A deluge of rain wasn’t enough to deter fans from descending on the Museum of Broadcast Communications to celebrate Svengoolie’s 40th Anniversary. I met up with my fellow super fans, Ron and Angela Urban, who graciously allowed me to join them for the ride into the city – something a suburbanite like myself dreads even when it’s dry out. It was the same arrangement we had five years ago for his 35th. We stopped for a drink at Chicago’s famous Harry Carey’s – hoping the downpour would stop before our walk the museum. It didn’t. When we reached the building we were still too early and asked the young gentleman sitting inside the museum’s lobby if he’d let us have shelter inside. Thankfully, he agreed and we stood to wait next to ZZ Top’s famous car, The Eliminator. This was the official one seen in their humorous videos back in the ‘80s – usually featuring downtrodden individuals getting a much-needed boost from the band.
On Saturday, December 7th, I pulled into Saint John’s Church in Lyons, Illinois to see Sventa Claus. The holiday version of MeTV’s horror host, Svengoolie, has become a tradition here in Chicago and one aspect of our local-gone-national celebrity we can still claim for ourselves. I was looking forward to seeing him while also supporting my friend, Lozen Brownbear. Lozen’s an animal-lover like myself and I’d attended her “Mystic Market” fundraiser up in Elmhurst last year. It’s a great way to pick up some unique, hand-crafted gifts for the holidays while sending much-needed funds to her furry friends at the Sacred Space Animal Sanctuary and Rescue.
I’ve never attended a horror event that was being protested before but this would be the first. I’m not talking Kent State level protesting of course but rather just a few religious people screaming at everyone who was trying to enter. Personally, protesting doesn’t bother me as the right to do so helps make our country what it is. However, being in close proximity to somebody screaming at the top of their lungs is irritating no matter what the cause. Unfortunately, that’s what we had here with a couple guys holding a sign while another yelled about choosing Jesus over the Satan. Instead of just ignoring them, some guy felt the need to go up and start an argument. On the one hand, I was irritated by his feeding into their nonsense while on the other grateful his distraction provided me safe passage inside.
Saturday, August 3, 2019, 5 PM: The Flashback Weekend costume contest ends and Svengoolie reunites with his crew before we all head, single file, to the main convention hall. Don Johnston takes the lead; helping to reel in celebrities for Sven to interview. I’m the caboose of this entourage doing my best to stay out of the way while taking photos. Suddenly, Svengoolie makes an unexpected detour to visit one of the vendors. She’s a Svengoolie fan who follows him on social media and mentioned how they’ve never formally met despite his passing her booth every year at Flashback Weekend. This time, he makes sure to break tradition and say ‘hello!’
Saturday, August 3, 2019, 4:15 PM: I enter Ballroom 1 at the Crowne Plaza in Rosemont and quickly take a seat next to my friend’s, Ron and Angela Urban. Those two always show up to panels and events early and get the best seats. The participants in this year’s costume parade were all lined up against the wall. The first thing I notice is how many kids there are. Usually, the Flashback Weekend costume contest kids division is lucky to have three or four entries. This year, however, they were a force to be reckoned with. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
Berwyn, Illinois’ Route 66 Car Show didn’t just offer a slice of tasty Chicago pizza (courtesy of one of their sponsors, Paisans) but a slice of good ole Midwest Americana as well. Admittingly, my enthusiasm for cars is mostly utilitarian. As long as it gets from Point “A” to Point “B,” I don’t really care what it looks like. What drew me towards this event was the presence of MeTV’s national horror host, Svengoole. I do, however, have a genuine affection for the “Mother Road” – something I mentioned a few years back during a trip I took through the southwest. From 1926 until its fragmentation in 1985, Route 66 stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles; giving birth to the American road trip along with countless references in popular culture. Part of its charm (and the part I like the best) are the numerous novelties and pit stops peppered along the way. These attractions were designed to entice tourists and, thankfully, many of them still stand today. In fact, New Mexico and Oklahoma have recently begun restoring many of their old signage and landmarks. Despite living so close to where it all begins, I’ve been rather oblivious to my Chicagoland Route 66 heritage, and this Svengoolie appearance was the perfect opportunity to appreciate some of the histories in my own backyard. Ogden Ave (named after the city’s first mayor) was once part of Route 66 and runs straight through Berwyn; a city now famous beyond the Illinois border thanks to the chidings of both Jerry G. Bishop and Rich Koz’s Svengoolie. As a fan of Koz and an avid road-tripper, how could I resist the opportunity to celebrate boh…especially on a near-perfect sunny day like last Saturday?
Friday, August 2, 2019, 8:30 PM: When the Svengoolie 40th Anniversary panel ends, I rejoin Don Johnston and the crew before heading upstairs the room. Svengoolie and Jim eventually join us and the host gets to work removing his makeup so they all can leave. As it happened, Robert Englund’s panel took place right after his and the two managed to meet up in-between. They’re old friends who see each at Flashback Weekend just about every year. The challenge, of course, is finding a moment between their busy schedules to do so and this year it happened off-camera. According to Sven, Englund was very kind and shared tips on doing out-of-state conventions with him; a subject that came up during Sven’s Q&A. I must say, the idea of Svengoolie venturing outside of Chicagoland and meeting his newer fans is exciting to me. I’m always fascinated by seeing the impact he’s made on people since MeTV went national back in 2011.