Spooktopia's debut deemed a runaway success

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Oct. 28, 2013
The Flake family - Zackary, 12, Tyler, 2, mom Jennifer and Connor, 6 - dressed to the nines for Jewett City's Spooktopia Halloween festival. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
The Flake family - Zackary, 12, Tyler, 2, mom Jennifer and Connor, 6 - dressed to the nines for Jewett City's Spooktopia Halloween festival. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Jewett City hosted what may well become a new tradition Oct. 26, as the Halloween extravaganza dubbed “Spooktopia” debuted at Veterans’ Memorial Park. A daytime carnival segued seamlessly into a “trunk or treat” event, where costumed children could collect candy and other goodies from a string of cars decorated for the occasion by participating residents. Music, food, games and activities made the autumnal version of Youthtopia a fun event, despite the chilly temperatures.

Hoards of trunk-or-treaters started heading up the hill for goodies hours before the planned 7 p.m. starting time. Jenn Lien, who along with her husband, David, had transformed their hatchback car into a pirate cave sprinkled with skulls, was handing out candy to a steady stream of small goblins. “I thought [the start time] was 7 o’clock, too,” she said. “But you can’t say no to kids, right?”

“We knew it was going to be packed,” said Ashley Grant, who was steering her daughter Kaylee, 4, through the treat line. “But this is crazy.”

“It’s a lot of people, a really good turnout,” said fellow “trunker” Kevin Whitcher, who used his children’s stroller as the base for a black-sailed “pirate ship.” He wasn’t worried about running out of treats. “I’ve got two more bags,” he said.

“I think that up there it’s probably pretty crazy right now,” said Griswold Youth Services Director Ryan Aubin, gesturing to the hill where the “trunkers” were set up.  “I thought it went over very, very well, even without the inflatables.”

Plans for the bouncy tents had to be scrapped because of the high winds, Aubin said. The late-night outdoor movie, to be projected on an inflatable screen, was cancelled too. “The screen would have wound up over there in the water,” he said.

Recreation Commission Chair Jamie Caporaso said the event drew “a fantastic turnout. I think every one of these trunkers is out of candy, but they’re not stopping. This is why we wanted it – it’s great for the community. It’s fun to see all the little kids.”

Jewett City Fire Department officials estimated the attendance as between 1,000 and 2,000 children through the course of the event.
Local vendors plied their handcrafted wares, and numerous local businesses and non-profit agencies staffed activity and food booths through the afternoon. Griswold High School music teacher Raymond Churchill and a crowd of teens staffed the Eastern Connecticut Performing Arts booth, where a big-screen television played video of the ECPA’s summer concert and students performed live throughout the day. “Now we’re just trying to feel our fingers,” he said, as darkness fell and the group began taking down its tent.

Greeting visitors at the park’s entrance were dozens of hand-carved jack-o’-lanterns, a tribute to the late Edgar Fontaine, who died last year. For years, Fontaine had set up a spectacular pumpkin display at his Norman Road home, enlisting help from the local youth and senior centers to carve hundreds of jack-o’-lanterns to line the walls and roof of his quirky house. Organizers said that he was the inspiration behind Spooktopia.

Even though the haunted firehouse at the A.A. Young Hose and Ladder Co. station on Hill Street was scheduled to close at 7, at 7:45 the line to enter still snaked around the firehouse and down toward the park. Inside the firehouse basement, walls made of gray tarps led visitors through a maze of creepy music, fog, ghoulish animated “decorations” and a small army of costumed pre-teens strategically placed to jump out and terrify the unsuspecting.

“It’s scary in here,” said Teegan, 4, as her mom carried her toward the exit. Near the door, a tempting dish of candy stood, tended by a “vampire.”

“Would you like a piece of candy?” the vampire inquired sweetly. Teegan reached out tentatively – and was startled by a skeletal “hand” tickling her fingers in the bowl.

Rhiannon, 9, who played the vampire, said her dad is a firefighter. Her companion, a creepy ghost patrolling nearby on a bicycle, pulled off his mask. “It’s so hot,” said Greg Coleman, 13. He said that he and his mom have helped set up the haunted house at the nearby Jacques Cartier Club in past years.

Fire police officer Neal Hamilton, who said he’d spent the entire day shepherding pedestrians across Taylor Hill Road, conducted an informal poll of departing children as they crossed the street. “Everybody said they had a good time,” he said.

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