Image: Thimble Islands, Conn.
Michelle McLoughlin  /  AP file
Residents of Money Island take advantage of a diving board in the Thimble Islands off the coast of Branford, Conn. The island chain, within a three-mile radius of Stony Creek, has long attracted the rich and reclusive, the famous and infamous, from President William Howard Taft to P.T. Barnum's circus star Tom Thumb to cartoonist Gary Trudeau and his wife, television journalist Jane Pauley.
updated 9/4/2007 3:26:13 PM ET 2007-09-04T19:26:13

Looking for some offbeat ways to spend a day in New England as the final weeks of summer give way to the golden days of autumn?

Here are some places to go and things to do in Connecticut, from nature to history to a monster museum that only opens once a year as Halloween approaches.

Swallow migration: From September to early October, thousands of tree swallows settle each evening in the long grassy reeds of Goose Island, in Old Lyme, about a mile north of the mouth of the Connecticut River. The island is on their migration route to the Gulf Coast and Central America.

Local experts estimate up to 300,000 tree swallows fly to the island nightly, gliding and swooping overhead in a sort of avian ballet. Only a few coastal spots around southern New England, like Cuttyhunk Island, Mass., and Block Island, R.I., can offer a similar display.

The evening show captivated world-renowned bird artist and naturalist Roger Tory Peterson, who lived just a few miles from the site. Peterson once wrote, "I have seen a million flamingos on the lakes of East Africa and as many seabirds on the cliffs of the Alaska Pribilofs, but for sheer drama, the tornadoes of tree swallows eclipsed any other avian spectacle I had ever seen."

The RiverQuest, in collaboration with the Connecticut Chapter of the National Audubon Society and the Connecticut River Museum, offers $30 boat tours to see the spectacle, with departures from the Connecticut River Museum dock, 67 Main St., Essex; 860-662-0577.

Witch's Dungeon: The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum in Bristol offers a behind-the-scenes look at what it took to create Frankenstein's monster, bring the creature out of the Black Lagoon or put the Phantom of the Opera on stage.

The museum, located 20 miles southwest of Hartford, pays homage to the actors and makeup artists behind these and other ghoulish legends of the screen.

For just a few weekends a year around Halloween, visitors can get up close and personal with the likes of Count Dracula, the Fly and the Werewolf of London. The lifelike renditions, done by professional makeup artist Cortlandt Hull, are set in tiny but elaborate showcases. They are based on molds of the actors' heads and are complete with real human hair and prosthetic glass eyeballs.

Image: Phone booth library on Money Island, Conn.
Michelle McLoughlin  /  AP file
Jennifer Cirino shows off a phone booth turned library on Money Island, part of the Thimble Islands off the coast of Branford, Conn.
The figures are so true to fiction that makeup artists and actors such as Mark Hamill of "Star Wars" fame and June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Squirrel and Natasha in the series "Rocky and Bullwinkle," have donated props or volunteered to promote the museum.

Hundreds come each October, some waiting more than an hour for a tour that lasts just six minutes. The Witch's Dungeon Classic Movie Museum is located at 90 Battle St., Bristol, and is open Oct. 12-14, 19-21, and 27-31, 7-10 p.m.

Thimble Islands: The secluded Thimble Islands in Long Island Sound, known by the Mattabesec Indians as "the beautiful sea rocks," have attracted legends and luminaries for generations. On one island, circus star Tom Thumb courted a fellow circus performer who became his wife, "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau and his wife, newscaster Jane Pauley, own an island home. Treasure hunters have combed them for Captain Kidd's buried riches.

A wealthy widow, Christine Svenningsen, has spent about $33 million in recent years to buy 10 of the islands.

But you can see them on a 45-minute sightseeing cruise for a mere $10. Contact Sea Mist cruises, departing from Branford, at 203-488-8905.

New Haven Crypt: The New Haven Green may be best known as the cultural hub of a city that's synonymous with Yale University. It's where jazz concerts and arts festivals bring the 16-acre park to life each summer, where protests are staged and the homeless can be found napping on benches. But many don't know that while trooping across the well-groomed Green to trendy shops and gourmet restaurants, they are likely walking over a burial ground where thousands were laid to rest some three hundred years ago.

That's because the upper Green served as the chief burying ground for early settlers to the city during the 17th and 18th centuries. Grass has since been planted over the burial ground, but in the basement of Center Church is a crypt that hasn't changed for more than 190 years. The tombstones date back as far as 1687. Among those identified in the crypt are Benedict Arnold's first wife, minister and Yale University founder James Pierpont, and the family of President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Free tours are offered by Center Church, 311 Temple St., New Haven, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays through Oct. 31; 203-787-0121.

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