It still feels like summer in Kansas City, but it’s officially fall, and I’m in full autumn mode (admittedly, I’m pretty much always in autumn mode, but now I can really go unapologetically fall-crazy). Mid-September to November for me is all about burying myself in anything and everything that conjures up that aura of crisp, misty days; brilliant fiery colors; earthy charm; and of course, all the spookiness. Even if it’s not exactly crisp outside yet, I’ll be channeling that October spirit — bring on the autumn bucket list.
Explore the fall colors
The stunning reds, yellows, and oranges of fall might be my favorite part of the season. While KC isn’t exactly known for its fall colors, there are a number of spots where the season shows off its hues in spectacular fashion. I’m going to do a full post about finding the best fall foliage around KC, so stay tuned!
Cook something pumpkin
What screams autumn more than pumpkins? There are an embarrassing number of pumpkin-related recipes saved on my Pinterest — here are a few I’m eyeing for this season (sorrynotsorry, no PSLs here):
- Paleo Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes (I don’t claim these actually taste like cupcakes (news flash: no “healthy” substitute actually tastes like legit dessert) BUT they are actually quite tasty, very easy to make, and make a great sweet-yet-healthy snack. I top mine off with a poof of whipped cream.)
- Gingersnap Pumpkin Pie Bites (I made these for a Thanksgiving potluck once, and they’re addictive.)
- Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bread
- Pumpkin Cookies with Caramel Frosting
- Pumpkin Pie Truffles (This recipe can also be adapted for pumpkin pie fudge.)
Enjoy ye olde English autumn at the Renaissance Festival
Weekends through October 17, Bonner Springs, KS
Huzzah! It’s time for pirates, princesses, mead, jousting, and even a touch of magic. Every fall a Renaissance village comes to life in Bonner Springs, Kansas. And yes, I realize that I’m a history nerd, but honestly, there’s a little something for everyone. Food, artisans selling everything from jewelry to beauty products to real swords, costumed performers, music, games, and yes, a jousting tournament. The village looks like it was transplanted from medieval England, and it’s honestly worth a visit simply to see the colorful characters wandering around. You might even run into the queen and her retinue meandering about.
Peruse the Plaza Art Fair
September 24-26, Kansas City, MO
The Plaza Art Fair is essentially a KC institution by now (this is its 90th year!). Every September, artists take over the Country Club Plaza, displaying every type of art you can imagine — painting, sculpture, pottery, illustration, mixed media, jewelry, photography, and more. There’s a taste of everything, from traditional landscape paintings to funky found object sculpture to tongue-in-cheek graphic art. Even if you (like me), can’t afford to buy fine art, it’s worth it to peruse the beautiful array of works, and there’s always a fun crowd, plus live music and food vendors from Plaza restaurants.
Celebrate Weston Applefest
October 2-3, Weston, MO
I just got a flashback from one of my favorite childhood movies, Prancer: “We got apples. We’ll eat applesauce and apple cider and apple pie, stewed apples and baked apples and dried apples. And apple butter.” While I can’t promise Weston Applefest has all of those applecentric delights, it does offer a quintessential fall fest, with artisan vendors, live music, a parade, and food (including, obviously, lots of apples) along historic Weston Main Street. With its storied old buildings and kitschy little shops, Weston alone oozes fall charm. The town dates all the way back to 1837 and is nestled along the Missouri River, and there’s plenty to explore as you munch your apples.
Visit Louisburg Cider Mill
Apple cider donuts. Need I say more? We visit Louisburg Cider Mill every year to pick out pumpkins (usually the lazy way, from the already-picked selection, but you can also venture into the pumpkin patch to pick your own). From a charming general store with tasty local goods to a corn maze to scrumptious homemade cider and donuts, everything about Louisburg screams “fall.” You can even watch the apples going through the cider press (it’s oddly mesmerizing watching hundreds of apples tumble about).
Halloween without jack-o-lanterns is just wrong. And to anyone who dare suggest carving pumpkins is only for kids: I’m sorry your life is so bereft of joy. (Kidding, but seriously, you’re never too old for jack-o-lanterns.) Though I don’t exactly have the patience for extremely intricate designs, I love an excuse to fall down a rabbit hole of fun designs on Pinterest (one year I did Luna Lovegood from Harry Potter). I usually pick out pumpkins at Louisburg, but you can also find them at most grocery stores, and then I put on a spooky movie to set the mood while carving my jack-o-lantern masterpiece.
Venture to a (real) haunted house
It’s that time of year again: everything is getting a bit darker, a bit colder, a bit more mysterious and uncertain, and the boundary between the living and the dead is a little hazy. Or at least, it’s the perfect time for a haunted house. I don’t mean a sensationalist horror house where people lunge out at you from the shadows. I mean a real haunted house, in the spirit of gothic horror tales. Old mansions and buildings with bizarre or tragic backstories and an eerie aura that makes you think that — just maybe — some of their residents have never quite moved on. These places probably won’t make your heart pound, but they are likely to make your spine tingle and your imagination run wild.
For my ghostly adventures, I’m heading to Vaile Mansion, an opulent Gothic-style 31-room mansion in Independence, Missouri. Built in 1881, the mansion has witnessed a family scandal, a tragic death, and a period as a sanitarium. Ghost tours take place throughout October. Let the chills commence…
A few honorable mentions near the KC area: Pythian Castle, an imposing fortress built as an orphanage in 1913 by the fraternal order the Knights of Pythias (does that sound sketchy to anyone else?) with later incarnations as a hospital for WWII veterans, a prison for German and Italian POWs, a social services agency, and a private home. Plenty of scope for ghostly goings-on there. Belvoir Winery in Liberty, MO, which was constructed from 1900 to 1923 by the fraternal organization — and self-proclaimed secret society — the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (don’t ask me how they came up with that name) and served as a residence for the elderly, indigent, and orphans; a hospital; and a school. It now hosts events, including murder mystery dinners and paranormal investigations. And Majors House, a KCMO homestead built in 1856 by entrepreneur Alexander Majors and now apparently home to the ghosts of a restless blacksmith and a caretaker who refuses to leave.
Visit a historic cemetery
Gothic spookiness doesn’t get much better than a historic graveyard. Is it a little odd that I love wandering around cemeteries and looking at old gravestones? Maybe, but in this instance it fits the Halloween spirit. One of my favorites is Union Cemetery, a beautiful hilly, tree-filled space built in 1857 and housing many famous Kansas Citians. Laurel Hill Cemetery in Weston (established circa 1840) is also gorgeous, and I might have to check out Elmwood Cemetery (est. 1872) in Northeast Kansas City as well. To really amp up the creepy vibes, the Coterie Theatre is performing live renditions of Edgar Allen Poe‘s The Pit and the Pendulum and The Tomb of Ligeia Thursday/Friday/Saturday nights amid the tombstones of Union Cemetery.
Ghost story galore!
To fully set the Halloween atmosphere, I like to go all-out on ghostly tales in October. Disclaimer: horror and gore is not my thing. As with haunted houses, the October/Halloween mood for me is all about spookiness, gothic horror, and eerie mystery. In other words, no slasher flicks or exorcisms (instead, think Dracula and haunted castles). As usual, I went a little overboard in investigating ideas here, so I’m writing a separate post in a couple of weeks with all the books, movies, and podcasts to fill your spooky gothic October.
Image credits: Evgenia Silaeva (pumpkins), Alina Osadchenko (haunted house), Marina Ermakova (Halloween icons), Anna Kuzmina (tombstone), Daria Ustiugova (apples)