Halloween Blitz Day 4: Old Sturbridge Village, The Haunted Graveyard

I love Halloween attractions because unlike bars they’re creative and unlike museums and concerts they’re interactive. So this year I’m doing a Halloween blitz! The Events INSIDER team and I are visiting 28 attractions in 10 days, going indoors, outdoors, and as far away as New Hampshire and Connecticut. Click and scroll to the bottom to see my list of 160 Halloween attractions and more creative October events than anyplace else!

Day 4: Sunday, October 27, 2013. On our way to two days in Connecticut, we stopped at Old Sturbridge Village and then visited The Haunted Graveyard, which is part of the amusement park Lake Compounce!

Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge MA (4.5 stars)

Old Sturbridge Village, while it is not a haunted attraction, is open through the fall and winter, and is one of my two favorite places to stop when I’m passing through Worcester. (The other is Davis Farmland and MegaMaze, but I was just there a few weeks ago.) It’s a re-enactment village of the 1830s, where each structure is an actual old building, most of them built elsewhere and then relocated to Sturbridge. You can see a tinsmith, a blacksmith, a saw mill, and dozens of other old timey locations and professions (even a lawyer’s house). They have a house which is “hands on” and lets you touch and play with the old timey toys and clothing.. You can enjoy the walk through the forest and around a lake. It’s especially pretty with the fall leaves during colors.

While the actors don’t speak as though they are people from history, they do dress in period costumes. I suppose that on a Monday in the off-peak season they may have had fewer staff than my last visit and the place seemed a bit quiet. It was a good stroll but a reminder that while Old Sturbridge Village is my favorite re-enactment museum but it’s always best to visit when they have a festival going on — and there is almost always something happening on the weekends! And it’s perhaps my favorite place to go for July 4th celebrations. So only a 4.5 stars this time, but choose your date wisely and you’ll find it a 5-stars plus.

The Haunted Graveyard, Bristol CT (5 stars)

The Haunted Graveyard isn’t just a standalone attraction. It’s based in the oldest amusement park in the United States, Lake Compounce! The location is extensive and, except for its water rides, is completely open in the fall. The Boulder Dash roller coaster was voted the #1 wooden roller coaster in America as listed in USA Today in 2004 and 2014. It’s a very long ride that’s built into a hillside, with lots of twists and turns but none of those newfangled upside-downy scares. So it’s safe for moms and dads, and we loved it. We had a fantastic time on the bumper cars and just strolling the lane, where dancers perform Michael Jackson’s Thriller. We were so pleased to see that, unlike at Canobie Lake Park (which we love), you can get a decent meal at Lake Compounce. They had hot cider, a stand with soup and bread, and even a Johnny Rockets serving hamburgers and french fries that left me feeling wholesome, not grossed out.

The attraction is extensive and will take you at least 45 minutes to walk through, with no breaks. It just goes on and on! My favorite was a green laser in the fog that created a horizontal plane, just like a lake of water creates a horizontal surface. Then creatures break the surface and spook you as you seem to descend into hell. I’ve seen lasers in other places, but not used in quite that way before. Special effects included three “vortexes” where the room appears to spin, at least two fog rooms, and one of which had bright eyes popping out of the darkness. Then the displays! There must be 200 displays in The Haunted Graveyard, my favorites being the demon feast and sacrifice with goat heads. But I also loved the werewolves, the jungle path, the ancient Mexican adventure… it was incredibly extensive.

The attraction isn’t consistently 100% high production value, but some elements such as the moat and castle are almost worthy of a set on a TV show. And there is definitely a floor of quality that The Haunted Graveyard never descends below in terms of staging. A lot of attractions put up plywood to create an inexpensive maze, but it’s clear from the thin wood, even if it’s painted, that it’s not a house, but rather a temporary construction, and it breaks the suspension of disbelief. At The Haunted Graveyard, the halls have archways overhead and embellishments such as stonework, so it feels like you’re really in a building, even if for fire code reasons there is no ceiling.

We did find a lot of the actors moving backwards, having gotten too far forward somehow, or standing idle, having a bit of difficulty perhaps managing such a constant stream of people. But really, there is nothing not to love at The Haunted Graveyard, and its setting in a great amusement park just makes it all the more attractive as a destination.

I got a chance to interview owner Ernie Romegialli.

Events INSIDER: How long have you been doing this haunt for? Does it stay up all year?

Romegialli: This is our 23rd year. It’s our 13th year at Lake Compounce.

Events INSIDER: Is it permanently up all year?

Romegialli: 90% of it stays up. The queue line comes down. The last 16 feet of the endless hallways come down. All the props come out. The two houses on the road, the demons with the stretchy walls.

Events INSIDER: You clearly have a passion for it. Do you have a theatre background?

Romegialli: Nope, no background in theatre whatsoever. If my daughter had never gotten diabetes, I would never have done this. I never even liked horror movies.

Events INSIDER: Oh, is this a fundraiser? Is she okay?

Romegialli: It’s not a fundraiser anymore. It’s just too expensive [ to run it non-commercially ]. She’s doing okay. She’s 27 but she’s still my little girl.

Events INSIDER: Have you got a favorite in the maze?

Romegialli: I think every time you add something new that it becomes your favorite, like the facade of catacombs. We did the banshees over this year with glitter. And then the mist, I’ve always loved the mist. We threw that up when I got upset at the world that day. I was throwing spider panels around like I was a wild man. It was a junk house, a filler house, and I didn’t feel like doing it any longer. Everybody hated my guts because we did that in a couple of days. Then the barn, the dairy…

Events INSIDER: Yes, the display with the cows. Haunted cows? What’s the deal with the cows?

Romegialli: Nothing. Just every farm needs some cows. I spent a couple thousand dollars on [fake] cows. I built that entire scene around the milk truck because I loved it. I thought, “That’s so unique I have to buy it,” and we built the barn in a couple of days.

Events INSIDER: How many actors do you have, if that’s not a secret?

Romegialli: We have over 200 actors.

Events INSIDER: I’m especially fond of the cemetery because it’s open. There are a couple of places that have a dip, where the ground gives in under your feet. That’s intentional, right?

Romegialli: You know what those are? Mattresses [buried just under the dirt].

Events INSIDER: Thanks for your time today. If I was the only person in there I would definitely still be inside admiring your displays. Would you like to add anything?

Romegialli: You’re welcome! We were on the Travel Channel, and they rated us one of the best haunted attractions in the country.

The Haunted Graveyard clearly deserves a 5 stars PLUS for amazing value and an amazing location. But is it still the best haunted attraction in New England, as I named it in 2011? Well, with two of their lasers having burned out, and with some of the actors a touch clueless (we got mostly screams and snarls rather than thematic lines of dialogue), I am not ready yet to make a judgment. There was some very strong work by Haunted Acres, Haunted Overload, and others this year. We will just have to wait until after Day 10 and I will give out some awards then! I have no hesitation in calling The Haunted Graveyard a must see location. What are you waiting for? Go there now!

Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast

At the end of our evening, we stayed at the Brigadoon Bed & Breakfast in Mystic, Connecticut and I got a chance to interview owner Kay. She and her husband William have been running the place for 25 years in the tourist town near the Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport, and so many other attractions. Although Kay does not do the accent, even for fun, she does come from Scotland and had many stories to relate. They’ve had many weddings and engagements at their destinations. Once while Kay and William were away on vacation, and had given over the place to a caretaker, they had a fireman as a guest. The fireman was curious about their high tech smoke alarm system and accidentally triggered it! They had to call the fire marshall to turn it off. It’s a good thing that fireman wasn’t curious about their matches.

We loved the feeling that the Brigadoon home is an old place with some history, and almost all the decorations were thematic about Scotland, but not in an over-the-top Disney way. Kay and William offered wine and brownies, were very friendly, and seemed to understand that travelers are tired and not necessarily looking for conversation. So they gave us our space when needed. Our room was exceptionally clean, in great shape, and came with a giant modern shower that we so much appreciated. Many places only offer a single option for breakfast, but Kay and William offer two items on their menu: generally eggs and then something else such as waffles or pancakes. Really, we could not have had a better experience in someone’s private home and heartily recommend Brigadoon to travelers.

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