Witches invade a New Haven church

NEW HAVEN — In one of the most famous images associated with the Salem Witch Trials, lightning strikes through the fanlight window of an austere New England meeting room, unchaining a woman accused of witchcraft and knocking her inquisitor to the floor.
Joseph E. Baker’s 1892 lithograph “Witch No. 1” is a startling, complex depiction of a dark and fearful time, which makes it the perfect inspiration for this time of year.
In the New Haven Congregational Church, where organizers are “bewitching” the sanctuary for Halloween, a copy of Baker’s lithograph was pinned to an idea board during a recent decorating session.
“We’ve been wanting to do witches for a while,” said Suzy Roorda, the events coordinator for the town of New Haven. “We pick up stuff all through the year from flea markets and consignment shops, and we put out a wish list on Front Porch Forum. We try to get the community involved.”
Little by little, since planning began in July, organizers have been collecting, drawing, cutting, gluing, sewing and painting. Construction began in earnest on Oct. 1. The Congregational Church has donated the use of its sanctuary for the entire month to allow organizers to build what will likely be their greatest creation yet.
Their inspiration has by no means been limited to the unsavory pages of history, however. From the beginning the project has been about fun.
“One idea generated another and then another,” said Taunia Cantin. “We got inspiration from each other and then just ran with it.”
As work got under way, Roorda and Cantin’s fellow organizer Sara Smith gave the Independent a sneak preview of what visitors can expect — if they’re brave enough to enter into the witches’ domain. And though the Independent has sworn a vow of secrecy (so as not to spoil any surprises) we can say this: A call for technical volunteer assistance has been answered, and this year’s Haunted Church is getting a few upgrades, including special lighting, sounds and magical objects.
Volunteer guides providing historical and magical commentary will lead small groups through the Bewitched Church, where a series of spooky encounters will await them. Visitors are more likely to be charmed and wowed than frightened out of their wits.
“The goal is for it to be startling, but not shocking,” Smith said.
Previous Haunted Churches have been a big hit, she added. A pirate-themed event a couple of years ago drew more than 250 people.
This year’s haunting takes place this Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, from 6 to 9 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will gratefully be accepted.
The event is cosponsored by the town’s events department and the Congregational Church, with additional support from Kathy and Martin Clark of Martin’s Hardware, Aubuchon of Vergennes and Dunkin’ Donuts.
New Haven will hold its annual “Trunk or Treat” the same weekend in the Congregational Church parking lot.
Trunk or Treats have evolved all over the country as a fun and safe alternative to traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating. Costumed children visit a series of elaborately decorated automobiles, collecting their goodies “trunk by trunk.”
SARA SMITH, LEFT, Tauna Cantin and Suzy Roorda stand around a large cauldron they are building for the “Bewitched Haunted Church” event they are helping to organize at the New Haven Congregational Church.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The New Haven event typically attracts anywhere from 15 to 30 cars every year, depending on the weather, Roorda said.
Vehicle placement and decorating will begin in the church parking lot at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. Trunk-or-treating lasts from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Nearby Church Street will be closed to through traffic between 5 and 9 p.m. that evening.
For more information or to volunteer, contact Suzy Roorda at 453-5978 or Sara Smith at 877-3080.
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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