What do you get when you combine four adults, three preschoolers, two hours, and one fantastic pumpkin patch?
(I mean, besides the world’s weirdest equation?)
A heckuva nice October day in Middletown.
“I believe [people] like our family atmosphere and lovely scenery,” says Mandy Huffer, whose family has owned and operated Jumbo’s Pumpkin Patch—voted one of the country’s 10 best such places by MSN.com—since 1994.
“They love the fact that there are so many different things they can do. I don’t think that the free admission, hayrides, petting zoo, and play area hurt, either.”
Of course, what’s hurting us at this particular moment is an unforeseen cider crisis.
Standing in line at the snack bar, my 3-year-old, Elie, notices her partners in crime, Bridgid, 4, and Maggie, 2, already drinking from plastic pumpkin-shaped bottles. Luckily, Elie is way too mellow to throw a fit at the popular Frederick County farm.
Or perhaps she isn’t.
Ten more minutes of waiting (and wailing) and a fistful of shekels later, all three girls are sipping away as the grownups check out the alpaca wares—and the llama-like critters themselves—on display.
“We also have a large barn, the general store, which is full of unique gifts, decorations, and handmade items for sale,” says Mandy. “The kids love the pony rides, [too].”
In theory, anyway.
One look at the not-so-tiny horses up close, and suddenly Elie and Bridgid decide they’d rather get their faces painted. Only gutsy Maggie—all three-foot-nothin’ of her—mounts up for an amble around the ring.
Soon after, we’re on a tractor-pulled wagon and heading past the corn maze (which we’ll explore someday, once everyone’s out of diapers) toward the pumpkins. The 20-plus-acre patch, spread across the gorgeous Middletown Valley and dappled with gold, brown, and red, looks like an autumn postcard.
Aiming for tall rather than fat—the future jack-o-lanterns are priced by girth—we snag as many orange gourds as we can haul while wrangling munchkins.
A brief return ride later, and we’re ready to ring up our purchases and call it a day. The kids are sticky, flecked with dirt and straw, and exhausted.
They’re also happy, which means a lot to the folks at Jumbo’s.
“Seven generations of Huffers have been part of the farm, [and] we work together to have the pumpkin patch,” says Mandy.
“Although this is a business for us, it is so much more.”
Not long after returning from Jumbo’s, I divest myself of the younger kidlets and grab my 10-year-old son, Sam, and his friend Bobby. In the mood for some seasonal spookiness, we’re off to “Haunted Braddock.”
Now in its fifth year, the eerie extravaganza—held upstairs from HOME at Braddock Inn, a restaurant in Braddock Heights—hosts upward of 600 fright-seekers over a couple of evenings each Halloween.
“The tour takes about 15 minutes, and we only can take six to eight guests at a time,” explains the restaurant’s owner, Greg Holson.
“We can run two groups at a time. One group is in the ‘screaming’ room watching the video of Haunted Braddock, while the other is going through.”
Equal parts creepy and corny—think fog machines, creaky doors, and black lights—the tour (which costs just a few bucks) is all in good fun and unlikely to terrify anyone.
Except Sam and Bobby.
Coming unglued at every dark passageway, fake cobweb, and high-school-student-by-day zombie, they’re one boo! away from needing a Valium.
“I’m begging you not to grab the kids when we walk by,” I whisper to a poised-to-strike phantom hiding in the shadows.
Mercifully, he—it?—holds back, and the boys pass safely, because Haunted Braddock, in the end, is much more about family-friendly entertainment than abject horror.