This year's corn maze in Preston represents a Titanic effort

Jerry Grabarek, owner of Preston Farms, stops by to check on one of his 3-month-old registered Holstein calfs as he holds a farm tour Sunday in conjunction with Preston's 325th anniversary celebration. Along with the tour, Grabarek offered a sneak peek at this year's Preston Farms corn maze, with its Titanic design. The maze officially opens Saturday.
Jerry Grabarek, owner of Preston Farms, stops by to check on one of his 3-month-old registered Holstein calfs as he holds a farm tour Sunday in conjunction with Preston's 325th anniversary celebration. Along with the tour, Grabarek offered a sneak peek at this year's Preston Farms corn maze, with its Titanic design. The maze officially opens Saturday. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Preston - "Here's the bow of the Titanic," announced Preston Farms owner Jerry Grabarek Sunday as he guided a tour through his newest corn maze.

He pointed to a row of 12-foot-high cornstalks.

"Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were standing right here," Grabarek said, smiling. "And the iceberg is dead ahead."

Preston Farms' corn maze - a weed-wacked profile outline of the Titanic, complete with lifeboat, iceberg, and "RMS Titanic" lettering - is ready to open for a 13th year of confusing visitors, humbling the overconfident and inspiring the corniest of jokes.

This year's design commemorates the 100th anniversary of the unsinkable ocean liner's famous sinking. The sneak peek on Sunday featured free admission for Preston's 325th anniversary celebration, which concluded this weekend.

The maze officially opens on Saturday.

The Grabarek family is hoping for calmer weather after Tropical Storm Irene wreaked havoc on their 2011 maze, a carefully designed combination of Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. As the storm flattened large sections of the crop, only about a quarter of the expected 5,000 visitors came out.

The new maze spans 7 acres and is 440 feet long. The Grabareks placed 16 "stations" within the maze, each marked by photographs or drawings of the ship and its passengers. Visitors are to collect stamps at each station to chart their progress.

Grabarek estimates that it takes about 20 minutes to walk through the full maze, if one were to make all the right turns. Completing the stamp game will take more than an hour.

This is the farms' second maze with a Titanic theme. The 2001 attraction featured a longer outline of the Titanic, but lacked the details and secondary objects.

"This is so much better than 2001," said Grabarek, who designs and plots the mazes so that 1 inch on paper equals 20 feet of cornfield. "My maze-making has progressed."

His son, Matthew, 20, has a distant relative who was a Titanic survivor, a connection that inspired the earlier maze.

Anne McGowan was 15 years old and traveling third-class with an aunt when the luxury liner struck the Atlantic iceberg on April 14, 1912. Anne made it to a lifeboat and lived to old age, spending later years in Chicago. The aunt, Margaret McGowan, died in the sinking.

The Grabareks planted this year's maze crop on May 31 to mark the Titanic's May 31, 1911, launching from Belfast Lough. The maze officially opens Sept. 1, 27 years to the day after underwater explorer Robert Ballard, who now heads the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium, discovered the shipwreck on Sept. 1, 1985.

Grabarek said that everyone inevitably gets somewhat lost in the maze - "People think they know where they are, but they don't" - but it is hard to get truly lost, although that has been done before.

"What do we do if we get lost?" asked visitor Edie Savignac of Norwich, accompanied by her daughter, Rose Iams.

"You really can't because there's a trail that goes around the whole maze," Grabarek replied.

Iams laughed: "You don't know us that well!"

Another visitor, Ed Gauthier of Preston, ventured through with his 3-year-old son, Nick, and 8-year-old daughter, Ava. They found five of the 16 stamps.

"You have to go down the narrow paths that don't look like paths," Gauthier said. "We went down there and we found three of them - boom, boom, boom."

As for the maze maker, he claims to rarely get lost within his creations: "I get turned around every once in awhile, not too often," Grabarek said.

Sunday afternoon was apparently a day for exceptions. Attempting to point out the "RMS Titanic" lettering, he found himself surrounded and perplexed by tall stalks and green ears.

"We've got the R right there. Maybe that's the R. Is that the M? I don't know," Grabarek conceded. "I'm lost."

jreindl@theday.com

Jerry Grabarek of Preston, owner of Preston Farms, loads a few bales of hay onto a trailer as he prepares to offer hayrides Sunday during a farm tour in conjunction with Preston's 325th anniversary celebration.
Jerry Grabarek of Preston, owner of Preston Farms, loads a few bales of hay onto a trailer as he prepares to offer hayrides Sunday during a farm tour in conjunction with Preston's 325th anniversary celebration. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

If you go

WHAT: Preston Farms corn maze

WHERE: 92 Route 2, Preston

WHEN: Open Sept. 1 through Nov. 4.

TIMES: weekdays 3 p.m. to dusk and weekends 10 a.m. to dusk with late "flashlight" weekends beginning in October.

ADMISSION: $8 for 12 and over, $5 for 6-11, $2 for 4-5 and free for 3 and under.

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