When I asked Peg Danner whose idea it was to start decorating the family farm located just outside of Green Camp each Halloween, she had no doubt. “It was my mom and her sister, Betty. With all of the cars passing by, I think one of them probably said something like, ‘We should decorate the farm for Halloween.’” And with this modest suggestion, a local Halloween tradition began that lasted over a decade and eventually attracted thousands of people every year.
While looking for local Halloween-related stories in old copies of the Marion Star, I noticed that a farm belonging to the Orahood family was mentioned nearly every year from the early-1960s to the early-1970s. Hoping to find out more, I tracked down Peg Danner (formerly Orahood) whose parents owned the farm. She was kind enough to talk to me about what was once Marion County’s biggest Halloween attraction.
Peg’s parents, Gerald and Georgia, were originally from Union County. In the summer of 1961, they bought the farm at 2900 Marion Green Camp Road and moved their family there. At the time, Mr. and Mrs. Orahood had two children, Peg, who was getting ready to start her freshman year at Green Camp High School (Elgin didn’t open its doors until 1962) and her older sister, Sherry. In 1963 their younger brother, Kevin, was born.
It was not a big farm – roughly thirty-five acres – and Mr. Orahood’s income from the farm was supplemental; he worked a full-time job at Central Soya. Mrs. Orahood, who was a homemaker, took advantage of the big yard by planting a garden where she grew the pumpkins and gourds she used as part of the Halloween display.
Peg pointed out something I hadn’t considered: Stores didn’t really offer much in the way of Halloween decorations back in the 60s and 70s. As a result, almost all of the decorations at the Orahood farm were handmade. “Mom and Betty made a bunch of tombstones to put out in the yard with silly things written on them. As time went on, they just kept adding more and more.” These additions included a pot that looked like a witch’s cauldron and an old dentist’s chair. They even had a covered wagon (driven by ghosts) that sometimes doubled as a refreshment stand for farm visitors.
In addition to Mrs. Orahood and Aunt Betty, other family members were involved as well. Peg recalled her dad and brother working hard to set everything up in the weeks leading into October. This included attaching and balancing witches – all handmade, of course – to wires suspended over the farm and hoisting speakers used for playing spooky music into a tree. Mr. Orahood even built a working Ferris wheel, each seat occupied by a ghost.
The Halloween display was open to anyone willing to make the trip out to Green Camp. Peg remembered people parking up and down 739 to visit the farm. (My own parents took my older sister out to the Orahood farm in the early 70s before I was born.) What’s astounding is that the Orahood family did all of this for free. Peg said her dad and uncle built a wishing well (which wasn’t even part of the Halloween display), and at some point people started throwing money into it. Rather than keep the money, the Orahood family donated it to local charities like the WMRN Christmas fund.
Because elaborate Halloween displays were rare at the time, Peg guessed that was the reasons why people were willing to drive out to see them. The Orahoods had a guestbook people could sign, and a surprising number of out-of-towners (and even out-of-staters) signed it. (Peg, being modest, said she didn’t think people actually travelled from out of state to see the farm, but rather they were probably just visiting the area and heard about it from a local.)
The Orahood Halloween displays came to an end after Mr. and Mrs. Orahood moved to a new house on Route 203 in 1976. They sold most of the decorations. According to Peg’s brother Kevin, they stopped putting up their elaborate Halloween decorations for a number of reasons: The new house didn’t have enough space to store everything, Mr. and Mrs. Orahood were both involved in Green Camp Baseball for Boys, the new house needed work, etc.
Sadly, Mr. Orahood passed away in 1978 and Mrs. Orahood in 2020. Mrs. Orahood’s sister, Betty Kindell, passed away this past summer.
Although decades have passed, many people in Marion County have not forgotten the Orahood Halloween farm. Peg says it comes up from time to time in conversations and especially in online discussions, and she’s pleased so many people have fond memories of it. When I asked her if she decorates her own place for Halloween, she just laughed and told me, “I may put a few pumpkins out but not too much more than that.”
Note: Special thanks to Peg Danner for her willingness to talk to me and put up with all of my questions for this article. Thanks also to Kasey Hochstetter (Peg’s cousin) who also shared some of her memories and photos and Rebecca Johnson Oldham who allowed me to re-use her Orahood farm photos and news clippings, many of which came from a Facebook group she maintains called Green Camp Alumni.
Happy Halloween, Marion!