By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
With COVID-19 ravaging the country, it's not a shock that Halloween events have been canceled; some that have gone on for decades have suddenly been put on hold in the interest of public safety. The year’s pandemic hurdles have also led to the invention of new events to keep communities engaged in the the season, though. Case in point: Medfield’s Haunted Drive Thru, hosted on Friday, October 30.
The joint Haunted Drive Thru was the result of some community collaboration. In years past, the Medfield Public Library and Medfield TV have hosted separate haunted houses. This year was their first joint spooky event. After both organizers, Medfield TV General Manager Brett Poirier and Medfield Young Adult Librarian Erica Cote, discussed collaborating on a local podcast, the plans were set in motion. After some brainstorming and a suggestion by Medfield High School’s Theatre Director Andrea McCoy, the idea for the Medfield Haunted Drive Thru at Medfield State Hospital was born. With some research into the history of Halloween at the Medfield State Hospital and the approval of the Selectmen and the Board of Health, Poirier and Cote set off to plan the event.
The community played a major role in putting on this year’s event. Medfield TV staff built many props and designed the lighting, as well as a coloring book that went out to the first 500 visitors. The Medfield Public Library's volunteers created props and scenes, and made goodie bags. Jean Mineo, whose garden resides right on the route to the Haunted Drive Thru, was happy to create some props and lights to add to the spirit of the event.
"We enlisted the help of the Dalton family, who donated so many props! It was amazing to see their help and to work with them," says Poirier. “We were so lucky the library had a few dedicated individuals who wanted to help out. The kids involved crushed it and I don't think they could've done any better.”
Every event comes with its challenges. This one was no exception. The Haunted Drive Thru required a huge amount of coordination of people. "We had to pull so many people together for this and do it so quickly. I am very lucky that my staff was willing to do double-duty that entire month. This team here at Medfield TV is game for any challenge. Keep in mind, we had multiple events going on at the same time as this. So they were working on both Medfield TV projects, as well as this Haunted House,” explains Poirier. “Medfield Library had the kids to coordinate, who, as many of us know, have enough things going on. Plus the Medfield Police, DPW, John Thompson, Town Administrator, Selectmen, Board of Health all had a hand in helping us with this event get off the ground. That's a lot of cooks in the kitchen." An added challenge came when Medfield TV and their volunteers were forced to set up the event in unseasonably snowy conditions.
All of their hard work paid off spectacularly. Thousands of people showed up for the event, with a line of cars that, at one point, stretched almost three miles. For those who put on the event, the real win came from seeing all of the smiling faces on the night. “Easily, being able to see that many happy kids in one night is just a blessing. With 1,200 cars driving through and between 3-6 people in every car, I'd say it was safe to say we saw at least 4,800 happy kids. I loved every second of seeing every kid, young and old, drive through happy to have some sort of normalcy. The kids we worked with were amazing. I loved seeing them having a blast screaming and laughing for the entire time. Without them, none of it was possible and none of it would have been any fun!” says Poirier.
Anyone who went to the Haunted Drive Thru or had to drive through town on the night of the event knew just how popular it was. Many in line were turned away when it was time to close. “Last year, we had over 1,200 people interested and only 80 went through the haunted house. So when 6,000 were interested in the Facebook event this year, we didn't know what to think. We were contacted by the Medfield Police that we needed detail for the night and so we elected to hire two, just in case,” explains Poirier. But the number of people who showed up for the event completely shocked both organizers and attendees. “This event blew up. We had two hours of traffic going each way out of the State Hospital. Even people from NH were coming down for this. The last car that drove through that night passed us at 9:45 p.m., and was from Brookline and waited two and a half hours to get in. And they loved it.”
Poirier is already gearing up for next year’s event. “We are already talking to the town administrator and Medfield Police on what we could do better next time - and we know there is plenty. For one, we know no matter what - planetary pandemic, snow storm, or asteroid - we will host another haunted house next year and can start planning for it now. Two: it will be enormous. We are going bigger and better next year, I can guarantee that. But, traffic will be addressed. I promise the issues we faced this year are not lost on us,” says Poirier.
Whatever hiccups they may have faced, Medfield TV and the Medfield Public Library have proven that necessity is truly the mother of invention: amidst a global pandemic, they've created what will hopefully become a Medfield holiday tradition for years to come.