Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

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By David Gignilliat

Halloween's pumpkins with autumn leaves on wooden table. See series.

The original concept of Halloween is rooted in a Celtic agricultural tradition said to mark the end of the fall harvest season and the beginning of winter. Legend suggests that October 31 signified a portal to the world of the unliving where spirits would come back to disturb crops and cause sickness. To protect themselves and their livelihood, people wore masks and costumes to appease the spirits.

Today, however, Halloween is mostly a celebration, an opportunity to enjoy costumes, candy and the camaraderie of like-minded revelers. Obviously, the celebration culminates every year with Halloween on October 31 (this year, on a Monday), but in Prince William County, there are plenty of opportunities to get your ghost fix and trick-or-treat on all October long.

A Ghastly Time

Several of the county’s historic properties claim some supernatural lineage and offer tours and events during the Halloween season.

Rippon Lodge, the oldest remaining home in Prince William County dating back to 1747, has long been the source of supernatural speculation. It is rumored that Historic Route 1 had to be altered to avoid the spirits on the property. One of the apparitions is a young child who is said to look at visitors through an upstairs window. On Oct. 21 and 22, there will be several guided Spirits of Rippon Lodge tours starting at 7 p.m., which will explore the property by candlelight and give participants an opportunity to learn more about its unique— and sometimes star-crossed—notable residents. Cost is $10, and reservations are required. For more information, call 703-449-9812.

The Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre once housed a jail and is said to have several ghosts, many of which peer out of its windows. The jail, which is one of the few in the country that has been restored to its 1800s vintage, was visited by the SyFy television show “Ghost Hunters” in 2009. On Oct. 28, the county is offering an overnight stay in the 200-year old jail at a cost of $125 per person. For more information, call 703-365-7895.

Occoquan, the current home of hundreds of nightly Pokemon Go enthusiasts, has a rich history in the haunted house game as well. Several of its historic properties are home to phantasmic denizens, including the Rockledge Mansion’s friendly Confederate soldier and the Occoquan Inn’s ghost, an apparition of the town’s last Indian.

According to Donna Brown, events and community development director with the Town of Occoquan, there will be a kid-friendly Halloween event at the newly-opened River Mill Park located at the west end of Mill Street. As of mid-August, event details were still being finalized, Brown said. Also in Occoquan is the annual Haunt the Town, beginning Oct. 1 and running through Oct. 31, which features life-size Halloween characters on the shop benches, porches and doorways throughout Occoquan.

The Ben Lomond Historic Site on Sudley Manor Drive in Manassas, once a Confederate field hospital after the first Battle of Manassas, will offer its Hospital Horrors by Night tour on Saturday, Oct. 29 from 7 to 9 p.m. The tour of the house and the grounds will be in the dark and include Civil War stories and the occasional unexpected visitors. Organizers recommend bringing a flashlight as you never know what spirits you’ll run into. Not suitable for children under 12; reservations are highly recommended. For more information, call 703-367-7872.

Get Scared, But Be Safe

The Halloween season can be a time for adventure and intrigue, but it is also a time for young revelers to be safe.

“Parental guidance is of the utmost importance to prevent and protect trick-or-treaters from Halloween-related accidents and incidents. Parents need to supervise all activities,” says Prince William County Fire & Rescue Assistant Chief Matt Smolsky. “Trick-or-treaters should [wear]light costumes that don’t restrict movement. Everyone should be wearing some sort of reflective material and using facial make-up in lieu of vision restricting masks. They should carry flashlights to increase visibility.”

Smolsky, who oversees community safety efforts within the county, also suggests that parents take the lead when it comes to carving the traditional Halloween pumpkin.

“A common injury occurs to those parents or children who try to illuminate a pumpkin with a candle and burn themselves while doing so,” he said. “Use a small, made-for-pumpkins, electrical light. If you have to use a candle, use a charcoal type lighter with a long handle.

I Want Candy

On Saturday, Oct. 29, five county shopping centers will host free Halloween trick-or-treating activities.

Bristow Center in Bristow (1 – 3 p.m. at the intersection of Nokesville and Linton Hall), Canterbury Village (11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.), Bull Run Plaza (12 – 2 p.m. at Route 234 and Sudley Manor Drive) and Davis Ford Crossing (2 – 4 p.m. at Liberia Road and Prince William Parkway) in Manassas and Dillingham Square (12 – 2 p.m. at Old Bridge Road and Dillingham Square) and Potomac Festival 1 and 2 (2 – 4 p.m. on both sides of Potomac Mills Road) in Woodbridge will offer kids the chance to trick-or-treat from store to store for candy and other goodies.

Each event will feature balloon artists and face painters. Merchants will also host sidewalk sales, contests and giveaways. Rappaport Company provides property management, leasing and marketing services for these centers.

“Rappaport is deeply invested in the local community and is happy to offer these Halloween events to bring people together to have a good time,” says Jarnell Bonds, Rappaport’s vice president of marketing.

The Death Trail

One of the more popular haunted attractions in Prince William County is The Death Trail, started in 2009 and hosted by the Montclair Tabernacle Church of God. Over 1,200 people went through the trail in its first year, and it has grown every year since to the point where founder Brad White expects over 10,000 to enjoy the trail this season.

“We’re just growing and growing every year, making it the best we can for those that enjoy coming,” White said. “We’ve just been overwhelmed by the growth and the response from the community.”

The Death Trail changes its theme each season. This year’s trail is called Asylum, a scare-fest drawn loosely upon stories of the criminally insane. An escape room has also been added this year. The trail is populated by over 100 local actors and volunteers culled from the community at large.

“It is a night of entertainment. The trail is a tremendous amount of fun. There is constant interaction, constant thrills,” White said. “It’s just a lot of fun.” This year The Death Trail will offer eight nights (Oct. 14, 15, 21, 22, 28-31) of chills and thrills for intrepid visitors.

Get Halloween Started Early

For those looking for a more contemporary Halloween experience, Prince William County is also sponsoring a few specific Halloween events in the community.

Halloween Hustle 5K Run Saturday, Oct. 8 at 9 a.m.

A family-friendly 5K run outside at the Chinn Aquatics & Fitness Center, featuring rolling hills, flats, grass, gravel and asphalt. The cost is $20 for those ages 18 and under and $25 for those 19 and older. The first 75 participants to register will receive a free long-sleeved commemorative t-shirt. To learn more, visit the Facebook page for the event.

Boo! At The Pool! Saturday, Oct. 22 at 6 p.m.

A Halloween-themed celebration at the Dale City Recreation Center, it will include games, drawings, face painting and decorations. The cost is just $14 for a family of four or free for rec center pass holders. For more information, call 703-670-7112.

Spooky Splash Bash Saturday, Oct. 29, 5 – 8 p.m.

Hosted inside the Chinn Aquatics & Fitness Center, this catch-all Halloween outing has something for everyone. Activities include a costume contest, a creepy cafeteria, face painting, carnival games and pool-themed activities. The cost is $8 per person, and children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, call 703-730-1051.

“There are a number of fall events for the family to enjoy at county facilities this time of year,” adds Brent Heavner, communications services division chief with the county’s Parks & Recreation Department. “From the Halloween Hustle 5K at the Chinn Center to the Haunted Hospital Tours at the Ben Lomond Historic Site, there’s a lot of Halloween fun to be had in our area.”

For more information on things to do for Halloween, visit

David Gignilliat ( grew up in Woodbridge. A graduate of the University of Virginia, he currently freelances for several publications. He authors his own blog, Quixotica, waxing semantic about the nuances of modern-day language and slang. 


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