When the days grow shorter and summer becomes a memory, October nights bring a chill wind from the north, and sometimes mysterious things can happen by the light of the harvest moon.
Some of these mysterious things happen at Firefly Farm in Hillsborough.
It seems that someone there has found a way to pluck a bit of magic from the autumn air and transform it into support for her alma mater, the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. That someone is Cindy Stubbs from the CVM Class of 1995.
By day, Stubbs goes about her business on the farm, tending the fruits, vegetables and flowers that she sells at a nearby farmer’s market and caring for a pair of horses. For years, she and her husband, Paul Frank, also from the CVM Class of 1995, practiced telemedicine, remotely diagnosing and treating patients by means of telecommunications technology. Stubbs trained as an internal medicine specialist, and Frank is a radiologist. Frank still works for a large biotechnology firm, but Stubbs hung up her stethoscope in 2018 to take care of the 26-acre farm they bought in 2015 full time.
“I grew up on a farm,” Stubbs said, “and that’s the way of life that I enjoy.”
Stubbs is also a fan of Halloween. A very big fan.
Every year, starting in late summer or early fall, the horse barn at Firefly Farm slowly begins to fill with otherworldly creatures and things that go bump in the night. A serious haunting is taking place. Stubbs doesn’t do anything halfway.
One of her October pastimes is putting on a witch costume, complete with a green face and a pink wig, while reading stories to local first graders. “It brings joy to the kids and the adults, too,” she said. “I tend to be quiet, but I guess there’s another side of me that comes out at Halloween.”
But the really big effort is transforming her barn into elaborate maze inhabited by as many ghostly, ghastly — but fun — images, sounds and artifacts as Stubbs can collect.
Since 2016, Stubbs has made the barn-turned-haunted house into the centerpiece of her annual Halloween party that is open to all comers. But that’s not all. Recognizing an opportunity, Stubbs decided to use the tour to promote a worthy cause.
Halloween lovers of all ages are invited to attend The Witch’s Haunted Barn from 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 26 at Firefly Farm, 4911 Hunt Road in Hillsborough. As the witch’s promotional flyer says, “Come and stay awhile — we are dying to see you.”
A flyer she distributes inviting people to the big event says, “The Witch would like to honor this spooky occasion by having monetary gifts donated to the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Foundation, which advances the well-being of animals by promoting educational activities, results-focused research, and a renowned faculty at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.”
There is no admission to the haunted barn, but voluntary donations are appreciated. All of the donations go directly to the All Gifts Great and Small Fund, which supports the areas of greatest need at the CVM and veterinary hospital.
Since the tour began, there have been substantial donations each year to the CVM. It’s a wonderful way to combine all the fun of her second-favorite holiday — Christmas is still first, she said — with a way to give back to a place that has been such an important part of her and her husband’s life.
“Our guests really get into the spirit of the evening, with costumes and bringing appetizers like deviled eggs made up to look like eyeballs. We even dress our dogs in costumes,” she said. One of the highlights of the party is a costume contest recognizing the best-dressed visitors.
But the barn is the primary attraction. Starting out in what she calls the coffin room, visitors take a tour of a place that has been divided up into individual spooky chambers, with each room presenting a different eerie theme.
From a skeleton on a tricycle to a haunted Ouija board to echoes of maniacal laughter and a creepy graveyard, friends and neighbors from miles around are treated to the sights and sounds of Halloween. Of course, the spine-tingling tour is hosted by Stubbs, herself, replete in her witch regalia. Once the tour is complete, there’s a party, with treats aplenty for everyone, especially kids.
Stubbs said the haunted barn tour gets bigger and better every year, with friends helping to put up the decorations. Stubbs visits thrift stores and yard sales to add a creepy clown here and a spooky spider there.
“It’s good family fun,” she said, “and we can use it to help pets and the people who love them.”
~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine