I was able to attend Haunting on DoG Street first on Friday night as a volunteer and then Saturday with my family. Both evenings, it was evident—while all of my colleagues did a stellar job, the Coach & Livestock crew definitely stole the show! Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to pull off such an amazing live Halloween display.
To begin with, I should mention this was definitely a first for the staff. Karen Watson, supervisor of barn operations, tells me they’d all seen pictures of similar horses on social media last Halloween and Joyce Henry, our head coachman, knew their team was up to the challenge. Historic Area operations agreed!
The challenge wasn’t without its obstacles. According to Karen, it wasn’t long before they realized not all paints are created equally. Some definitely worked better than others. And the sorrel horses, like Captain and Ranger, took several more coats of paint than the black horses like Luke and Thomas. (Luckily, the horses they painted Friday were able to stay in the barn overnight so they only required touch-ups for Saturday, giving the crew time to finish up painting the rest of the selected horses.)
Joyce joked with me that before she could even consider making the horses “skeletonized,” she had to re-learn their anatomy. You know, the hip bone’s connected to the….. yeah, don’t want to get that one wrong! She initially outlined in an “anatomically correct” pattern on the horses and then some of the staff members (including Blackbeard himself!) helped to fill in the bones.
In all, they painted three horses on Friday and five on Saturday. It took roughly an hour and a half to paint Luke (the Headless Horseman horse) and about an hour for the others. Joyce also let us in on a little secret; the carriage horses actually only had one side painted since that’s all you could see when they were walking side-by-side.
Many of you have asked how we could possibly top this year’s performances. Well, you heard it here first folks. I have it on good authority that next year’s horses will be painted using glow-in-the-dark paint so you can spot (and photograph) them better once the sun sets.
Joyce did much more than just paint our horses. If you were out during Friday’s trick-or-treating and ran into the Headless Horseman on the street, that was none other than our fierce horse trainer. “Most folks never dreamt it was me!” she said. That’s right, Joyce was able to stuff her pony tail into the mask and ride through the streets, waiving her sword in a quest for a new head.
While Joyce played a big role in painting the horses, Mark Schneider who also rode as the Headless Horseman during “Under Blackbeard’s Flag” Friday night and all night Saturday, was responsible for the amazing costume! You probably know Mark better for portraying the Marquis de Lafayette on most days.
He tells me he was given his assignment shortly after we decided to do Haunting on DoG Street and was excited about the role because he’s always been fascinated with the story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. Like every good actor, Mark immediately did his research. He connected with a friend, Hugh Francis, who performs as the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow, NY to get pointers on how best to perform as the horseman.
As for the stellar costume, Mark says it wasn’t their initial choice. In fact, we first rented one from a costume shop in Williamsburg and while it looked impressive, it didn’t give the rider much visibility which was an immediate safety concern. Mark then did some searching of his own and stumbled on this head mask which he says worked much better. It still limited the rider’s peripheral vision which was why you saw a spotter walking beside the horse. Brenda Rosseau from our Costume Design Center provided 18th-century black clothes to go with it. Mark added a sabre, old beat-up military hat, and aged medieval gauntlets to complete the look.
I asked if he had any moment that really stood out to him from either night to which he replied, “One child named Tristan Childress attended both nights and on the second night he came up to me with his mother and gave me a picture that he had drawn of me as the Headless Horseman! The little boy was no more than 5 years old and was so taken with the experience that he wanted to give me this picture. Truly amazing! I must admit that as a father of a 8-year-old boy, such a demonstration really touched my heart. I truly believe that lasting positive memories were made over those two nights for our guests and Colonial Williamsburg.”
Now that you know the identity of the headless horsemen, let’s talk more about the horse. That was Luke… errr, Charon. If you remember from an earlier blog, Mark often likes to rename his horses to add to the interpretation. His choices are often derived from Green mythology or the ancient world since such subjects were popular during the 18th century. For Halloween, he dubbed Luke “Charon” the ferryman of Hades (hell) that carried the souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx which divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. (Morbid—we know—but also pretty awesome!). It seemed appropriate given the fact that Luke was transporting the Headless Horseman across the haunted Historic Area at night.
And we couldn’t finish this post without giving a heartfelt “Huzzah” to Apprentice Tailor Mike McCarty. Mike helped with makeup for all of the Coach & Livestock staff on both nights and acted as a spotter for the riders. He was the Zombie carrying around the pumpkin. (Personally, I think he was a dead ringer—pun intended—for Billy from Hocus Pocus!).
Now, allow me to introduce you to the rest of our ghostly crew!
Headless Horsemen: Mark Schneider & Joyce Henry
Dennis Watson as Highwayman & Death Rider
Zombie Coachmen: Bob Couperthwaite
Zombie Coachman & Rider: Kate Turner
Paul Bennett/New Director of Coach & Livestock (Welcome!)
Karen Watson/Supervisor of Barn Operations
A special thanks to all of the photographers who contributed to this post including Rob Hunter, Brenda Poole, Fred Blystone, Tom Green, Dave Doody, Adam Canaday, Amanda Payne, and Karen Watson. We hope we didn’t miss anybody!
We leave you with a video recap of all the haunted fun!