Who’d of thought zombies terrorizing an Illinois city’s streets would inspire warm, cuddly feelings of life getting back to normal? That’s what happened last Saturday when I visited “Nightmare on Chicago Street’ – the quintessential Halloween event that many feared would never happen again. Fortunately, a Global Pandemic proved no match for the Undead as I entered the Safe Zone of Elgin, Illinois smiling from ear to ear.
This year’s Nightmare on Chicago Street had near-perfect weather and another large turnout. My daughters and I arrived at the Safe Zone early to take photos and peruse a few antique stores located inside. The plan was for us to stay together until the arrival of MeTV’s national horror host, Svengoolie. At that point, I’d take off to assist him while the girls covered what was going on in the streets. And believe me, there was a LOT going on.
Jack O’Lantern Spectacular is a seasonal event that began in New England and has since spread to Louisville, Kentucky and (more recently) the Minnesota Zoo. It boasts 5,000 carved pumpkins which include your simple jack o’ lanterns along with the “intricates.” These eye-catching works of art feature detailed images that are truly breathtaking. Last year I visited the Louisville event on November 1st but never posted any of those pics since…well…Halloween was over. So when my friend, Jason Schoolcraft, sent shots from the JOLS taking place at his Roger Williams Park Zoo in Rhode Island, I figured I’ share pictures of both. I should note that just like any carved pumpkin, these don’t last and are always being swapped out for new designs. So let’s dive in…
I arrived at Elgin’s Nightmare on Chicago Street early this year. It seemed a wise choice in lieu of their having pre-sold over 8,000 tickets and my desire to find a decent parking spot. With the weather clear and in the ‘70s that day, it was no surprise that they’d end up bringing an additional 10,000 and technically “sell out” (though I don’t believe anyone was turned away). My first stop was Svengoolie Headquarters where Elizabeth Haney and Alice Moring had my passes. The local-turned-national horror host has been a staple of this event since the very beginning and this year his HQ was right across from Elgin’s Martini Room. It offered a back room where I could store my Sven shirt in anticipation of his appearance at 8pm. Alice and Elizabeth would end up surprising me with one of their own shirts which really made me happy since I loved this year’s design. I think it’s because it reminded me of the cover of an ‘80s comic book and I was BIG comic nerd back in the day.
Bear with me, folks, I’ve had this story sitting in a draft folder since May and apologize for discussing the “Halfway to Halloween” mark when we’re closing in on the big day itself. Regardless, it was too cool an event to pass up and I’m pretty sure I speak for most of us when I say Halloween is a lifestyle and not just some date on the calendar anyway. So let’s get to it…
It all happened on May 5th when I returned from work and found my two youngest kids (both teens) lounging in the living room and staring at their phones. Since February, this single dad’s been working two jobs/seven days a week so the scene didn’t so much annoy me as make me feel guilty for my short-comings. I’ve always prided myself as being a “fun” dad but it seemed like this year I could do very little outside business hours, including weekends. Despite being tired and wanting to zone out in front of my own electronics, I was determined to make this Friday night different. I’d accomplish this by taking them to Elgin, Illinois for the city’s fifth annual (and our first) Monster-Mash Up. Needless to say, when I asked them to put on their shoes and join me, they weren’t exactly jumping for joy over it. So I sat down and explained that after our seeing the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 the night before, I was reminded of how long it had been since we’d done anything fun together. Even if the event proved a bust and they wanted to glare at me all night long, at least we’d be together. Apparently my locker room speech paid off because they both got up without an argument and prepared for the hour’s journey to Elgin.
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.