In a lot behind the Midtown shopping center usually filled with weeds, a hay-bale circle dedicated to the most supernatural of holidays has taken shape. The rectangular bales encircle a straw and wood "altar" covered with bright orange pumpkins, corn stalks and colorful fall leaves. The display is guarded by a dangling ghost effigy and a pumpkin-headed goblin. A skeleton sprawls between two large pumpkins, resting his bones.
With the vibe of a magical circle fit for a full-moon ritual, this pop-up mini Halloween park could be Palo Alto's own version of Stonehenge.
By daylight, it's a gathering place for families, where children can paint or carve their own pumpkins and visitors of all ages can sit and chat or relax in the warm afternoon sunshine.
The Hidden Halloween is the creation of Baskin-Robbins franchise owner Seng Kaing, his wife, Ivy, and two of their relatives: Kent Chang and Tim Sin. They spent hours clearing the lot and hauling 24 straw bales they'd imported from Half Moon Bay. Pumpkins of all sizes sit on each bale. They aren't yet carved, since it's early in the season, but a few showed the promising signs of a Jack-o-ween to come: fake blood trickled down the smooth orange skin and one was decorated with a blue painted heart.
Kaing, who has owned the Midtown Baskin-Robbins at 2615 Middlefield Road for six years, said the land behind his store has been empty for a long time. He's always wanted to do something with it and this year he received permission from the landlord to set up the Halloween display. It opened about the third week of September.
The pumpkin patch is a labor of love — a means to bring the community together, especially during these hard, COVID-19 times, he said.
"It took a half a day to finish it. Before, people passed by an empty, dirty lot. Now, they pass by and take pictures, get ice cream and enjoy the spot. People say 'thank you' and the kids are happy. Families don't have to go far away.
"With COVID, you don't have to be in a pumpkin patch with a lot of people. You can be in a small family setting and take pictures," he said.
Midtown resident Carrie Manley and some of her neighbors are planning an informal, free gathering on Sunday, Oct. 10, at 4 p.m. for anyone who'd like to join in the Halloween fun of carving a pumpkin, she said.
It's a bring-your-own-pumpkin-carving-equipment event.
"Pumpkin donations, of any size, are welcome. COVID safety is encouraged, so mask up, and know that behind every mask, there's a guaranteed smile," she said in an email.
Manley said she noticed the patch when she saw Kaing and his family weeding the lot and hauling in the hay bales.
"There's something magical about this pop-up pumpkin patch. Every time I walk by, I notice a few more pumpkins perched on the hay bales. I am really grateful to the Baskin-Robbins manager Seng Kaing, and his family, for all their hard work, generosity, and creativity in transforming an empty lot into what I consider to be a perfect pumpkin patch, filled with bales of fun and the Halloween spirit," she said.