Witches Ball casts a spell over Mount Holly The fall festival, organized by a merchants' group, is a favorite for its costume contest and spooky fun.

Posted: October 05, 2003

They wanted something edgy, something bold.

The knot of women - a candle maker and a creator of witch dolls among them - stood under a tall maple tree on an autumn night five years ago and plotted.

Terri Lindahl-Castro whispered that a full moon was forthcoming on Friday the 13th that October.


The 13 merchants of the Mill Race Village, a colony of artisans in Mount Holly, would hold a Witches Ball, an event unheard of in the normally staid historic community. They would invite everyone to come, by broom.

Immediately, several eyebrows raised. Was it proper for a nonprofit merchants group to advocate people dressing as witches and warlocks and dancing under the light of the moon?

Even a few members of Wicca, a religious group that practices witchcraft, attempted to stop the event, telling organizers they were offended.

"We were so surprised," said Heidi Winzinger, a cochair of the Witches Ball and manager of the Mill Race Village. "We told them it was just a costume party. We just wanted to hold a fall event that was fun and different. We were tired of hoedowns and hayrides."

Many have fallen under its spell. Last year, between 1,000 and 1,500 people flocked to the annual Witches Ball, she said. It is the only one in the area, added Winzinger, who belongs to the South Jersey Cultural Alliance.

The Witches Ball is a street party for adults who want to dress in costumes and for those who just want to gawk. It features costume contests with $600 worth of prizes; storytellers who recite ghost tales; actors who perform scary theatrical scenes; tarot card readers, and a demonstration and lesson by ballroom dancers dressed as witches. Food and drink are served on sidewalk tables and in neighborhood restaurants.

The event has been staged in a four-block area of the village, but this year it will sprawl into High Street in the downtown.

Bob Bilbro, an actor who performed in the former Burlington County College's Foundation Theater, will stand on a wooden stage and recite an eerie rendition of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven." A theater group will hiss, Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble as they stage a witch scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth.

This year, the Witches Ball will unfold beneath the light of a full moon. An Air Star balloon - a 6-foot-wide imported helium balloon decorated with a witch's silhouette - will float 25 feet in the air. Winzinger said her family acquired the unusual, lighted balloon years ago in France.

Last year more than half of the crowd came in costume - but not all of them wore black, Winzinger said.

Lindahl-Castro, who owns the village's TLC Interiors, said the diversity of the costumes is what makes the event so interesting. Her costume is among the eclectic.

Last year she perched a bird's nest on top of her head and threaded vines through her long red tresses. Next, she wrapped herself in a flowing red cape.

"I looked like Red Riding Hood who had just come out of the woods," she said. "That's my interpretation of what a witch is - a holistic person who lives in the woods gathering sticks and twigs and using herbs for medicine."

Lindahl-Castro also unearthed a discarded hot-pink prom dress, pink high heels and a blond wig from a thrift shop that year and turned a friend into Glinda the Good Witch of the North, from The Wizard of Oz, for the Witches Ball. A tall lamp shade served as her hat.

"It's all about imagination," Lindahl-Castro said.

The South Jersey Ghost Research Company will also make an appearance, but its members' purpose is decidedly more serious.

The modern-day Ghostbusters use special photographic and other equipment to document sightings. They will set up a tent and offer consolation to those who fear their homes are haunted. They will also make recommendations on how to coexist with ghosts.

Dancers with the Delaware Valley Chapter of the U.S. Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association will provide the frivolity. Dressed as witches, they swing and step to the music, adding a "kind of bizarre touch," Winzinger said.

But Bilbro seems to have left a more haunting and lasting impression with last year's crowd, she said.

"We had a ton of people call us last year after his first appearance at the Witches Ball. They asked whether he would be back next year - he's that good. At the end of 'The Raven' he's almost crying," she said.

Bilbro will again bring alive Poe's poem with drama and pregnant pauses. He will end it with the unsettling line "Nevermore . . . nevermore," and set a chilling tone for a most unusual evening.

Contact suburban staff writer Jan Hefler at 856-779-3224 or jhefler@phillynews.com.

What: Witches Ball

When: 5 to 11 p.m. Saturday

Where: Mill Race Village, High Street, Mount Holly.

Cost: Free to spectators; $2 entry fee for the witches and warlocks costume contest.

Information: Contact Spirit of Christmas shop in the village at 609-518-1700, or visit www.millraceshops.com.

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