With the kids and I settled in our new place I haven’t been this excited about the holidays in years. We’ve got a new pre-lit Christmas tree that offers both color and white lights, a freezer full of homemade cookies awaiting decoration, and a honey baked ham for the big day. In fact, I’ve been feeling so festive these days I don’t even mind the local 24/7 holiday music station that usually drives up a wall.
Yet, despite all the trappings, it wasn’t until last weekend at the Elmhurst Animal Care Center that I really felt the holiday spirit. This was thanks to their annual “mystic” fundraiser/adoption featuring adorable puppies, spooky artisans, and my favorite celebrity; national horror host, Svengoolie, in his seasonal “Sventa Claus” attire! And if there’s one holiday tradition to uphold, it’s seeing Sventa.
Finding the Center wasn’t difficult since it was just off the expressway and rather large. I’ve been to many a vet in my pet owning days but none can compare to the size of this place which I can only describe as the furry equivalent of the Mayo Clinic.
After parking down the street, I walked into a room bustling with activity. The event was designed to bring in much-needed funds (and hopefully a few good homes) to abandoned animals. And these pooches were so darn cute I had to wonder what kind of heartless monster could ever ditch them. Kudos to this facility and its dedicated staff and volunteers for looking out for them.
Sventa’s signing was scheduled from 2-4pm and I arrived just after 2. At this point, the line extended all the way to the entrance and I didn’t make it more than five feet before settling in. I asked one of the staff if I was in the right spot for Sventa and she said, “Yeah, and while you’re waiting for him, how about buying a raffle ticket so you can win a Christmas present for your pet?” I looked over the doggy sweaters, homemade biscuits, and cat toys. “Sure,” I replied. “What do you have for tarantulas?” At which point the conversation awkwardly came to an end.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of excitement as people observed Sventa Claus’ arriving out front, accompanied by his favorite little helper, Jim Roche. We all hoped they’d walk into the main lobby and pass by but we watched as they were escorted to a private entrance instead.
Just as they were entering the building I noticed an older woman trying to follow them in before getting redirected by a staff. Moments later she joined me as the new “end of the line” and wasted no time introducing herself as “Renee” and proceeding to ask a myriad of questions.
Rene: Is this the same Svengoolie my son and my husband used to watch? (as if I knew them)
Me: Was it in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s?
Renee: Yes, it was.
Renee: Oh wow, I thought I heard he was celebrating 40 years.
Me: Well, thanks to a misinformed interviewer, people have been congratulating him a year early but 2019 is officially the 40th.
Renee: So who was the Son of Svengoolie? Wasn’t he on TV, too? Didn’t he have green hair or something?
After looking at the long line ahead and realizing I had all the time in the world I took a deep breath and dived into Svengoolie 101. “Well, Renee, it all started back in 1970 when Jerry G/ Bishop….”
After the history lesson was over, she asked if I’d hold her place in line so she could see how much longer it extended after we finally got out of this lobby and into the main craft room. It was a full fifteen minutes before she’d return, feasting on a plate of Perogies. At this point, I’d already reached the door and was able to see into the room myself.
Every time we settled in front of a booth, Renee would ask the seller a million questions. To be honest, I didn’t mind as I enjoyed listening in – especially since this was a “mystic” craft fair and you never knew what to expect. For example, one of the crafters was selling handmade shower soap made with “sacred salts and holy water.” She explained to Renee that they weren’t designed to clean your body but your spirit.
Also helping to pass the time was a couple of fellow Svengoolie fans who stopped by to say “hello.” The first was Shaine Acevedo who showed off his new “It Came From Berwyn” chicken tattoo in honor of one of Sven’s older (and my personal favorite) T-shirt designs.
The second was a guy named Mike I met at an appearance last month. I’ve been so behind with my blogging this year, I’ve got two Halloween Svengoolie appearances still in the works. Anyway, he was a great guy who took my advice and visited the aforementioned Brian Bernardoni’s Svengoolie display on Halloween night.
Jim gave me a big hug and said I was welcome to hang out afterward. I was planning to stay late anyway as I’d just purchased a raffle ticket for a custom animatronic Svengoolie. I believe it was a battery operated choir boy in its formal life before getting a ghoulish revamp courtesy of a local artist named Carrie from Moonlight Been.
Carrie also had her own booth of macabre items that illustrated how, for many of us, Halloween is never really over. She also had the best seat in the house – right next to Sventa’s table.
On the other side of him were my friends from Elgin, John La Fleur, and Dave Metzger. They were selling their book 8 Little Zombies which I’ve discussed before. Seeing Elgin folks always makes me happy and, incidentally, their 2018 Nightmare on Chicago Street with Sven is yet another story I’m still sitting on.
When it was finally my turn to see Sven I didn’t have to sit on his lap (thankfully, as it would probably have become Sventa’s last appearance) for him to tell me what I’ll be getting myself for Christmas. This special Svengoolie item will be unveiled soon and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
After my turn was up, I stepped aside and watched him meet other guests– both the two and four-legged kind!
People brought all kinds of things for him to sign but the coolest was from a guy named Vincenzo Kely who watched him back in his “Son of Svengoolie” days like I did. Unlike me, however, Vincenzo was fortunate to have cool parents who took him to an appearance and he enlarged a photo of that meeting for Svengoolie to sign nearly 40 years later. Watching on was his own young son which hit home how much of a family tradition Rich Koz’s Svengoolie has become here in Chicago.
But the warmest moment was yet to come.
A superfan I’d spoken of in past appearances showed up for this one along with a beautiful handwritten letter she wrote for him. Having patiently waited for everyone in line to meet Sven, she returned to read it to him aloud. It was heartfelt and you couldn’t help but get a tear in your eye while listening. I decided afterward that if I ever see her again I’m going to reach out and send her copies of the photos I’ve taken of her with her idol.
Yes, if there’s a “Spirit of Sventa,” then it was never more evident than at this event. The devotion and camaraderie of my fellow fans really shined and I wished my dear, departed Svengoolie fan, Joan Yingst, could have seen how far this community has grown since Sven went National. It’s something I’m reminded of every Saturday when the great Nicholas Mastramico in Alabama tags me in his weekly Svengoolie post. Or when my friend, Steve Smith, in Arizona, tirelessly sends me digital Sven clips to post on YouTube. It reminded me of every tweet from the Twitter gang including Nanette Keir who was actually at this event but I somehow managed to miss. Or the weekly post from Christopher Hamby in Maryland who’s Silver Screen Reflections proves he’s a far better blogger than I’ve been these days. Hamby’s regular highlights of Sven’s upcoming movies always fires me up about Saturdays and I really appreciate that.
Yep, it’s a wonderful community to be a part of…especially when Sventa Claus is coming to town.