A peculiar truth about Halloween lies in its split personality.
On the one hand, there is the kitschy Halloween beloved by small children, with silly or clever costumes, jack-o’-lanterns, and mountains of candy. On the other hand, there is the haunted-house fun of a good scare — be it from a gory costume or a spooky noise.
While traditional house-to-house trick-or-treating may still be the best way to spend Halloween itself, and many communities offer shop-to-shop events in their downtown areas, there are also any number of ways to explore the other dimensions of the holiday, whether your preference leans more toward a walk through a graveyard or a craft activity.
See a murder mystery; trick-or-treat with musical instruments; hear historical ghost stories: The possibilities are nearly endless this Halloween season.
Take the cemetery tour in Lexington, for example.
Jane Morse of the Lexington Historical Society still recalls her surprise the first time her organization offered a Halloween-themed nighttime stroll through the Old Burying Ground.
“I did not expect that 50 percent of our participants would be adults,” she said. “We had conceived of it as an event for kids. But adults saw it as their first chance to take a guided walk through the burying ground. And kids always love it too. We light the path with lanterns and have actors in 18th-century attire. Rick Beyer, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, wrote our script. It’s educational but also mysterious and mystical.”
Another place offering a historical Halloween is Gore Place in Waltham, site of the 19th-century mansion of Governor Christopher Gore and his family, which offers the last of its “Frightful Fridays” series this week.
“Gore Place is all about telling stories,” said Thom Roach, the property’s director of programs. “Whether the subject is the Gore family, their servants, or ghosts, telling stories is what we do best. The year that the Gores starting living in this mansion year-round, 1816, was the same year that Mary Shelley wrote ‘Frankenstein,’ which began when a group of friends had a contest to see who could write the best horror story. That was typical entertainment of that period, and when we host our Frightful Fridays, with costumed characters throughout the mansion telling scary stories, we are doing something in a historical setting in a historically accurate way.”
Roach’s view on the power of ghost stories in literary history is further borne out at the Orchard House in Concord, childhood home of Louisa May Alcott. On Saturday afternoon, the Orchard House staff will tell stories from Alcott’s books and journals that echo her family’s keen appreciation of a good ghost story.
Meanwhile, at ArtBeat in Arlington, owner Jan Whitted is a firm believer in the value of hands-on Halloween craft making, at least for younger kids. From personal experience, she understands that there are various perspectives on the holiday.
“My daughter has always loved Halloween, while it was never one of my favorites in childhood,” Whitted said. “To me, it was scary; but she loved the theatrical aspect of dressing up and using a disguise to fool someone in a fun way.”
ArtBeat will offer a drop-in workshop next weekend for children and teens to decorate trick-or-treating bags. Whitted sees crafts as a fine way for people of all ages to celebrate Halloween.
“It’s very special to get together with family or friends and create a special decoration in honor of the season,” she said. “For kids who don’t like ghosts and monsters, there are symbols such as scarecrows, pumpkins, and owls that reflect this time of year. Art gives you a way to stay away from the scary or frightening aspects of the holiday.”
But, as Whitted pointed out, there are plenty of kids who like putting on scary costumes — and so do some adults.
Costuming is encouraged for the audience attending “Murder at the Masquerade,” an interactive “whodunit” dinner theater production on Oct. 30 at Merchants Row in Concord’s Colonial Inn, an antique dwelling itself widely rumored to be haunted.
In keeping with the theme of the show, organizers hope that guests will add to the ambience by wearing Venetian masks, formal masquerade dresses, tuxedos, feather hair pieces, and vintage hats.
Guy Chiapponi, a member of North Shore Acappella, is another entertainer who hopes to look out over the footlights and see adults in costume. He confesses that when the Center for Arts in Natick first contacted him about doing a Halloween-themed show, he was reluctant to suggest to his ensemble that they all dress in costume. “We’re old guys,” he explained. But the other four singers loved the idea, and when the curtain goes up on “Spookatella,” the group’s concert Saturday night, they plan to open with “Monster Mash.”
But the best part of the Halloween-themed performance at TCAN comes at the end, said Chiapponi, when a cappella groups from Natick High School and Northeastern University join his ensemble on stage for Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” — complete with the younger singers dressed as ghouls and werewolves.
In Wellesley, the Dana Hall School of Music throws open its doors to kids and adults alike for its third annual Halloween open house with musical trick-or-treating next Sunday afternoon. Children are welcome to wear costumes. Not only will trick-or-treaters find candy, but behind each door they knock on will be a different musical instrument to discover, including a piano, a violin, a harp, and even an erhu (a two-stringed fiddle).
Yet another venue for a Halloween party is the Spellman Museum of Stamps and Postal History, on the Regis College campus in Weston. The museum on Saturday hosts its annual Halloween Family Day, at which guests may decorate pumpkins and trick-or-treat bags with stamps, create Halloween cards to mail to friends, or make a Halloween collage. Children are welcome to wear costumes.
The Sudbury Valley Trustees organization is hosting its annual “Pumpkin Patch,” a family Halloween and costume party, at Wolbach Farm in Sudbury on Saturday.
And the Massachusetts Audubon Society’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln continues its annual Halloween tradition with “Tales of the Night” on Thursday and Friday. Visitors can take a haunted hayride, get upclose to insects in the Creepy Critter Mansion, meet their favorite storybook characters on the Nursery Rhyme Trail, and view more than 100 jack-o’-lanterns while learning about nocturnal wildlife from Drumlin Farm educators.
Nancy Shohet West can be reached at nancyswest@ gmail.com.