|BeetleJuice & Me as Raven Madison|
I’ve mentioned before that Ashland is a small train town just north of the state capitol. This is where we want to stay and while there has been a focus on the town becoming more of an "arts and culture" district, it’s still a tiny town with more traditional art galleries and conservative townsfolk even with a somewhat flourishing creative community including a Writer’s Cottage, upcycle stores such as ReFunkIt, and Street Parties, none of which truly satisfies one’s gothy-self. So when some of the members of the bookclub that I attend began talking about an upcoming event, I perked up.
|After watching outdoor demos, a whole new meaning to a scary bathroom!|
I attend the RVA Horror Book Club and many of its members are part of the Halloween community. For several months now I’ve been hearing about Virginia Haunt Fest, a small conference for haunt enthusiasts including home haunters and professional haunt owners and the actors. The extra exciting part was that the 15th annual conference was coming to the Center of the Universe (Ashland, VA) and would be held at Behind the Curtain studios, the host to Something Wicked & Ashland Haunted History Tours. This was my time to pull back and peep behind the curtain and see what a Haunt conference is all about.
On the continuum, Goths and Haunters are at least close to one another. I considered making a Venn diagram to show our similarities but that seemed like too much work just to make a point. We share a love for Halloween and a love for DIY. Both groups wear a great deal of black but in a line-up most of us could differentiate between the two. For those of you who are unsure, take for example my black wicker F. A. Whitney Carriage from the turn of the century. I’m perfectly happy with it sitting in my den looking creepy. A Haunter will look for a way to motorize it to make it move in order to scare someone or perhaps they would add a demonic-looking doll that screams. How do I know? And why are Haunters so near and dear to my heart? Simply put, my dad was an amateur Haunter.
Growing up my parents had elaborate Halloween parties that I had big dreams of one day attending when I was of age. As a child, I was his helper—I took old cement blocks and hammered and carved them into tombstones; I remember dragging chains across the sidewalk and walking through leaves to create a soundtrack for their parties. My mom has the best stereotypical Witch cackle!!!; we made cobwebs; and, I even remember Dad putting together his costumes which always had masks. Later I would hear stories of him waiting in the woods for guests to pull up just so that he could rush at them with an actual chainsaw (with the blade because he was old school like that :p ) scaring the guests to near death.
|Makeup Wars- Zombies attack!|
When I DIYed a grandmother clock cabinet a few years back, Dad added a skeleton inside. He added a sensor so that it would sing when you walk by. This part of Halloween is a little kitschy for everyday me who has grown in the nicer merchandise from Pottery Barn’s Halloween line but I am still fond of it because it reminds me of home. I can hear my dad say, “What if we did/added/built…” Those are some of the happiest of memories.
Back to the conference which was filled with owners of official haunts... I watched a demo on how to make masks and how to make a bullet hole appear authentic. I even watched Makeup Wars with four teams competing to create the best themed zombies while we watched. There were vendors selling masks, books, and t-shirts. After the demos and the speakers, our book club met to discuss The Woman In Black by Susan Hill. After that there was enough time to go home to change into Halloween attire for the Monster Ball which included a band complete with costumes and even a BeetleJuice impersonator with his tiny striped snake! —Halloween in June!
|We won some prizes!|
|A friend and a prize bag!|
What I enjoyed most though was the camaraderie. Everyone was super friendly. During the guest speaker, the room was so full that there weren’t enough seats; one Haunter offered his cooler as a makeshift bench. Another nice part was that so many of the Haunts donate to charities. For example, the guest speaker was Scott Balsley, Founder and President of Creative Works Farm & Twizted Creationz. While he runs an amazing haunt in Virginia, the money the haunt earns is donated to the American Cancer Society. His business doesn’t stop there though; he has also worked to create a summer camp for children with special needs. During his presentation he talked about how some local church groups were initially cautious about supporting them because haunts are associated with Halloween (insert ominous spooky music); however, once the churches realized the good works his organization was doing, they began helping.
|My fella better watch out!|
While Ashland was busy with another event, the Strawberry Faire, on Saturday making the lines quite long at local eateries, I can’t imagine that they had nearly as much fun as those of us who attended the Virginia Haunt Fest. This is the type of event this little town needs.