There was still sunlight when I arrived at the Elgin Safe Zone for their annual Nightmare on Chicago Street this past Saturday evening. This year I’d be attending alone as most of my friends were back home watching the Chicago Cubs play in a historic baseball game that would see them heading to the World Series for the first time in over seventy years. Under those circumstances, their absence was understandable…and what better reason to skip a zombie Apocalypse than for the possibility of watching Hell freeze over instead? In my world, however, the Nightmare on Chicago Street IS the World Series and there was no place I’d rather be.
I came in through the Spring Street entrance which would land me smack dab in the middle of their scary circus/carnival section. Dare I say the familiar visage of Tim Curry’s Pennywise on their signage was oddly comforting? I mean, what a relief to see horror-themed clowns parading around proudly and openly in lieu of today’s current hysteria! A couple of weeks ago (not long after Target removed all clown costumes from their store shelves) I received an official memo from my kid’s school reassuring us parents that our children were safe from “creepy clowns.” I honestly didn’t know whether to shake my head at how dumb the world’s become or bust out laughing.
As I continued on, I took in all the event’s familiar sights while also noting their latest embellishments; the most impressive of which was a military tank complete with fascist soldiers.
This year they were also giving away free cake…with a “Nightmare” twist.
From where I live in Chicago’s south suburbs, driving to Elgin is something of a nightmare in and of itself. On a good day it will take me well over an hour to get there but lately that time’s been almost doubled due to surrounding road construction. It’s really unfortunate because I’ve come to truly love this city. Not only because they obviously have the best activities (did you catch their Krampus Krawl I covered last year?) but also due to their having retained so many of the privately owned businesses that most communities have lost. Elgin Books, The Martini Room lounge, Sides Street Studios, and the Soulful Sparrow vintage store give this city the kind of character that makes the drive past my village’s Wal-Mart, Petco, and Great Clips a total buzzkill. They also have that fantastic Dr. WHO diner, The Blue Box Café, which we Daves visited a couple of years back.
Covering things alone this year had its advantages and disadvantages. It was nice being able to move about freely and, later, spend more time with the Svengoolie crew. But, at the same time, I wished I had someone out on the streets photographing all the amazing and creative costumes. I was able to snap a few while searching for the new location of Svengoolie Headquarters.
Last year the national, commercial TV horror host greeted fans at Side Street Studios but 2016 would see him at the opposite end of the Safe Zone across from a makeshift Thunderdome and “genetic lab.”
I finally located the spot about an hour before he was slated to arrive and noticed that a line of fans had already formed.
I was about to find my place in it before my friend, and ZDI (Zombie Defense Initiative) member, Alice Moring, stopped me. She graciously brought me into Sven’s signing area and to see my other ZDI pal, Elizabeth Haney. Elizabeth insisted I meet the event’s other special guest, Butch Patrick a.k.a. little Eddie Munster from The Munsters TV show. I’d seen him at other events but this was this first time I actually got to meet him.
I stood inside chatting with Chicago’s “King of Geeks,” Elliott Serrano. Elliott was hosting the costume contest again this year and had been “live” Facebooking the entire evening. We talked about the latest superhero movies and TV shows while monitoring the Chicago Cub’s game on our phones. In this regard Elliott was being a lot truer to himself than I was. In a family full of sports fans, I was the monster-loving, proverbial black sheep. I’d never call myself a baseball fan (and, if I was, I grew up with Chicago’s other team, the White Sox) but, considering the Cubs historic losing streak, even I could appreciate what this year meant to my friends and family members who were.
Soon I heard the familiar voice of Svengoolie’s producer and our friend, Jim Roche. Roche’s role in the Svengoolie-verse cannot be overstated. In terms of energy he’s a powerhouse; able to multi-task like it’s nobody’s business, and fiercely protective of my favorite celebrity. Speaking of which, Roche was followed in by the man himself as well as his director, Chris Faulkner. The quiet, unassuming Faulkner is another unsung hero whose cinematography is unmatched in the horror host realm. I recently spoke of my admiration for Chris and was happy to tell him personally this night. He thanked me before getting right down to business and taping footage for a future “Svengoolie on the Road” segment…
Elliott began “live” Facebooking the host’s arrival while my friend, Duanne Walton (who was acting as a mad scientist in the lab outside) came in to quickly meet Svengoolie before returning to his duties. Speaking of Facebook, another friend of mine, Nicholas Mastramico, author of “The Grey Ghost” book we reviewed earlier this year, tagged me in his weekly “I’m looking forward to watching Svengoolie” post while all this was going on (Nicholas lives in Florida). I couldn’t resist commenting on how I was already “watching” him.
The line started moving and I noticed quite a few fans bringing their vinyl copies of the “Svengoolie Stomp” (performed by Freddie “Boom Boom” Cannon”) for him to sign. For more info related to that musical gem, check out the press release and ordering info located HERE.
I had my copy, too. Even though I’d long since lost my old 45 RPM record player, it’s a pretty neat collectible with the disc itself a bright orange color. And it’s not like my ever-growing Sven shrine wasn’t due for another addition.
The fans who were in line an hour earlier were the wise ones as, like every year, it had to get cut due to the immense turn-out and Sven being on a tight schedule. As soon as the signing ended, Svengoolie was whisked out the back door and to an awaiting golf cart that would bring him to the annual costume contest he’d be hosting. As soon as he left I ran out the front door and into the crowded streets; maneuvering through the thousands of attendees in search of the correct stage. First I passed “Stage 1” which featured the “Ultimate Prince/Michael Jackson Tribute.” They weren’t kidding as the guy looked exactly like Michael and I paused to catch the tail end of “Thriller.”
I finally made it to Stage 2 (there were actually three stages which ought to give you some idea of how big this event is) and I knew I was at the right place when I saw the contestants off to the side. If nothing else, Nightmare on Chicago Street does offer diversity when it comes to their costumed entries.
I squeezed into the crowd while Elliott made his way to the stage. The contest was about to begin…
As soon as the contestants were whittled down to “finalists,” Svengoolie arrived to host the last round. The winner would be determined by how much noise the audience made after he introduced them all.
And the winners were…
The winning Adams Family remained on stage as both they and the crowd were encouraged to start doing the Svengoolie Stomp which began playing. The dance involves tossing a rubber chicken on the ground before…you guessed it…stomping on it. I left all my rubber chickens at home so I had to stomp on an invisible one instead.
After it was over, I waved goodbye to Svengoolie and then Elizabeth invited me to go to the event’s main headquarters and celebrate another successful Elgin “Nightmare” with some wine the ladies had stashed. I decided to take her up on the offer and we all made our way over. Elliott, who was dressed as Indiana Jones, wasn’t going to pass up a final “Live” message with the Nazis standing by the tank. Stealing a line from the film he declared, “I hate Nazis!” before interviewing them.
At this point word had gotten out that the Chicago Cubs had won the National League Pennant and would be facing off with the Cleveland Indians in The World Series. The “Go, Cubs, Go” song (a cheesy but catchy tune I remembered from back in the ‘80s) was playing over the speakers and the crowd joined in. It was probably the closest I’d ever get to knowing what the streets were like back in 1945 on V-E Day when the Nazis surrendered in Europe. It perfectly wrapped up the evening and made an already unforgettable night even more memorable.