For the past seven years, a group of witches from Jackson County have taken to the road to celebrate Halloween, causing excitement at wherever venue their bus happens to show up at.
Judy Hawley of Merrillan is the inspiration behind this Halloween tradition. A self-proclaimed Halloween lover, the Witchfest tradition began the first year as a modest “Be-Witched Brunch” held at her home that 12 of her witch-costumed friends attended and the fun continued (un-planned) throughout the afternoon and evening.
They had so much fun, Hawley knew it wasn’t just a one-year thing.
The next year, Hawley went all out and selected an area winery as a destination and called it ‘Wine for the Witches’.
A bus took the 20 ladies there with a couple of stops along the way. It then became apparent that many ladies enjoyed the camaraderie and fun of Halloween, appreciated leaving the driving to the bus driver and didn’t mind sharing the cost of the ride.
The outing only expanded from there. Every year Hawley selected surprise destinations and has had as many as 40 witches join in the fun.
Witchfest has been to establishments all around Jackson County. The destinations where they have landed have been very receptive and cooperative in Judy’s plans for the witches.
One person remembers well the first time she saw the witches, “It was at the Hixton Fireman’s Dance and my jaw just dropped when a bus drove up and all these witches came out and joined the party. At the time I didn’t have a clue of who they were, but seeing them all there was so much fun, and you figure, ‘Wow, you know that this a sure a great party when all these mysterious ladies come on over to it.’”
You can just hear the enthusiasm in Hawley’s voice when she talks about Witchfest.
“It simply began as a way for my friends and me to get together and have some fun by celebrating Halloween, which was always a fun holiday for me,” she said. “I feel fortunate that I have many friends who play along and then invite their ‘witchy’ friends and family. Each year with the help of friends and my daughter, it has been a lot of fun organizing the surprise destinations, food, games and prizes for best dressed witch, broom, hat and shoes.”
Over the years, the witches have been very creative.
“We have had hundreds of versions of witches from traditional witch to a cat witch, an Octoberfest witch, the ‘good witch’ from Wizard of Oz, Maleficent and so many more ‘over the top’ creations,” Hawley said. “The witches really get into their own creation and it simply amazes me each year how much detail and accessories they use to create their costume.”
While it is a fun Halloween event, Hawley most enjoys spending time with friends.
“What I think is most special is that the idea of just some friends getting together and having a fun time; now has expanded to many ladies joining in. They have so much fun that the next year they bring their sisters and daughters to experience the fun. This year we ended up at Garden Valley Gatherings, a perfect venue, and there were four mother/daughter sets and four sister sets.”
Even with all of the planning, Hawley is still excited to see the event continue to be a hit.
“All the witches are full of thank yous and compliments of their evening of fun. I am glad everyone enjoys it as much as I do,” Hawley said.