Jamestown Settlement, a living history museum of 17th-century Virginia, is always an exciting and unforgettable experience for visitors. Highlights of the re-created fort include dwellings with thatched roofs, an Anglican church, a court of guard, a storehouse, a cape merchant’s office and a governor’s house, and a staff of enthusiastic and knowledgeable interpreters are always eager to share the trades and customs of the times. But this weekend, the folks at Jamestown Settlement are escalating that excitement as they transform the entire site for the sixth annual Family Frights—a fun-filled, humorously spooky Halloween realm that holds surprises and treats around every corner as well as a rare opportunity to explore the Settlement after dark.

“The innovative and creative staff is just as excited as the visitors are about this event,” said interpretive program manager Homer Lanier. “It’s an opportunity for them to leave their day jobs behind and present a fantastic Halloween event that we specifically designed for families and kids. This year’s theme, sets, special effects and scenarios were all the brainchild of members of the staff, and planning for this year’s Family Frights began last May.”

Staff will swap their traditional 17th- and 18th-century garb for costumes depicting this year’s theme “Classic Movie Monsters and Famous Fairy Tale Princesses.”



The mysterious minstrels of the Cigar Box String Band will entertain visitors from their ghostly gazebo and families will enter the fort to see the buildings have been transformed to depict the worlds of Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, as well as Frankenstein, Count Dracula and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. (Lanier’s 16-year-old son, Owen, has volunteered with the event since he was 10 and, this year, has the honor of making his appearance as the Creature from the Black Lagoon.) Meanwhile, in the carnival’s sideshow, visitors can delight in the sights of a ringmaster trying to train a tiger and a strongman exhibiting his astonishing feats of strength. Kids will have fun trick-or-treating along the way and can try their luck at carnival games such as pumpkin bowling and a witch’s bean-bag toss. In addition, they can stop at craft stations to create pipe-cleaner bats and spiders to take home and visit face-painters and balloon artists who will be creating swords and hats. Families can also enjoy captivating spooky tales in the church or on hay bales around a bonfire.

As families journey down to the site of re-creations of the three ships that carried the first permanent English colonists on their four-and-a-half-month journey across the ocean, they will walk down the boardwalk of the “Forest of Frights.”

“We will have a little spookiness with sound effects and fog, but everything is lighthearted and fun, and we’ve strategically placed torches to light the way,” said Lanier. Once at the dock, families will see that the Godspeed, Discovery and the Susan Constant have been magically transformed into The Good Ship Lollipop (think Candyland), a “How to Train Your Dragon” vessel (fit for a Viking) and the mysteriously abandoned, haunted Flying Dutchman.

“You might catch sight of big tentacles coming over the Dragon’s side (it’s amazing what the staff did with pool noodles) or you might see Captain Hook aboard the Dutchman and a few pirates along the way. Though they might look a little scary at first, they are sure to break into a smile and ask if you’ve gotten any candy from their treasure chest,” said Lanier.

Visitors are welcomed to come in their Halloween costumes, and families may want to make a day of their trip, visiting Jamestown Settlement during the day, having a quick dinner and then returning to experience the thrill of Family Frights.

“There will be something new to see and do everywhere you turn, and families can take photos throughout the site, including at some special photo-op settings and cut-outs that we created,” said Lanier. “Everything is driven by the staff and volunteers. We really wouldn’t be able to offer this unforgettable family event without great support. It’s a lot of work for us, but it’s just as much fun for us to see how it all comes together and how much our visitors enjoy it.”

Collette Caprara is a local writer and artist.

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