The red barn at Cox Farms was dark inside and a loud, evil laugh echoed off the walls. Frightening jack-o-lantern-headed people were the closest things to life. Lights draped from the ceiling and walls and dimly lit a path.
Then the fast music started and the dropped jaws of the children turned to smiles. They oohed and ahhed at the witches’ pots with fire swaying out the top. Their white-knuckled grips on the wagon railing relaxed as they continued on their hayride.
Not the haunted barn, nor the aliens who danced out of their spaceship earlier in the hayride, scared the kids at the Centreville farm that day.
“Nothing scares me,” said Raequone Williams-Harper, 6, of Hayden Elementary in Manassas. “It’s not scary, it was fun.”
The aliens, who walked up to the wagon and reached their long slender fingers over the railing to shake hands, left smiles, not tears, on the children’s faces.
“I liked the aliens,” said Trisha Klaunburg, 4, of Minnieland 10 in Manassas. “They were so awesome. They danced.”
“They were pretend scaring,” said classmate Andre Burroughs, 4.
Gina Richard and husband, Eric Cox, designed their farm to entice young children.
“We try really hard not to scare anyone,” Richard said. “We try to make it silly and fun without spooking.”
She said the farm and hayride have evolved from 25 years of adding attractions. The couple opened up the farm to school groups when their now-grown children were in preschool.
The grounds are covered with rope swings that go over hay-colored foam pits, oversized slides that come out of volcanoes, castles and barns, a goat petting area, giant hay bales to climb on, live music, free apple cider and a barn with pigs, chickens and a horse. After Farmer Jack does a cow-milking show, everyone has a chance to milk the cow.
Large pumpkins, gourds and local baked goods are included in the farm market near the exit. Each person gets a pumpkin, free with admission, and providing perfect pumpkins is something Richard takes seriously.
“We actually turn loads away when they’re a pale color and have bad stems,” Richard said. The pumpkins come from Lancaster County, Pa.
“The biggest thing is a really dark color and a really good stem,” she said.
Sarah Willis, 5, of Crestwood Elementary School in Springfield used Richard’s criteria to pick out her pumpkin. She liked it because it was “so orange.” Compared to the other pumpkins in the group, hers was “oranger.”
And when pumpkins lose their luster, Cox Farms is opening up for Pumpkin Madness Nov. 1-2 where pumpkin smashing, throwing, dropping and catapulting is encouraged.
When you go:
Look below for other area pumpkin farms:
? Cox Farms, 15621 Braddock Road, Centreville. Attractions: hayrides, hay pits, mountain slides and volcano slides, barn tours and baby animals, rope swings, goat village, hay tunnels and hay castles, free apples and apple cider, one pumpkin per person. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Cost: $7 weekdays, $9 weekends. (703) 830-4121 or http://www.coxfarms.com.
? Pumpkinville, 19270 James Monroe Highway, Leesburg. Attractions: pick a pumpkin, apples and fresh cider, hayrides and hill slides, play areas with inflatable slides, petting zoo with lion cub. Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Cost: $5.50 weekdays, $8.50 weekends. (703) 779-2332 or http://www.leesburganimalpark.com
? Burke Nursery and Garden Center, 9401 Burke Road, Burke. Attractions: pumpkin fort, ghost tunnel slide, Western Town, Money Mountain, Teepee, Cherokee storyteller and singer, hayrides, farm animals, inflatable children’s playgrounds, rope swing, tumbling tubes, pirate ship and camp, “Wizard of Oz” slide, Miner’s Mountain Slide and merry-go-round. On weekends, all of the above plus caterpillar tunnel, pumpkin balloon house, clown and magic tricks, and Native American presentation (10 a.m. -5 p.m.). Additional fees for pony rides ($3), moon bounce ($2), wobble wagon ($2), balloon animals ($1), and face painting ($2) and body tattoos ($1). Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Cost: $7 weekdays, $9 weekends; free for children under 2. (703) 323-1188 or http://www.pumpkinplayground.com.
? Belvedere Plantation, 1601 Belvedere Drive, Fredericksburg. Attractions: hayrides to pumpkin patch, swing on ropes in Fun Barn, pedal tractors, talking pipes, straw jump pile, farm animals, Ziplines, Great Adventure Maize Maze, plantation market and special weekend attractions. Hours: pumpkin patch, 4-7 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends; maze, 5-10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Cost: pumpkin patch, $3.50-$7 per person, free for children under 3 and seniors 65 and older; maze, $7 adults, $5 ages 3-12; weekend combo pumpkin patch/maze: $12 adults, $10 ages 3-12. (540) 371-8494 or http://www.belvedereplantation.com/pumpkin.html.
? Great Country Farms, 8780 Foggy Bottom Road, Bluemont. Attractions: pick a pumpkin, hayrides, free apples, barnyard animals, 60-feet slide, goat tree house, mazes, country store, weekend pony rides $3. Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Cost: $2.50 per person or $10 per car weekdays; $5 per person or $20 per car weekends. (540) 554-2073 or http://www.greatcountryfarms.com
Staff writer Emily Brown can be reached at (703) 878-4650.