Witchingtonville Draws 3,000
By Eugenia Moskowitz
What started as a small village event spearheaded by the Washingtonville Placemaking Events Committee at Vern Allen Park on Oct. 21 unexpectedly grew to a crowd of 3,000 as word got out about this unique Halloween family festival. Visitors from surrounding towns and beyond flooded the area with their children of all ages.
“What we wanted was a simple fall festival and were initially expecting maybe a couple hundred people,” said Rebecca Akers, a member of the events committee. “Then, about 1,300 people became interested in the event on social media. The perfect weather was, in my opinion, the icing on the cake that really drove the number up, and what we got was…well, I’m just speechless.” While Placemaking organizers, recognizing that people love fall festivals and noting that Washingtonville seemed to be dormant in the autumn, had been focusing on a fall lineup of events for months, they did not expect anywhere near the final crowd number, which one local resident said was a testament to the spirit of “our big small-town.”
The committee had brainstormed and organized the festival to include a Halloween costume parade; community-created witches; hanging witch heads; a hayride through woods infested with handmade special-effects zombies donated by the Andy and Heidi Gross of Niese’s Maple Farm and Apiary; a monster tunnel slide; a dance performance by local NYPAC dancers; classic Halloween music by DJ Jeff Blizard including the Monster Mash and the Time Warp; the weekly Washingtonville Farmers Market tables; a professional autumn photo shoot booth by Denni Lozza Photography; games, activities, sack-races, and face painting; and a huge Trunk-or-Treat in the parking area. Commemorative t-shirts by Printing Express quickly sold out between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. when Hocus Pocus was shown courtesy of the Blooming Grove/Washingtonville Chamber of Commerce on the big outdoor audio-visual system run by Four Legs Records’ Steve and Noni Goldman, who organized and ran the outdoor live music and movie series Date Night last summer. Every element of the festival was supplied by local businesses and volunteers.
A mom holding an infant dressed as a fairy said she was happy she didn’t have to go elsewhere for Halloween fun with her little ones and said she’s been loving what the Placemaking initiative has been doing in Washingtonville. One dad in a goblin mask said, “I was born and raised here, and I’m raising my own family in the house I grew up in. Washingtonville has every element other towns have, it’s nice to see that finally being shown.” In the last year alone, since Placemaking began and a new village board supportive of such events was elected, the town has visibly spruced up with seasonal beautification, public green spaces in which to hold events (such as The Lot and the reopening of Vern Allen Park), as well as deeper structural changes and improvements both underway and slated for the near future.
The crowd was said to be more typical of an event in a larger town that draws people in from other areas. Akers said people are calling it “our Applefest,” alluding to Warwick’s annual fall festival which, while currently 10 times larger than Witchingtonville, started out similarly about a decade ago. While local food vendors moved quickly to serve the hungry masses, a resident eating sliders on the grass with her kids dressed as Swamp Thing, Sacagawea, and Greek Goddess, said, “When I saw the crowd, my jaw dropped. Never before have I seen this in Washingtonville, people streaming in, cars parking everywhere. I don’t even know where I parked. It’s just great.”
1: The monster slide, created by Sardella Builders and Betty’s, was made from heavy gauge sewer pipe and hay bales. (Photo by Maaike Wiegman-Leavey)