Entering the Horseman’s Hollow

Why the Hudson Valley is scarier than Salem, MA

My prediction: Our area is overtaking Salem, Massachusetts as the Halloween capital of the country.

Sure, we’ve always had great Halloween activities, but the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze clued the rest of the area in to how the Halloween season and the Hudson Valley go hand-in-hand. (After all, who can honestly celebrate a harvest season, surrounded by all the colors of fall, in a city?) Last year, 68,000 visitors came to see the 4,000 pumpkins all lit up for the Blaze.

That’s great — it’s just not very scary. Halloween is the one holiday where we actually get to try and scare each other, instead of being all pious and thankful for the good things in our lives, and we don’t want waste the opportunity. Especially when we have our own favorite local monster: The Headless Horseman.

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Enter the Horseman’s Hollow. The folks over at Historic Hudson Valley have transformed Philipsburg Manor in Sleepy Hollow — the village at the heart of Washington Irving’s famous Legend of Sleepy Hollow — into a mostly outdoor haunted trail where the Horseman and other ghouls menace visitors at every turn.

When I spoke with the creators of the Horseman’s Hollow for the October issue of Westchester Magazine, they said the mission of the Hollow was to scare, yes, but in a way that stayed true to the kinds of haunts imaginable in Washington Irving’s time. “It’s not the generic haunted house experience,” Rob Schweitzer, director of public relations for Historic Hudson Valley, told me. “Everything is rooted in the history and the heritage of our area and fits in with what we talk about year-round.”

I went to the opening weekend of the Horseman’s Hollow to investigate how well they did. It’s funny, because I always thought of Philipsburg Manor as being a cheery little building, its white façade quaint like a white-picket fence. But driving up to it last weekend was definitely spooky, with scarecrows lining both sides of Route 9 through the village of Tarrytown, the cute white house being lit up in ghostly colors, and eerie music audible from the parking lot.

And, once inside, the scenes were certainly gruesome. I won’t go into details or give spoilers, but even with the limitation of keeping everything in the late-1700s period, they devised some scenes that would rival what you’d see in a Hostel movie. (Did I mention it’s not really for children?)

A rotating cast of 40 to 50 professional actors populate the horseman’s town, although they’re not generally the type that hide behind corners and pop out and yell “boo!” (if that’s your type of thing). There are some surprises, sure, but these zombies and witches are more likely to stare at you intently as you cross a room, or file in line behind you until you turn around and realize that you were being followed. It is very creepy, but not always in a way that elicits a scream.

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And, of course, there is a Headless Horseman, looking frightening on his steed. I don’t really want to think about how hard it must be to ride around on the Philipsburg Manor grounds without a head. (Seriously, how can the actor see enough to carry out his beheadings?) I’d rather just delight in his search for a replacement.

My advice: Show up on the later side (or during a time slot when you can see that there are lots of tickets remaining). Earlier time slots seem to be the ones that are selling out the fastest. We went at a very popular time, and there were sections where the trail slowed to a crawl, or stopped completely. The staff did its best to try and meter out the pacing of the guests, but that meant a longer wait to get into certain parts of the attraction.

Remaining Horseman’s Hollow dates are October 22-24 & 28-30, with the first reservation at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased through the Historic Hudson Valley Web site.

Head here: Philipsburg Manor. 381 N. Broadway (Rte. 9), Sleepy Hollow. 914-631-8200

Readers, have you been to the Hollow (or any other good attractions) yet? Let me know in the comments box below — and check out HV Mag’s Halloween Roundup here

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