of the French and Indian War.

For centuries, there have been reports of paranormal activity. SyFy’s Ghost Hunters has even investigated. From May to October, visitors can hear first-hand stories of the spooky goings-on handed down over the century, plus tales of ghosts from people who have worked there. Some of the ghosts even have nicknames: there’s Limper, who spooks with a lurching step and Slammer who likes to make things go bang in the night. Tours are held at night Wednesday through Saturday. Reservations are recommended. $18 adults, $8 children ages 5-15. For more information, call (518) 668-5471, or go here. 48 Canada Street, Lake George. Bonus: Head over to Kilwins at 143 Canada Street in Lake George for adult Halloween delights (namely fudge and fine chocolate confections).

THE KNOX MANSION

This 42-room home was built in 1889 by Charles Knox, a gelatin magnate and businessman, who also founded the aptly named Knox Gelatin Factory in town. In addition to the roomy interior, it has an elevator, a grand staircase, a lava ash fireplace imported from a castle in Italy and spoooooooooky ghooooosts!

Perhaps surprisingly, it has found new life as a B&B. Guests flock there for the opportunity to spend the night in a paranormal hotspot, and many report flickering lights, disembodied footsteps and voices, ghostly apparitions, piano tinklings and sheets being pulled off of them in the middle of the night. Creepily, children who have stayed there report seeing a long-deceased gardener who loved children. Special events are scheduled throughout the year, with a particular emphasis on October. 104 West 2nd Street in Johnstown. (518) 752-8231. Bonus points: Get a sweet tooth fix at artisanal ice cream shop Wemple and Edick’s at 453 State Highway 334 in Johnstown.

Photo credit: Knox Mansion Historical Foundation

VALE CEMETERY

Vale Cemetery is a lovely place, as these things go. Founded in 1857, and one of the first beautifully designed burial sites of its kind in the country, it features a park-like landscape with pastoral vistas. Today, more than 33,000 people are buried in Vale’s 100 acres. If only it didn’t also feature statues that bleed from the eyes, disembodied choral singing and ghostly wandering apparitions. Eight public tours are offered between April and November, with visitors keeping their eyes out for old Revolutionary War soldiers and a mysterious “Victorian Lady in Mourning.” 907 State Street in Schenectady. (518) 346-0423. Bonus: Chase away the bad mojo with more than 600 varieties of wicked good old-fashioned treats at Uncle Sam’s All-American Chocolate Factory, located at 2571 Albany Street in Schenectady.

For more Halloween tricks and treats, check out I Love NY’s well-curated roster of scream-fests.