NEW YORK Once upon a time, Halloween was a one-day event. Then the pumpkins and parties started moving back to the weeks between Columbus Day and Oct. 31.
Now the holiday is morphing into an entire season, at least in the tourism industry, with haunted walks, costume balls and pumpkin-carving events held throughout October. Some even start in early September, like Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World, which started Sept. 5 just four days after Labor Day, www.wdwinfo.com/holidays/halloween.htm. In 2004, the same event at Disney World started Oct. 1.
The Illinois Bureau of Tourism has gone so far as to trademark the term "Fall-O-Ween" to describe what it calls the state's "distinctive fifth season." Events range from the Morton Pumpkin Festival, Sept. 10-13, to Six Flags Great America's Fright Fest, which starts Oct. 4, to the St. Charles Scarecrow Festival, Oct. 10-12. A Web site highlighting three-day getaways in Illinois for the season launches Sept. 8 at www.enjoyillinois.com/3-day.
"The fall season in Illinois is packed with events that attract a wide range of visitors, and those incorporating a spooky, Halloween element are always popular," said Jan Kostner, deputy director of the Illinois Bureau of Tourism. "Fall-O-Ween encompasses all of those great events and attractions that truly represent the essence of autumn."
Salem, Mass., which has the most authentic claim on witchy hoopla of just about any destination in the country, started a Halloween celebration 27 years ago as a one-day event for children. Now the city where witch trials were held in 1692 holds Salem Haunted Happenings from Oct. 2 to Nov. 2 www.hauntedhappenings.org and gets 30 percent of its annual tourist visitation in that one month.
"It is our busiest season," said Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem. Highlights include a costume parade of thousands of children, Oct. 2; a costume ball at the Hawthorne Hotel, Oct. 31; Festival of the Dead nighttime parties geared to adults and Harry Potter-themed daytime events for kids. At the House of the Seven Gables mansion and historical site, there are tours and dramatic presentations about the families who inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne's famous novel.
In Ohio, the Cedar Point amusement park's HalloWeekends run weekends from Sept. 12-Nov. 2 with a parade, a new fun house for little ones and outdoor walk-through attractions, www.halloweekends.com.
At Universal Orlando, Halloween Horror Nights has been moved back from the first weekend in October to the last weekend of September. The spectacle runs for 23 nights Sept. 26 and 27; Oct. 2-5, 9-12, 16-19, 22-26, 29-31; and Nov. 1. Universal Hollywood's Halloween Horror Nights run Oct. 3 and 4, 10 and 11, 17-19, 24-26, 30 and 31; and Nov. 1. Details at www.halloweenhorrornights.com.
In addition to rides, the Universal parks feature haunted houses and "scare zones" where actors in bloody garb may leap out at any moment. Parents are strongly cautioned that the event may be too scary for young children.
Hotels are embracing the Halloween theme too. The New England Inns and Resorts Association www.NewEnglandInnsandResorts.com started offering Ghoulish Getaways in 2004.
"We have members that tie in to a lot of fall activities apple-picking, hayrides, mazes," said Beth Steucek, NEIRA executive vice president. Some of them also showcase local ghost stories.
The Admiral Fitzroy Inn in Newport, R.I., has a Mazes, Ghosts and Fall Fun in Newport package, available Sept. 15-Oct. 23, starting at $354 per night including two nights accommodation, breakfast buffet and tickets to Newport's Old Town Ghost Walk. The Orleans Inn in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod, has a Hannah's Haunting Escape package, named for the hotel's very own resident spirit. It's available throughout October, starting at $175 a night, and includes breakfast, a book and DVD about local ghosts.
North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks is promoting Ghosts on the Coast this fall, highlighting local haunted houses, pirate tales and maritime heritage at www.crystalcoastnc.org. In earlier times, the area was nicknamed the "Graveyard of the Atlantic" because some 2,000 ships sank off its coast.
The Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, a historical site in a grand gabled building that is no longer used as a jail, offers the Haunted Prison Experience with actors, animatronics and props, Sept. 26 through Nov. 1, www.hauntedx.com. No one under 13 is allowed in.
Even the Great Lakes Brewing Co., a brewery and restaurant at 2516 Market Ave., Cleveland, www.greatlakesbrewing.com/, is getting into the spirit of the Halloween season. In September and October only, the brewery is offering a specialty beer called Nosferatu. The red ale is named for a 1922 German movie about a vampire.