Cotsen Pumpkin Patch

Denslow’s ABC Book. Denslow, W. W. New York : G.W. Dillingham Co., 1903. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Halloween is just around the corner, which means it’s time to head to the pumpkin patch for your favorite festive gourd! Katie and I thought it would be fun to venture into the Cotsen Children’s Library’s special collections vaults and pull a few pumpkin treasures. Enjoy some historic pumpkins from 1900-1990!

Halloween ABC, poems by Eve Merriam ; illustrations by Lane Smith. New York : Macmillan, c1987. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

See My Lovely Poison Ivy : and Other Verses About Witches, Ghosts, and Things. By Lilian Moore, pictures by Diane Dawson.New York : Atheneum, c1975. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

The Sun-Bonnet Babies. by Bertha L. Corbett. Minneapolis, Minnesota (no publisher given). c1900. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by Sylvia Plachy.

One quick note about the pumpkin patch photographed above. It’s from a book titled Halloween (Atheneum, 1993). Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner, it features amazing photographers like Sylvia Plachy, William Wegman, Sally Mann, and Phyllis Galembo. All the royalties and profits were donated to the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. There is a touching introduction to the work of the Pediatric AIDS Foundation by Francesca DeLaurentis, age 10. The book is an incredible collaboration on so many levels.

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by William Wegman.

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by Sally Mann.

Halloween. Written and with photographs selected by Katherine Leiner. New York : Atheneum, c1993. Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library. Photograph by Phyllis Galembo.

Destination: Sleepy Hollow

When the pumpkins begin to grow ripe on the vine, my thoughts always turn to my favorite spooky story since childhood, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I’ve always wanted to visit Sleepy Hollow and walk across that famous bridge, and this past weekend, I got my chance!

The tale was first published in 1820, and begins in Tarrytown, New York, on the banks of the Hudson river. Sleepy Hollow is a quiet glen a few miles away. Tarrytown most definitely exists, and North Tarrytown was officially renamed Sleepy Hollow in 1996. Here you will find all the famous sites, such as the cemetery where the Headless Horseman is said to materialize.

I love the graphics on top of this historical sign…

The churchyard is part of the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, which was constructed in the 17th century. Featured in Irving’s short story, it’s one of the of the oldest churches in New York State.

From the church, we headed down to the FAMOUS BRIDGE. Which, as it turns out, is the “is the most popular destination in Sleepy Hollow that doesn’t exist.” Because the simple 1700s wooden bridge that inspired Irving has long since disintegrated (you can read a little more bridge history here).

The bridge is located in a pretty major intersection with a gas station nearby. So it’s almost a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it historical literary moment. Here’s the bridge as it stands today…

And here’s a postcard image of the historic bridge! With the logs, the stonework, and the silken water…you can absolutely imagine being clocked by a pumpkin at a ghostly hour.

Not far from the bridge is the town’s official statue, depicting Ichabod’s fatal race home. This was a bit of a surprise too. I expected something more traditional. But I like the metal layers on this interpretation – they’re almost like a paper cut silhouettes. Unveiled Halloween 2006, the statue was designed by artist Linda Perlmutter, and fabricated by MILGO/BUFKIN.

The Sleepy Hollow cemetery, church, bridge, and statue are all across the street from the Philipsburg Manor Upper Mills, which is a restored 18th century living-history museum (you can read more here). It’s currently closed for restoration work.

We also got an unexpected surprise at the nearby Philipse Manor train station, which operates on the Metro-North Railroad’s Hudson Line. The station’s pedestrian bridge had really cool stained glass windows…

And check out the VIEW of the Hudson River on the other side!

I also recommend heading to Patriot Park, which is on the border of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. It boasts stone bridges, staircases, and water. And plenty of green space to run around on!

At this point, we were getting hungry, so we headed over to Tarrytown for some bites. Main Street was charming, walk-able, and there were plenty of eateries to chose from.

One other building of note is the historic Tarrytown Music Hall, a 136 year-old historic theater. Supposedly haunted, and yes, they DO have ghost tours. And yes, I’m definitely kicking myself for not thinking of buying tickets in advance of my trip!

The sun was starting to set as we headed back to New Jersey with haunted places still on our minds. This Halloween, when I revisit Irving’s tale, I’ll actually be able to say that I’ve walked through the cemetery, stood next to the church, and crossed the bridge! How awesome is that?

The House of Potter

Ready for a stroll down Diagon Alley? Perhaps gaze upon an ever-shifting gothic window? Or maybe you’d like to enjoy the portrait gallery before you ramble through the graveyard? Behold the astounding efforts of Matthew Howard and his family, who have been upping the Hogwarts Halloween stakes since 2018. Katie chatted with Matt about this amazing endeavor!

Who had the original idea to start decorating your house for Halloween?

It started in 2017 when we wanted to bring more trick or treaters into our neighborhood. We placed a homemade cutout of Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas in our front window and backlit it to create a silhouette. It was really well received. Not only was it fun for the community, it was fun for our whole family to build. The following year, my wife, Brianna, said, “I wish I could go to Hogwarts. Wouldn’t it also be fun if we had our own Diagon Alley in the front yard?” And so the construction began.

Do you have any experience in construction or set design? Or have you been learning as you build?

I don’t have any construction or set design experience, but as a kid I was always encouraged with “why don’t you build a fort?” when I was bored. It started with pillows and blankets, but as I got older, I started using lumber and building treehouses. Between that, and a great art class in high school, it gave me a solid foundation to build this project upon.

Is this endeavor a family project?

The whole family participates in building the sets. I always ask my daughters if they want to help. They have helped trace the initial projections onto wood, learned to use power tools safely with my supervision, but their favorite activity is painting the sets. Brianna designs and creates most of the small details and props of the display. This includes the window displays in Ollivanders Wand Shop and Honeydukes, as well as the flying Hogwarts acceptance letters. These details create a more immersive experience and have been the main factor in some people staying for 45 minutes looking at all the small intricacies that make the house so magical.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

Most people assume the biggest challenges are building the large props and sets. Surprisingly, the biggest issue is securing everything from the wind. We overlooked this for a while and just kept resetting gravestones or other props. Then during one particularly windy year, Ollivanders blew over and we had to spend hours rebuilding it. Since then, everything we build has wind and weather in mind. We expanded our Diagon Alley display this year, and we knew wind would be a huge issue with the larger surface area. Behind the façade, there are a lot of supports bolted into the cement. This is not the most fun part of building our Harry Potter House, but it is essential.

Best guess: how many times have you gone to a hardware store and/or lumber yard for supplies? 

The funny part is I plan what I will need to minimize trips, but there is always a box of screws we run out of or a can of paint that has dried out. I love it when we have an idea, mid-build, to make something better. It makes the extra run out to the hardware store more exciting as my imagination is creating big plans. But if I had to guess, we probably go to the hardware store between 1-5 times per weekend from Labor Day weekend up until the day of Halloween.

What is it like for you when you see the reaction of people who trick-or-treat at your house?

This is the most incredible part of the whole build. While the kids think it is really cool, I have noticed it is the adults that really get a lot out of it.  Many times, adults will strike up a conversation with us: “I remember the excitement of reading each new book as it came out. This is amazing and it is fun to share this with my kids. Thank you for doing this.” It is really fun to watch as families come up, and each family member is pointing in different directions saying, “Wow! Look that that!” As people approach the house, they run up excitedly shouting, “Harry Potter!” or “We love Harry Potter!”

The highlight is watching everyone’s faces, seeing the positive reactions, and bringing our community together. People bump into old friends all the time here and stop to take photos. It is fun to see how much joy our decorations bring to people of all ages, hearing what their favorite parts of the display are, or why they love the books and movies so much. It is very rewarding and that is why we love doing it.

Where and when can people see your incredible Harry Potter House?

We are located near the Cottle exit of Highway 85 in San Jose, California. Our displays will be running on October 31 and November 1. If anyone is interested in stopping by and seeing the house in person, more information can be found on our Facebook page.

Any advice for others who are inspired to transform their residence into Hogwarts for Halloween?

I think the most important thing is picking a theme you really love and will be excited by every year. Once you have that, just make a plan. We tend to do 1-2 big additions each year and the rest is just coming up with smaller details to add. If you have kids, think about how you can include them.  This will make October a month the whole family looks forward to every year.

Early thoughts on the Harry Potter magic you’d like to construct for next year?

We find the plans for the following year tend to come out of a project we thought of the year before but didn’t have the money or time to complete. Last year’s idea was the entrance to Hogwarts, but that was too much money and too much time. What is great about that is you then find yourself thinking about it for the whole next year and designing it in your head. So when it is finally the time to build, it is even better than your initial idea. This year I really wanted to build more façades for Diagon Alley (and maybe Knockturn Alley?), but we ran out of time and money. So perhaps you can guess what new additions you might see in 2021.

One final important question: what Hogwarts House did the Sorting Hat place you in?

I believe it was two years ago when we sat down and read through the full descriptions of each Hogwarts House on Pottermore. The Sorting Hat then placed three of us into Ravenclaw, and our youngest was placed in Gryffindor. It has been fun to watch our girls grow and continue to see their House attributes and qualities play out. The Sorting Hat sure knows what it is doing.


Images courtesy of Matthew Howard, and the Harry Potter House Facebook page