In comparison to most of the Svengoolie appearances I’ve attended, my 100th was rather subdued. It happened nearly two weeks ago at the 2019 Chicago Ghost Con presented by Chicago Hauntings; a true crime/ghost tour company that illuminates the darker side of the city’s history, The heart of this organization is Ursula Bielski who’s something of a local legend if not treasure. Even if you don’t believe in the supernatural you have to appreciate her books/lectures on Chicago cemeteries and the incredible amount of research she put behind them. This event took place at the Holiday Inn Chicago SW-Countryside Conference Center – a large and beautiful building that boasts modern conveniences in a somewhat old-fashioned setting. In fact, when I pulled in, it’s curved brick walls reminded me of a castle. Since I was early, I decided to finish my coffee in the car before going in. During this interlude, I observed a woman dressed to the nines walk outside for a smoke. Either I was way underdressed for this occasion or she was cosplaying as a deceased debutante. Things got a lot clearer when I walked inside only to discover I was crashing a wedding party. Obviously, I’d parked on the wrong side of the building! I quickly drove around to the front entrance which was decisively less regal and jam-packed with cars. In place of a bride’s maid, this time I saw a goth looking gentleman smoking instead. After he crushed out his cigarette, I followed him inside.
The man unwittingly led me straight to the registration table as I’d hoped. Prior to my arrival, Svengoolie’s producer/assistant, Jim Roche, instructed me to ask for a man named Paul and, after mentioning his name, was quickly ushered into the main ballroom. Once the door shut behind me, I felt as if I’d interrupted a college lecture. On the left side of the room was a large projection screen showing a computer desktop; indicative of an upcoming slideshow. To the right were several empty tables, elegantly prepared for dinner. In front of the screen were aisles of chairs with the first two rows randomly occupied by the event organizers. They were just finishing up their discussion and looked at me as if I was trespassing. I had no idea what Paul looked like but had no trouble identifying Ursula. We’ve bumped into each other numerous times before, both at Svengoolie events as well as her own (the last being a ghost tour of the Lincoln Park Zoo).
As the meeting dispersed, a man approached me with a look that suggested I was about to get ousted. Before he could even get a word out, I evoked the name “Paul” and was directed to a friendly-looking man wearing a baseball cap instead. “There you are!” he said. “I was just looking for you.” I explained my parking on the wrong side of the building and another man assisting Paul (also wearing a cap) said he’d done the same thing. Having gotten past the pleasantries, Paul walked us to a small employee lot behind the ballroom. Here we awaited the arrival of Svengoolie. During the wait, Paul told me how his family has a tradition of taking a picture with Svengoolie while holding the photo taken from their last encounter. So, at this point, there’s like twenty “pictures within the picture” which I’m thinking you’d need an electron microscope to fully appreciate.
A few minutes later, Svengoolie and Jim arrived. Jim hopped out of the car full of that energy I envy him for. He started unloading the Svengoolie shirts and posters before scoping out the signing area with Paul and I. Meanwhile, Svengoolie sat half in and out of the car while waiting for us. The other man stayed back to keep him company; inundating the MeTV national horror host with personal stories. When Ursula saw Jim she ran up and gave him a big hug. She then turned to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I remember you!” she said. I was pretty sure she saw me walk in earlier but probably didn’t know whether I was helping Svengoolie or merely stalking him (a valid concern). The signing booth was near the registration table and offered a view of that gazebo I mentioned as well as the wedding reception I walked in on earlier.
A few minutes later, Svengoolie and Jim arrived. Jim hopped out of the car full of the enviable energy he’s known for. He started unloading the Svengoolie shirts and posters before scoping out the signing area with Paul and I. Meanwhile, Svengoolie sat half in and out of the car while waiting for us. The other man stayed back to keep him company; inundating MeTV’s national horror host with personal stories. When Ursula saw Jim she ran up and gave him a big hug before turning to me and giving a kiss on the cheek. “I remember you!” she said. I was pretty sure she recognized me walking in earlier but probably didn’t know whether I was there to assist Svengoolie or stalk him (a valid concern). The signing booth was near the registration table and offered a view of a gazebo and the wedding reception I’d gotten up close and personal with earlier.
When we returned to the car, that man was still talking Sven’s ear off which cause me to start laughing. I think I may have offended the poor guy since he immediately turned and looked at me. I couldn’t help it. It reminded me of that scene in Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1987) when she brings her car to the shop and the old repairmen talks on and on until realizing she’s already left the garage. When Svengoolie settled in and before the signing began.
I asked him about his recent trip to New York City. As mentioned in my last David Dasmalchian interview, Svengoolie’s now an official part of the DC Universe and participated in panels about it at the New York Comic-Con. Both he and Jim had the time of their lives and Dan Didio, co-publisher of DC Comics, clearly went all out to ensure their brief visit was a memorable one. I was delighted to see that they brought along a box of comics that collects his current and upcoming appearances in DC. This was a NYCC exclusive that Svengoolie was able to share at subsequent appearances. They were also FREE and given to everyone who came out to see him.
The signing went smooth and the line, though fragmented, remained steady. The intimate conference prevented the enormous crowds that are typical of his appearances these days which was a nice change of pace. He did, however, get some unexpected guests such as members of the wedding party! Apparently, they saw Svengoolie signing across the courtyard and couldn’t pass up a chance to meet him. Of all the things I’ve seen in my 100 Sven appearances, a wedding crashing his signing was a first!
Some fans brought along interesting items such as his image etched on wood and a recreation of “The Scream” painting.
Even Jim got in on the signing…
Ursula and her ghostly gang would also pay Svengoolie a visit with many returning for multiple photos.
When it was all over, Svengoolie signed one of his comics for me, congratulating me on my 100th visit which, when you think about it, is a lot better than a restraining order.
There would be little time for me to bask in my compulsive accomplishments, however, as the 101st appearances was less than 24 hours away…
Coming Up…Nightmare on Chicago Street!