The multicolored grins of a thousand jack-o-lanterns leer from out of the darkness of Newfields’ campus.
Fog swirls in the air. Trees seem to loom over and reach for you. A ghost train whooshes down the path of Indianapolis’ former interurban line.
Pumpkins with names such as Warty Goblin, Mellow Yellow, Porcelain Princess and Grizzly Bear are stacked in copious piles all over.
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“The idea of surprises around every corner, the idea of having things everywhere that people aren’t used to seeing,” said Marian Keith, greenhouse coordinator at Newfields. “There’s a lot of abundance, so that there’s a spectacular display of things that the natural world has to offer.”
Harvest, the expanded autumn experience offered by Newfields, overflows with the spirit — and spirits — of the season. The monthlong fall extravaganza will showcase the sights, sounds and flavors of the season by day, with live music, food and drink from local vendors and art-making activities.
But at night, the Newfields campus transforms with a spooky ticketed experience, as guests wander through darkened woods, over a fog-laden ravine and past the orchard scattered with scarecrows. As a grand finale, the Lilly House is taken over by ghosts in a virtual party projected onto the home’s facade.
“The vibe we’re going for is colorful — spooky, not scary,” said Emily Sogard, communications communicator at Newfields.
Harvest had its start two years ago, when a Lilly Endowment grant allowed Newfields curators to create a festival dedicated to both creativity and culinary arts. The inaugural event was held over a test weekend in 2018, featuring farm animals, pumpkin painting, craft beer and locally sourced food.
The festival grew the following year, adding music, culinary experiences and family activities such a bounce pad and more crafts and art experiences. Organizers had wanted to keep expanding Harvest slowly, potentially extending it to nine or 10 days. But the success of the initial years changed their minds, Sogard said.
“It was such a hit last year that we thought it would be a waste of money to grow it slowly. Why not go big and do it all at once?” she said.
Harvest, which kicked off on Friday, will last until Oct. 25. The festival has been split into two separate events.
Harvest Days more closely resembles the previous inceptions of the event. The beautiful Newfields gardens have been magically transformed in to an ode to fall, with more than 10,000 Indiana pumpkins and gourds stacked throughout the grounds.
Late-season flowers are bloom, and the changing leaves of hundred-year-old trees sets the perfect backdrop for the season.
“It’s a self-guided experience, all outside. It’s great for people to just come and wander, a very leisurely experience,” Sogard said.
The horticultural team at Newfields has been working for weeks to prepare for the festival. They work closely with Indiana growers to bring in a variety of pumpkins, from everyday orange orbs to fantastical varieties of yellow, green, pink and white pumpkins.
“They’re really, really beautiful. There are so many colors and shapes and sizes. It’s nice to showcase the wonderful array of different types of squash and pumpkins,” Keith said. “The great variety of pumpkins — big beautiful displays of pumpkins with dried materials, cornstalks, things that give it a harvest feel, in great abundance so that people feel delighted.”
Though the culinary aspects of the festival have been scaled back, Newfields has worked with partners such as Liter House, McClure’s Apple Orchard, Oliver Winery, Smoking Goose, Sun King Brewing and West Fork Whiskey to offer small bites and craft drinks during the experience.
Themed weekends, such as Apples, Family and Fun today and Sunday, or Beer Fest on Oct. 10 and 11, add a different experience each time. Live music and nature-based crafts will be available during the weekends.
Harvest Days is open during regular museum hours throughout the month, and is included in general admission.
New to this year is Harvest Nights. The new creation is a guided, ticketed tour through the Newfields grounds at night. Much like the popular holiday experience Winterlights, organizers wanted to find a way to let people take in the gardens at night.
“Winterlights is so successful. People like the structure of it — they like that it’s an evening, they like getting out in the garden in a new way, and they want more of it,” Sogard said.
Guests will wind down the Pumpkin Path of Peril, past armies of foam pumpkins that watch from the woods. Purple, orange and blue uplighting adds to the atmosphere. Spanish moss shipped from Florida hangs from light structures to make spooky floating ghosts.
In what used to be the track of Indianapolis’ interurban railway, organizers have set up a ghost train using strobing lights and fog. Standing on the platform watching the lights come towards them, people can feel the rumble of the train getting closer.
“It’s going to feel like a train is coming at you, stopping and going through you,” Sogard said. “There’s flashing lights, sound, it’s a great experience. I think it’s going to expand everyone’s bravery on our campus, and it helps people discover a little more about what we have.”
The grand finale of the tour is Mischief Manor, a virtual ghost party projected on the front of the Lilly House.
“It’s ghostly party, which just keeps escalating until the house crumbles,” Sogard said.
Harvest Nights requires a ticketed time to enter, from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday through Oct. 25. The entire tour takes about 90 minutes to get through, and though there is a timed entrance, there is not a timed exit, Sogard said.
Being able to show off the Newfields grounds in this way has been a joy for the staff and organizers, as this has been the first major outdoor event of the year for them, Keith said.
“It feels very happy and very fun. The blue skies and cooling temperatures have added to those feelings. It’s so wonderful to be surrounded by so many bright colors,” she said.
If you go
What: A celebration of autumn featuring family activities, food, craft beverages and a new nighttime feature, Harvest Nights
Where: Newfields, 4000 Michigan Ave., Indiananpolis
When: Harvest Days — 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday through Oct. 25; Harvest Nights — 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday through Oct. 25
Cost: Harvest Days is included with regular admission, $18 for adults, $10 children 6-17, free for kids under 6. Members are free. Harvest Nights tickets are $25 for general public adults, $17 for general public youth, $20 for member adults and $12 for member youth. Children 5 and under are free.
Harvest Days themed weekends
Today and Sunday: “Apples, Family & Fun.” Enjoy a visit from McClure’s Apple Orchard based in Peru, where you can pet animals and enjoy all things apple like apple slushies, caramel apples, apple slices, and much more.
Oct. 10-11: “Beer Fest.” Travel a world of flavors with a Beer Passport as you sample beers selected from our favorite local breweries including Sun King Brewing Co., Four Day Ray, Bier Brewery, Big Lug Brewing, Ash & Elm Cider Co., along with other local brews and a curated selection of rare imports from Germany.
Oct. 17-18: “Community Days.” Guests are invited to an educational farmers’ market, offering experiences with local growers and the opportunity to purchase fresh local produce.
Oct. 24-25: “If You’ve Got It, Haunt It!” Say farewell to Harvest 2020 with sweet and savory brunch pop-up from The Gallery Pastry Shop, West Fork Whiskey and Tinker Coffee Co. Oliver Winery will be there to celebrate with a mimosa bar.
Information and tickets: discovernewfields.org/calendar/harvest-2020