Enchanted Castle is Halloween magic for kids in Fairfield

The costumes were eerily authentic and the portrayals rang true to character, as though the pages of legendary storybooks had magically materialized for the weekend in Fairfield's historic Burr Homestead.

The characters were featured players at the 18th annual Enchanted Castle, a gentle but engaging pre-Halloween attraction hosted in the mansion by the Ahlbin Centers for Rehabilitation Medicine at Bridgeport Hospital.

The attraction opened Friday afternoon and continues through Sunday, Oct. 30.

Themed rooms included Cinderella, Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Pirates of the Caribbean.

There was also a BOOtique featuring items like Halloween accessories and gift baskets. All merchandise was donated by area businesses and individuals for the benefit of the Ahlbin Centers.

"This is one of the biggest fundraisers of the year and the most highly anticipated," said Lauren Condron, an occupational therapist at Ahlbin Centers, dressed as a queen and seated on the porch of the homestead beside the front entry. "The kids love it, and staff and former patients all come."

Condron added that this year funding will help the centers' FitKids program, which promotes healthy eating and activities to children.

Since its inception, the Enchanted Castle has supported the Ahlbin Centers, said Shaun Amberg, president of the Ahlbin Centers Auxiliary and a co-chairwoman of the event. "It's funny, I bumped into two of the original creators yesterday," she said. "They say no one calls them anymore to be characters!"

Amberg added that the event was designed to be non-threatening, unlike many other Halloween attractions that focus on spooky and scary themes. It is designed to appeal to families with children ages 2 to 9.

On average, the event raises $25,000 to $30,000, and has become a community tradition. "There was one year -- 1997 -- we didn't do it due to a lack of volunteers," said Amberg. "People missed it, so we brought it back the following year."

A feature is the authenticity of the sets. For example, the Wizard of Oz room features a section of wooden fence, sunflowers, flying monkeys and a yellow brick road pathway.

Characters were played primarily by teenagers, like Elizabeth Reidy, an eighth-grader at Tomlinson Middle School playing Elizabeth from Pirates of the Caribbean. "I printed out my script two weeks ago and have been practicing my lines, especially in front of my sister," she said. "I was a little nervous at first, but it's fun. I'm doing this as a community service project."

Nick Zeleny, playing the featured pirate Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, said he had portrayed the same character last year. "I'm one of the few male characters."

For Zeleny, the event was a family affair. His mother typeset the event program, and he and his father helped put the whole façade up.

All the hard work did not go unappreciated.

"This is a great community event and one of the reasons we live in Fairfield," said Beth Hansel, visiting with her 3-year-old daughter Ella. "She's my fourth child. I've taken them all here. It's her time. We were here early and got a private tour and chance to speak with the characters. It was like being at Disney."

The Enchanted Castle is located in the Burr Homestead, 739 Old Post Road. Hours are: Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 22-23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Wednesday through Friday, Oct. 26-28, 4 to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 29-30, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Fully accessible for children of all abilities, ages 2 to 9 with an adult.