I love Halloween. When people ask me which of my TV appearances is my favorite, I always say Food Network’s “Halloween Wars” in 2021. My team, Ghosts with the Most, were …
I love Halloween. When people ask me which of my TV appearances is my favorite, I always say Food Network’s “Halloween Wars” in 2021. My team, Ghosts with the Most, were finalists. And although we lost, I still had a blast making fiendish vampires, forlorn spirits and cellar-dwelling evil grannies.
That’s why I love Burn Brae Mansion, located at 573 High Rd. in Glen Spey, NY.
As Susan Fraysse Russ will tell you, “It’s Halloween all year here.”
Susan’s parents—Pat and Mike Fraysse—bought the 116-year-old mansion 30 years ago. Originally commissioned by Margaret Elkin, a daughter of Singer Sewing Machine Company president George Ross MacKenzie, the mansion had by then become an apartment building.
After restoring the place, the Fraysses opened it as a cycling training center, and then turned it into a bed-and-breakfast.
They also decided to make it a venue for entertainment. Over the years, they’ve hosted concerts featuring Taylor Hicks, Constantine Maroulis, Randy Jackson (of Zebra) and Led Zep tribute bands like Black Dog. Comedians such as Julie “The Funny Bunny” McCullough (of TV’s “Growing Pains”) and the late Kevin Meaney have performed as well.
And there are six Murder Mystery Dinners a year.
“It’s a hidden gem,” Andy Russ—Susan’s husband—explains. “It’s a small venue, but that’s what makes it special. Our regulars keep coming back.”
But what really sets Burn Brae apart is that it seems to be haunted—something that became obvious shortly after it opened as a B&B.
“We got some experts in here to see what we were dealing with,” Andy said. “We couldn’t have people staying here if we thought they were in any kind of danger.”
Luckily, the experts determined that the spirits were benign. It turns out that they enjoy simple things such as slamming doors, bouncing balls and giggling in the hallways. Guests have reported seeing a woman in white; others have seen a dude in overalls. Harmless happenings for sure.
But the experts found the activity to be so compelling, they wanted to come back.
Since then, Burn Brae Mansion has been featured on TV shows like “Ghost Hunters,” “Ghost Nation,” “Psychic Kids” and “Stranded.”
Figuring “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” Pat, Mike, Susan and Andy decided to embrace the spirits and make the Halloween season great for everybody. One of the things they came up with was the annual Burn Brae Mansion Dark Forest Fright Trail, a creepy walk through the woods behind the mansion, complete with eerie set pieces and actors dressed in costumes designed to chill the blood.
Over the years, participants wandering in the Dark Forest have been confronted by unique and frightening interactive exhibits like the Pirate Ship, Dracula’s Tunnel, a fiery Frankenstein House and an Alien Spaceship.
“They were big production scenes,” Andy remembers. “Huge—and very popular.”
Seeing as how 2023 marks the 30th anniversary of the Dark Forest Fright Trail at Burn Brae, the exhibits this year will be recreations of the best scenes from years past.
My husband Fleck and I were lucky enough to be included on the day the planning for the 30th anniversary began. The Burn Brae crew is an eclectic mix of talented and dedicated folks.
There’s Liz Petersen, an actress, who also does behind-the-scenes work, oversees ticket sales—and may or may not be a witch you might see locked up in a cage.
Then, there’s Liz’s husband Art, a master carpenter who builds the elaborate sets, and has been known to swing from a rope on the Pirate Ship or freak out the kids as the titular vampire in Dracula’s Tunnel.
Also having, well, a hand in the mix is Austin Hand, a jack of all trades who specializes in electric and pneumatics.
And there’s Mike “Skids” Waldron (you’ll have to ask him about the nickname yourself) who pitches in on pretty much everything.
The process is cool. Susan and Andy sit down with the rest of the crew on Burn Brae’s beautiful wooden porch.
“What can we do from the last 30 years, given our resources this year?” Andy begins.
Ideas and stories from years past fly furiously. These are lively folks, really into what they’re doing. Eventually, the plan is made. Andy—who is also involved in everything—begins thinking about the designs. Before the sets are built—reusing materials from last year’s exhibits—the Dark Forest paths have to be cleared.
“It’ll look like chaos,” Skids says, “but everything happens perfectly by opening day.”
In 2023, that Opening Day will be Friday, October 13—yes, Friday the 13th. Subsequent fright walks happen each Friday and Saturday through October 28, with a special children’s matinee on Sunday, October 22.
To make matters even more interesting, before the opening day there’s a big Murder Mystery Dinner to plan. “Mad Monster Party” will happen on Saturday, October 7 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. (details are at http://www.burnbraemansion.com/special.htm).
“It’s a classic whodunit,” Susan says with a smile. “Participants have to figure out who the murderer is.”
(The following Murder Mystery dinner, titled “Cutthroat Christmas,” will happen on Saturday, December 9. And the annual holiday house tour, “Ghosts of Christmas Past,” takes place on Sunday, December 10.)
Visiting Burn Brae Mansion was inspiring for me. I had a ton of ideas swirling around in my mind as to what this month’s Kim’s Kitchen project should be. And then it hit me.
On “Halloween Wars” (Season 11, Episode 1), our first challenge was to make a creepy doll. We came up with one that featured a horrific, nearly detached eyeball made out of a candied apple. We won that episode, and I intended to recreate that eyeball for this month’s project.
When I mentioned the candied apple project to Susan, her eyes got wide.
“We have a haunted apple tree!” she announced.
“Yeah,” she said.
As it turns out, a coachman who worked for the original owners decided one day that life was no longer worth living. Hence, he went out back with a pistol and shot himself in the stomach in front of the tree. The shot didn’t kill him.
“He quickly found out that wasn’t a good idea,” Susan explained, “so he shot himself in the head.”
“The tree is almost completely hollow,” Andy added. “It should be dead, too.”
“We had to prop it up with two-by-fours,” Susan pointed out, “and the apples still grow!”
We immediately decided that the apple I would use for this project would come from the Haunted Apple Tree.
Around the back of the mansion we went, and, sure enough, there it was.
A giant apple tree with a hollow trunk, propped up with two-by-fours—and sporting a bunch of beautiful apples.
And that’s why this month’s project is the Burn Brae Mansion Haunted Candy Apple Eye. As always, my tutorial is a way, not the way. Feel free to be creative and experiment with your colors and design. And feel free to make a bunch to share, because no matter how grotesque they may look, they are absolutely delicious to eat.
And don’t forget to make a trip out to Burn Brae Mansion’s 30th annual Dark Forest Fright Trail. After all, on Halloween, “everyone’s entitled to one good scare.” (“Halloween,” 1978)
Kim M. Simons is an artist, cake artist and food artist. She and her team—The Bah Hum Bakers—were champions on Food Network’s “Holiday Wars” in 2019. Kim’s work is featured on more than 10 of the doves on the Sullivan County (NY) Dove Trail. Kim is available to teach classes, both privately and in groups. Get in touch at www.cakesbykimsimons.com.
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