Twice a month, the Shakespeare Market invites local vendors to Stratford, Connecticut, to showcase their wares. The booths are a two-minute walk from Mac’s Harbor, which overlooks the Long Island Sound rather than the Avon River. The market gets its name from the American Shakespeare Theater, which used to occupy the same space before it burned down in 2019. The event runs throughout the year, but in October, it specializes in all things Halloween, transforming a section into the “Shakesfeare Market” for the month.
Upon entering the market on Sunday, October 1, I was immediately greeted by a sinister tune emerging from a tree. Behind the tree sat a man with a forehead tattoo resembling an Illuminati pyramid playing the guitar. A sign at the entrance to the outdoor event delineated the “Shakespeare” and “Shakesfeare” sections of the market. On the Shakespeare side, little kids ran between booths selling everything from cookies to candles, whereas the Shakesfeare area was dominated by goth-looking millennials with dyed hair and innumerable piercings. I found three of them sitting behind a stand called the Morgue Vogue—a booth advertised by a cardboard cutout of the human body (arteries, veins, and all) positioned outside.
Past this stand, Ericka Saracho and Gabriela Margarita De Jesus sold their pottery at a booth dedicated to their small business: Bright Raven Studio. Ericka, ES ’14 who was dressed appropriately in a Stranger Things T-shirt, greeted me warmly as I examined their jack-o’-lantern-inspired candle holders and pumpkin molds. Immediately, I could tell that Ericka was one of the less Halloween-obsessed artisans in the market. Bright Raven Studio’s repertoire extends far beyond the holiday theme, and many of its non-Halloween pieces were on display, often featuring cyanotype-inspired patterns. Ericka Saracho was introduced to pottery at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven. There, they met Steven Rodriguez, the then-director of the workshop, whom Ericka described as having been truly impactful on their journey as a pottery maker. “It was cool to see another Latino in a predominantly white space like that,” they told me. Partially due to this influence, Ericka now works part-time as a pottery facilitator at Make Haven, where they teach on Wednesday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m.
I continued down the line of booths, each progressively stranger, and paused at one promoting a book called Connecticut Cryptids: A Field Guide to the Weird N’ Wonderful Creatures of the Nutmeg State. Behind the booth sat Val, the book’s illustrator, who was also one of the event’s organizers. Val called over their twin, Finn, who makes up the other half of this operation. Collectively, they refer to themselves as the Frankenstein Twins.
Val and Finn began organizing Halloween-themed events a few years ago. The first of these events, called the Oddities Bazaar, was held in New Haven. They soon became acquainted with the Shakespeare Market’s founder, Adam, and described an instant connection. “We were like, ‘We’re both weird, so we should make this happen,’” Val told me. The twins also talked to me about how they use events like these as ways to showcase their appreciation for Connecticut. Part of the allure, they explained, is discovering underrated locations in the state and then sharing those with others through the markets. Val seemed particularly interested in Connecticut’s history and charm, which they explore in their upcoming book about the state’s mythic creatures. The book includes detailed descriptions and illustrations of creatures like the Goat Man of the Opera House, depicted in the book as a half-man-half-goat. “A lot of research went into this book,” they add, explaining that, in addition to stories about the creatures, the book includes a lot of raw Connecticut history. Not yet released to the public, Connecticut Cryptids will be available for purchase on the fitting date of Friday, October 13.
The last booth that I visited advertised a podcast called Ain’t It Scary with Sean and Carrie, which specializes in paranormal storytelling. Carrie was manning the booth when I arrived. She and her husband, Sean, who works at Yale Medical School and likes to discuss paranormal events in his free time, have been podcasting for the past three years now. Carrie’s dad happened to also be at the market and came over to say hello during our interview, at which point Carrie explained to me that he, too, writes books on paranormal events, describing theirs as a “paranormal family.”
Like the Frankenstein Twins, Sean and Carrie seemed particularly interested in Connecticut’s “spooky” history. Carrie explained that some of her favorite episodes have been about the Connecticut Witch Trials and Union Cemetery in Easton, which she considers to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the country. “Where there is history there is weird stuff,” she said, which seems to fit only too well with the concept of the Shakesfeare Market.