It was a dark and stormy afternoon…seriously! Heavy rain poured down in sheets almost nonstop across Fairfield County yesterday making me very thankful for rubber boots, dry socks and hot tea. But as grey and gloomy as it was outside, the scene behind the creaky old wooden door of the Burr Homestead in Fairfield was anything but when I paid a visit Wednesday afternoon.
The moment I stepped out of the rain and over the threshold, my senses were overwhelmed by a veritable kaleidoscope of colors, textures and eye candy of every shape, style and size; a larger than life cut-out of the Beast from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”, a yellow brick road leading the way to a shiny, shimmery green cellophane Emerald City, arches covered in silk roses and white twinkling lights and the soft blue and white beginnings of what will become Cinderella’s castle. In other words, any kid’s fantasy!
For the past 18 years, every year around Halloween, volunteers take over the Burr Homestead and transform the stately 18th century landmark on the Old Post Road into a breathtaking spectacle for little ones. This year is no different. Each of the six rooms on the first floor of the Homestead is given a theme: Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, Pirates, Aladdin, Cinderella and my personal favorite, Little Mermaid, complete with a giant Ursula!
I stood in the hallway looking around for a few seconds, taking it all in. In the background I could hear the tinny sounds of a Duffy song coming from a portable radio and the soft laughter and chatting of a small group of women. I carefully stepped over electrical cords, small piles of tulle and tissue paper, and the odd roll of masking tape and found some of the volunteers at the heart of what has become a Fairfield County institution: The Enchanted Castle.
Two of the event chairs, Kay Smith and Shaun Amberg, were strategizing with volunteers Zoe Bebon and Sarah Donovan. This group, and their army of volunteers, has been attacking this project, as they have for many years, with incredible enthusiasm. Volunteer co-chair Kay Smith tells me it takes a full week of almost nonstop work from the volunteers to set up the Castle. All of the decorations and costumes are designed and constructed by volunteers. And, volunteers also dress up to play live characters like Dorothy, Ariel, Cinderella and Mrs. Potts greeting little ones as they tour the Castle. Smith says each year they have about 250, yes, 250, volunteers participate in the event in some capacity.
Veteran Castle volunteer Zoe Bebon says the annual event has become part of her family story. “My kids grew up coming to the Castle and they’re now involved as volunteers, too. Year after year, it’s so great to see how excited the kids get when they come through the castle. It’s really just a wonderful community event.”
Smith echoed Bebon’s comments saying the Castle is a labor of love and it would not be possible without the many volunteers who step up and help. She says they are always looking for more helpers, too.
After the Castle closes, volunteers will return to clean and pack up all of the decorations, costumes and supplies and put them safely away in a storage facility in Bridgeport until it’s time for them to work their magic again next year. Smith says even once the Castle is closed down for the year, they still need volunteer help repairing costumes, sewing new ones, designing new sets – all sorts of creative projects.
The Castle opens to the public this Friday at 4 p.m. and runs through October 30th. Admission is $5.00 per person. All proceeds go to support the Ahlbin Center for Rehabilitative Medicine which provides cost-effective care for more than 10,000 adults and children each year with physical, cognitive, psychosocial and communication disorders.
For more on the Enchanted Castle, visit their Facebook page:
And year-round, visit Darien-based VolunteerSquare.com to learn about unique ways you can help your community!