(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.
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.
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.
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!’
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.