(NOTE: Coverage of Svengoolie’s Flashback Weekend talk show with Robert Englund (in full Freddy make-up) will be posted on Halloween in celebration of the holiday as well “Svengoolie Day” in Illinois. For the next two weeks we’ll lead into the big day with posts on his “35th Anniversary Celebration” at the Museum of Broadcast Communications as well as the Nightmare on Chicago Street in Elgin)
For me, Halloween usually kicks off after I first spy the seasonal “Monster” cereals back on the store shelves. Shamefully, I still haven’t had a chance to grab them, though I did get a more direct introduction to the holiday courtesy of national horror host, Svengoolie. The appearance took place at Siegel’s Cottonwood Farms in Joliet, Illinois and the last time I saw him in that area was over two years ago during a Slammers game on a blistering hot evening (which I covered both in Scary Monsters Magazine and HERE). On this late September day the temps were much more forgiving though the clouds looked a bit ominous. I told myself it was just part of the Halloween “ambiance” and decided at the last minute to head over.
Despite a highway billboard boasting “Affordable Fun,” Cottonwood Farms wasn’t the cheapest place to visit. I did have an online coupon which helped but a family of four could easily pay close to fifty bucks just to walk in gate. They offered lots of activities but many of the better ones required additional funds.
However, if money isn’t an issue, you’ll definitely want to stop by their gift shop which had all kinds of fall goodies like apple cider donuts. One thing I do love is a good apple cider donut; provided I can wash it down with fresh apple cider (I’m talking the real stuff not that crap they sell at the grocery store). Places like these are about the only way you can get quality cider & donuts and it’s one of the many reasons I love being in the Midwest during the fall season.
Of course, some items weren’t as appealing as others…
After leaving the shop we ventured out to the grounds. It was well over an hour before Svengoolie would be appearing and I was trying to figure out exactly where he’d be stationed so I could plan accordingly. I asked several workers and they all gave me different answers, each preceded by the words, “Hmmm…I’m not sure but I think he’ll be…” Finally I decided to give up and take in some of the ghoulish décor.
To me, there’s nothing more beautiful than the sight of pumpkins. I’d already bought mine from Wal-Mart the day before and was really happy regarding how perfectly colored and shaped they were (not to mention, affordable). That’s the thing about those Wal-Mart pumpkins…if you don’t get them early on in the season you’ll be stuck with mutant squash with busted stems – and what’s a Jack O’Lantern without a handle? Gazing at this batch of pumpkins, however, it was evident they were all stellar (okay, maybe not the one in the lower left of the photo).
They offered train rides for small children (and I mean SMALL, if I tried getting on that thing I’d end up flipping the conductor across the pumpkin patch) as well as an outdoor theater featuring two animatronic monsters; one an annoying little goblin telling the story of a giant (from Jack in the Beanstalk I presumed) though he looked a lot more like an ogre than a giant. The larger creature eventually stood up and blinked his eyes but it wasn’t long before most of the kids wathing realized this was the extent of its skills and left bored.
Not far from the outer theater was what looked like a haunted house.
We decided to check it out and, though inside it definitely was a haunted house in appearance, it was missing one key ingredient…haunters. You basically just walked through an empty, yet decorated room.
I’m guessing its fully operational during nighttime hours. It was dark and we eventually found ourselves outside and in back of the port-o-potties. “That’s the wrong exit,” some lady remarked. No kidding!
I had my two youngest children with me; ages ten and thirteen. Most of the activities seemed better suited for kids age five to seven and didn’t appeal to either until Luke (the ten year old) spied a zombie paint ball range. For a nominal fee, you could take shots at hanging zombie heads and he eagerly stepped up to the plate to rid the world of these undead craniums!
After several rogue shots he finally got a bulls-eye which made him very happy. Having done our parts to quell the zombie apocalypse, it was time to find Svengoolie. Thankfully we no sooner arrived back at the entrance when I saw the familiar faces of my friends and fellow fans, Don and Bunny. I’d only seen them briefly at Flashback Weekend and we’d promised to meet up for breakfast before the summer was over (side bar: Don & Bunny know the best restaurants for serving breakfast and are always on a first name basis with the wait staff) but it never happened.
We shared details about our summer trips before getting down to business and finding Svengoolie. With no signage, we decided to follow a couple wearing Svengoolie T-shirts before finding discovering the line. It wasn’t long before thar line reached its way outside the entrance.
We saw Svengoolie and his assistant (also now Svengoolie’s executive producer), Jim Roche, arrive and go inside the building designated for signing. Jim surveyed the crowd and hid behind one of the other fans (which, at my size, ain’t easy) so he would’t see me.
I’d been so busy with zoo-related activities this past summer that I’d been lax in my Svengoolie coverage. Consequently my past Sven chasing cost me the element of surprise which I had an opportunity for here. It worked until we got closer to the entrance and Jim peered outside and saw us.
We went inside and met up with Sven. His signing are was inside an empty silo which, though a bit dark, we noticed was peppered with some scary props.
Sven asked me about my recent trip to Florida and how happy he was with the day’s turn-out. Clearly since I’d last seen him, he hadn’t lost his ability to bring in the crowds.
The next time I’d see Svengoolie would be at the Museum of Broadcasting. It would not only mark a 35th Anniversary Celebration for the Chicago legend and national horror host but the debut of the new Sven exhibit featuring the old coffin.
And that story will be coming soon!