We arrived at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare just in time for Flashback Weekend’s Registration. My friend, Jason, flew in from Rhode Island the day before, and our friends, Don and Bunny, were already indulging in the perks of their VIP pass with early admittance to the dealer’s room. As soon as we saw them, Bunny gave me the full lay of the land so I could strategize. As a general rule of thumb, you want to meet the celebrity guests on your list first and foremost. This year my autograph goals were minimal – Quinn Lord and John Michael Graham. The latter was for the purpose of adding yet another signature to my Halloween (1978) poster which I discussed last year. Bunny informed me the closest guest, however, was Quinn Lord a.k.a. Trick r Treat Sam, making him my defacto first stop.
(Continued) As soon as Svengoolie completed his interview with the cast of The Manson Brothers Midnight Zombie Massacre (2021) the room quickly filled up with contestants and onlookers for Flashback Weekend’s annual costume contest. It was soon evident that a lot of creative fans used their time in last year’s lockdown to make costumes as this was the largest number of contestants I’d ever seen. The line of hopefuls wrapped around the room and beyond – with no end in sight. This would be “Mayor” Don Johnston‘s turn to shine as he had the dubious task of directing everyone on and off the stage – something a bit more challenging when dealing with kids or those visually impaired by their own costumes.
I hadn’t seen Svengoolie in person since December 2019 when he was dressed as his holiday alter ego, Sventa Claus, at the Mystic Market in Lyons. It was a fun occasion and, in the spirit of giving, I brought him an animatronic Creature from the Black Lagoon figure I’d purchased from Days of the Dead. I recall it ending with my friends and I toasting another successful year of Sven-chasing since, for us, attending his appearances was not unlike following a favorite band on tour. In this regard, the Mystic Market was something of a finale’ – though we could never have known at the time just how final that would be. We took for granted the tradition would continue on into the coming year not knowing a Pandemic was lurking just around the corner. So, with 2020 a wash, we looked at the summer of 2021 as a bastion of hope.
By July, Chicago had lifted its indoor mask mandate and, further cementing a feeling of normalcy, Svengoolie signed on for his first public appearance in over a year. Unfortunately, the closer Flashback Weekend loomed, the more news of the virus’ Delta variant started making headlines. Suddenly, what should have been a joyous occasion had a giant black cloud hanging over it. I was excited to join the Svengoolie crew and see my favorite horror host again but with a fair share of trepidation.
For all intents and purposes, this past Flashback Weekend should have been an amazing experience. Like most annual events, the convention was canceled last year due to Covid leaving horror fans even more anxious to commune in 2021. I’d reserved my room at the Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Illinois months in advance and even took the whole week after off for vacation. I’d saved plenty of cash and had a detailed list of all the guests I wanted to meet and items I wanted to have signed. Unfortunately, not an hour after the doors opened I got word that a family member using my car for the weekend crashed it. This situation resulted in my spending the bulk of my Friday night in my room and on the phone. Saturday was my day to work with the Svengoolie crew and, with my car out of commission, I had to arrange for someone else to pick me up from the hotel on Sunday. They could only get me at 10 am a.k.a. an hour before the convention opened that day. I had little time to accomplish my goals and the singer, Meatloaf, would end up stealing half of it. In the end, After failing to reach the majority of my Flashback Weekend objectives, it’s no wonder I’ve spent the last four months trying to forget it. In fact, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when Svengoolie’s producer, Jim Roche, reached out about sharing my pictures with them that I realized they were still unloaded on my camera.
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.
The Following highlights were “transcrammed” from the 2019 Flashback Weekend panel celebrating 40 years of Rich Koz’s Svengoolie. The event began with a video presentation narrated by the original Svengoolie – the late Jerry G. Bishop. The panel was moderated by WGN Radio’s Nick Digilio and proved an entertaining 90 minutes – with a few surprises!