I lost my heart at HellsGate


There is a road in Rockford, Illinois that is known locally as ‘Murder Road.’

If you follow that road far enough, you end up at one of the most beautiful haunted houses I have ever seen.

Welcome to HellsGate.

I can’t do a better job of describing the amazing amount of detail put into this haunted attraction any better than John Laflamboy and the Zombie Army did in last year’s episode of Days of the Living Dead, here: Raising Hell. In an industry where so many of us struggle to find a usable location to turn into a haunt, that video is a breathtaking example of what building exactly to your specifications looks like. 

And holy poop, was it worth the effort. As someone whose haunt roots are deeply entrenched in theatrical shows, I found the level of detail to be astonishing…from the solid bannister in the first room to the wallpaper and lathe to the ceiling textures and wood beams, there’s so much to take in that I think the VIP pass should be one that just lets you walk around taking your time to see everything. We didn’t see a single thing that looked unfinished. I don’t want to give anything away, so I think I’m just going to say that the opening room, the twins’ room (OMGdollhouses) and the trophy room were my favourite scenes…although the slides were a first for me and I kinda love the way one leaves the haunt! 

The actors’ costuming and characters were exactly what you would expect from the Zombie Army: detailed, unique, and smart. No random screamers, no ‘get out’..good startles, true to character, often creepy as hell. And you WILL see acrobatics that will wow you. Indeed, the ‘wow’ factor is left in the very capabkw hands of the actors. There are some animations, but the majority of the scares are delivered by the cast. While  I think I might have liked to see some stronger characters working the front of the house, there were some really great queue line actors. (Bird lady, I’m looking at you.) 

Speaking of the queue line? So well done. Excellently managed so you don’t really see how long the wait is ahead of you. From being bussed into the ticket line to walking up the the haunt and cemetery to the way they filter you into the haunt, I was very impressed with how well HellsGate handles its crowd.  Judging by Facebook, the queue line and wait time needed to be tweaked after opening weekend, and from what I see, this was done successfully. (Also? I’ve NEVER seen a haunt say to its attendees, “If you had a problem opening weekend, we’d like you to come back.” This is me paraphrasing, of course, but dang, that’s some awesome customer service right there.)

It’s my personal belief that a quality haunt should have a walk-through cemetery. HellsGate does not disappoint. They make great use of the environment and add enough creepy dangling decor to completely distract me – which, I’m sure, frustrated the actors trying their best to scare me. The cemetery is a great example of a place where you will miss things if you don’t take the time to stop and look up, or look behind you. The visuals are so, so worth it.

If you are a fan of Crimson Peak-esque horror, if you love high detail, if you long to visit a place that feels real, you need to get yourself out to HellsGate.

…I can’t wait to go back.

Sean “Bazil” Duran: November 25, 1966 – April 30, 2016


I have so much I want to write and I have no idea how to write it.

So let’s start with a present.

bazil 2

“I have a present for you,” Chris said, somewhere around 1993, and handed me this little plaster Day of the Dead sculpture.  “Bazil made it.  He made a bunch for a gallery in Chestnut Hill, but when they told him they were gonna sell them as authentic Mexican art, he said no and took them back, so…this one’s for you.”

When I think about Bazil – Sean – this story always comes to mind.  I didn’t know him well, but I knew he had strong convictions and would not only stick to them, but would also make sure the people around him did as well.

Sean was one of the iconic actors at my beloved haunt, Grisly Gothic Gables.  He joined the cast to help him learn how to talk in front of crowds (or so I’ve been told), and perhaps one of the reasons I can’t think of Grisly without thinking of him is that he proposed the haunt’s name to the owner, Allan, during a brain storming session.  His butler character was funny-bizarre, vaguely slobby, definitely frenetic…my favourite haunt memory of him is him filling in for a clown scare, still dressed as a butler.  When the time came to scare visitors, he rose out of a hollowed out bed holding a fake butcher knife and announcing, “I’m not a clown, but I’ll kill you anyway!”

(Lesson:  As long as you understand the scare and what’s expected of you, improv – even if it’s on the bizarre side – as long as it’s in the character of the haunt?  It works.)

I suppose it helps to understand that I became a haunter not because I loved scary movies (which I did) or because I thought Halloween was pretty (which I did), but because the first time I saw Grisly Gothic Gables, with Bazil and Janice at the front of the house looking like everything I’ve ever wanted to see in haunt actors…well, I fell in love with the haunt, with the cast, and at the core of my haunter-heart you’ll still find that perfect visual.

You’ll still find Bazil.

Bazil was the one that helped my ex husband understand why haunting is fun.  “Do you know what a pig pile is?” Bazil asked one day.  “You don’t?  Ok.  So let’s say you enter a room through a door on the left side of the room and the exit door is clearly visible on the right side.  How do you leave the room?  No, you don’t go out the exit door, you jump on top of each other LIKE THIS!! and then you knock down a wall behind you and you leave that way.”  Despite being jumped on and nearly knocked over, my ex agreed to come to Grisly to see what a night of haunting was like, and he ended up doing tag-team scares with Bazil.

…Good times.

At the museum where we all worked, Bazil did so much that most people don’t know, rather like at Grisly, where he designed several of our t-shirt designs with no credit claimed.  He (along with fellow Grisly Peter Cook and Peter’s wife, Lisa) worked on a book about our dioramas that has been used extensively by the teacher naturalists there, and can be found now in the Drexel University library.  He discovered a forgotten mummy by literally tripping over it in our collections. He restored Edgar Allan Poe’s raven, which now resides at the Philadelphia Free Library.  He worked on the butterfly exhibit where I became a butterfly keeper, and helped create The Big Dig, an interactive looking-for-fossils exhibit I helped maintain over the years.  (I’m told he was inspired by Peter and Lisa’s visit to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.)  He and artist Ray Troll worked together on several projects, including one at our museum. He was instrumental in creating the Crazy Critters Chuck Jones exhibit that I have…way way too many stories about working.

For someone who touched so much of my professional life at the Academy, you really would think we would have seen each other more. Alas.

Bazil moved on to work at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science in Miami, where his resume is truly amazing. Like, amazing in a way that you look at and you think, ‘What couldn’t this guy do??’ I think I speak for many of us when I say that Bazil was the kind of person you quietly make a role model and you hope someday to be even a fraction as good at..well..ANYTHING as he was.  Because he touched so many people’s lives and varied worlds, I’m sure there’s an incredible amount of stories and discoveries to come that will astound those of us that knew him.  (Heck, just from the bit of research I’ve done here, I’m in awe of the man.)

Bazil is survived by his wife, Kat, and his daughter, Bridget…and he’s mourned by too many people to count.

Thank you for touching my life and for inspiring me, you most perfect Grisly.


Info about a celebration of his life:


More info about Sean:




http://www.martinhsu.com/press.php?p=50 – Dinosaurs of China exhibit

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article6718815.html – Amazon exhibit






flying into the future


I am a very nervous traveler.  In case I haven’t made that clear enough.

By the time my date of departure has arrived, I’ve left Bones copious notes on how to run the office without me.  He has copies of my travel itinerary, travel insurance, and visa. And he’s had to deal with my almost-frantic need to be at the airport 2 hours early.

“It’s a tiny airport,” he reassures me.  “An hour will be fine.”

As it turns out, my itinerary has the wrong departure time on it, and we end up arriving at Kalamazoo Int’l Airport about 10 minutes before my flight is supposed to leave.

*cue panic*

Of course, everything is fine – it’s always fine – and Bones walks me up to  Security.  I realize that the last person to do this was my mother, in North Carolina, many years ago.  I pretty much always fly alone, which is partly why I’m so nervous about travel.  (Ironically, someone that was a love interest for half a second told me I was a ‘cupcake’ and he couldn’t imagine me navigating an airport alone.  That statement still has too much volume in my head.)  Don’t get me wrong..I love travel. I love flying. I love the adventure of it all and I think I even love the overly inflated sense of responsibility I have to make sure everything I can control goes right.  But anyway….yes, Bones walks with me and I am overwhelmed by how patient and supportive he is.

I start to cry.

“You’re going to AUSTRALIA!” he says, and hugs me, and he looks so damn happy for me that it makes me cry a little more.  He’s so selfless.  Never at any point has he acted jealous or negative in any way about this trip, this opportunity.

I am so very, very lucky.


The Kalamazoo airport is just minutes from my house, and it may be one of the nicest airports I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.  I board a small plane that hops me over to Detroit, where I decide to go get a drink and some lunch.  Idly, I check in with JS and discover he’s also in Detroit, a few gates over from me!  (We’d been joking about racing to see who got to Australia first..after we actually compare our tickets, we realize we’re on the same flight from LA to Australia.  So much for racing!)

JS and I visit for a bit. His flight is scheduled to leave a bit after mine, and he strikes me as someone who is remarkably ok with waiting for the next stage of his trip.  (I get a little restless, I admit, and while I like to be at my gate early, I will also tend to go look at the local shops to kill some time.)  Then it’s off on our next flights, to meet again in LA!

This is my second time at LAX, and I can’t say I’ve cared for my experiences there yet.  Today is no exception.  A glance at the departure board tells me I need to go to gate 52B.  Which takes some searching.  Because it looks like this:

airport a

As it turns out, we have to take a shuttle bus from this gate to the int’l terminal.  Have you ever wanted to be in a vehicle driving alongside planes? I did not want that experience. But I got it. We are taken to a TOTALLY EMPTY terminal and I won’t lie, it’s a little creepy..

airport c

I send JS a series of Facebook emails (that he doesn’t see until he gets to Australia) telling him what to expect, as the passengers that share the shuttle with me admit they’d all been sitting up by this sign for far too long, not knowing they had to go somewhere else, and I know JS has a shorter layover than I do.  I then walk along with my six fellow travelers to what I’m pretty sure is our certain doooooooooom (Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, anyone?), but  – lo and behold! – instead we find ourselves in the happily busy international terminal.  YAY!  I get my American money converted into Australian dollars, find some much needed coffee, eventually find JS, and get in line to get onto the next plane.  Which, as it turns out, is on Virgin Australia.

Ok, Virgin. I think I love you. Everyone gets water, eye masks, ear plugs, book marks, and a pen. Snacks and sodas by the rest rooms so you can serve your own dang self all thorugh the 13 hour flight.  Also? USB plug so I can charge my phone  AND an entire row to myself so I can stretch out and SLEEP!

airport d

Next stop?  AUSTRALIA!!!


i’ve got the power?


Back at home, I realize that most of the packing I’ve already done should probably be redone.  One suitcase is dedicated to costuming, and contains wigs, makeup, 3 pairs of shoes that have all been test-worn to make sure they’re comfy, 3 costumes (2 dresses and one coat-and-pants outfit in case it rains), a glue gun, needle and thread, zip ties, varied types of plug adapters, some small hand tools…anything I can think of that might be useful for build/tear down as well as costume repair and daily haunt work.

I keep reminding myself that this is not China, that I’ll be able to buy things if I need them.

I keep ignoring that rational part of my brain and rethinking everything I’ve already packed.

The other suitcase contains day to day needs.  Clothing for down time, work clothing, sunblock, hats, pain killers, bandages, protein bars, antacids, Zip Fizz…I keep rechecking the weight of the suitcase, reconsidering the contents, adding stuff, taking stuff out..

Bones tolerates the chaos very well.  Because the man is a saint.

Several trips to the thrift store later, I’m pretty sure I’m as prepared as I’m gonna get.  Maybe.  Probably.

My carry-on contains,among other small items, yet another pair of shoes and a power converter with an adapter plug.  This is something that completely confused me on my China trip, and so I’m overcompensating this time around.  I think most of us know that the electricity in the US is 110V and 220V pretty much everywhere else.  Which means you need to buy a power converter.  However, the outlets are also different, so you also need a plug converter.  When I went to China, I only bought the plug converter…and honestly, when you do a search on ‘power converter’ on Amazon, you get more plug converters than power converters, so I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s not purchased both parts of the needed system.

Additionally in China, we had power surges and people using the converters that didn’t really know how to use them…so we had lots of fried equipment.  The trick with converters is to get one that will handle the wattage you plan to use…so you have to take a look at the electronics you’re bringing and figure out how strong a converter you need to purchase.  If you underestimate your wattage need, that’s when your electronics get destroyed.  After a lot of thought and looking at my budget, I decided I really didn’t need to bring a hair dryer or flat iron, so a 100 watt converter would probably be fine, and I already had a plug adapter.

I actually can’t find a pic of my adapter, but it looks sorta like this.  I purchased this power converter, which is a heavy lil’ guy, so I packed it in my carry-on bag, and while it could handle my glue gun, it probably couldn’t have handled a hairdryer.  I liked the USB port on it, because it meant we could charge multiple things at one time.  That said, if all you’re worried about is keeping your celphone charged, you could totally buy something like this and make your life much easier.

In the days leading up to my departure date, I obsess about supermarkets and food prices and how the guys don’t seem nearly as concerned as I am but I’m on a super tight budget and I am WORRIED and B1 told us to do it THIS WAY and maybe no one but me intends to do that and maybe I can get a slick little ‘buy from us and we’ll give you deals’ card from the stores but oh I can’t get that mailed to me in time and maybe I shouldn’t bring so MANY shoes but I’m so scared my plantar fasciitis might flare and that’s a hell I just don’t want to ever face again ever and is that really strong enough sunblock and…

Proof of Bones’ sainthood is that he didn’t strangle me during those final days of preparation.


frozen bottles of waters might just save your life


One of the things that I was immediately impressed with about the prep for my Australia trip was the lack of things I had to worry about.

“What airport do you want to fly out of?”

“Ummm…Kalamazoo, if it’s possible…”

“You got it!  Your visas will be emailed to you soon.”

“Wait, I don’t have to apply for those?”

“Nope!  It’s covered.”

“What about travel insurance?”

“Covered!  Details are coming.”

“How many suitcases can I bring…?”


“What’s the luggage fee?”

“….It’s covered!”


“We’re having a one day meeting/training here before you leave the country!”

The way this process usually works is that people interested in joining Haunt Team USA head to Ohio for a two-day “boot camp” in which candidates get into costume and practice the types of things they will have to do in Australia.  It’s a tough, intense audition.  People that end up going don’t always get selected their first time through the boot camp.  But it is, hands down, the absolute best way B&B can prepare their team, and we’re at a disadvantage because we aren’t getting the benefit of that training.  Instead, we’re having a very abbreviated ‘here’s what you need to know’ intensive workshop.

That meeting was when I first met the people I’d be living with for about a month…JS, the oldest member of our team as well as the most extreme of us (think Rob Zombie covered in gore with a heart of gold and you’ve sorta kinda got JS in your mind), W, the youngest member of the team with the most experience for this gig (this would be his 7th show in Australia!), and R, W’s girlfriend (an Aussie and a sorta-team-member).  We spent maybe 5 hours going over the gritty details of what we needed to know to be really prepared for this upcoming adventure.  B&B do an outstanding job of prepping the members of Haunt Team USA, and their notes include a suggested shopping list, as buying groceries is something you might only get one chance to do so.

B1 focuses a lot on buying groceries.  “Grab two carts.  Fill them.  Spend $100 for each person.  Have your list ready ahead of time.  Buy anything you think you might want, and then take turns cooking meals for the group.”  He makes it very clear that the best way to get through this venture is to work as a team.

He warns us that good insoles will be your best friend.  Also, frozen bottles of water might  just save your life.  Oh, and bring things you don’t mind not bringing back with you.

“Haunted houses are still new in Australia.  The audience there is not like what you find here.  They will scare differently.”

We’re given instructions on how to manage ticket collecting at the door…told to try to defuse situations at the haunt rather than be aggressive about them…told to watch out for Vietnamese gangs that might try to steal tickets from us.

And also?  Fear the daystar.

“There’s no ozone layer over Australia,” B&B warn us.

“Ummm…say what now?”

“No, really,” R chimes in.  “It’s a serious thing.”

B&B, as well as W, share stories of sunburn – “My eyelids got burned!” is one in particular that terrifies me – that make me want to run from the room screaming in terror.  I can get more surnburn in 30 minutes than most people will get over an entire summer. Finally!  Something I can for real legit worry about:  How will I ever survive nearly a month without being burned to a crisp??

In the midst of my worry, it’s suggested I go get the metric poop ton of costuming I’ve brought along with me to go over character ideas with B2 while B1 continues to talk to the rest of the team.  Part of the interview process for this gig was sending photos of myself in varied haunt costumes, and I thought I was more or less prepared costume-wise, but in my panic over sunburn and heat stroke, I’m already eliminating about half of what I’ve brought with me.  (Admittedly, part of my problem is that my focus has always been more on operations than on performing; so, although I have characters, haunt acting is secondary to me.)  B2 patiently dealt with my panicked self as I babbled my concerns at her, threw costuming all over her living room, and whittled my choices down to three.  B2 then had a photographer-friend shoot some pics of me to be considered for use for a booth display B&B were taking to TransWorld in a few weeks…

Next was dinner, and then an extended bit of chatter after everyone but me had left (extended, in part, because I friggin’ love B&B and hadn’t seen them in much too long)…which means I got home ungodly late.  But it was worth it.  Because now not only did I feel more prepared, but – as previously mentioned – I now had something to actually obsess about…sun protection!

Back at home to repack my suitcases a few dozen more times over the next week, and then….to the airport we go!


* I wasn’t entirely this bad.  I think.  Probably.

…No, I was totally insanely bad.

globe-trotter haunter


I think it was in 2012 when I first heard that my friends B&B were recruiting haunters to come and audition to work for a show in Australia. There were multiple opportunities lasting from 3 weeks to 2 months and I was so very curious…I remember taking to Bones about it, trying to figure out the logistics, and ultimately I just wasn’t sure it was practical. Or that I was fit enough. Or young enough. Or a strong enough actor.

The following year, I thought about it again, but not as seriously. Then the China gig came up, and I jumped into that experience with absolutely NO idea what I was really getting into.

I came back and told Bones, “Ok. The need to go to Australia is out of my system.”

…Which made the universe sit up, take notice, and ask, “Oh, really?”

B&B knew I’d been to China – we had discussed it very briefly, and they know J, the guy that hired me on. And of course they knew I had an interest in Australia.

– I mean, what no one has known until this moment is how many sweepstakes I’ve entered where a trip to Australia was the grand prize. When The Bloggess wrote about going there as a result of a “bucket list” contest, I looked into that. I have had a long obsession with the wildlife. I’ve been trying to get Bones to agree that what we really need to make our lives complete is a wallaby butler and a platypus to keep him company.

So you could say I’ve put a LOT of energy over a LOT of years manifesting this opportunity.

…Anyway! Earlier this year, I received an email from B&B asking if I knew anyone that might be interested in going to Australia in March. I sent a few emails to people I thought would be AMAZING candidates…and then, after talking to Bones, I took a deep breath and filed out the application myself.

After several emails about gig details, asking for a bio, and photo requests, I learned (a) I was their runner up choice for their team of three, and (b) one of their three wasn’t able to make it. What followed was a long honest discussion with B&B about the logistics of this trip..how hard it was going to be..how serious I was about going.

Here’s the deal: Most haunts operate for a few set hours a night. Yes, there’s hours of prep involved, but actual operations are not that long, and usually they’re focused on weekends. This gig? It’s a whole different animal. It’s set up/training actors/running the show for 14 days straight, 10-12 hours a day, starting at 9am/tear down/go home. It’s set up in something that’s sorta a county fair on steroids, which…I’ve worked a haunt at a county fair before. It’s probably a lot like working a haunt on the Jersey boardwalk. So you’re talking hot and sun and rain and nonstop work.

So, not a cake walk.

But.  But but but…AUSTRALIA!

Did I have any health concerns?  Well, yes. My feet.  My feet are a recurring issue for me.

Was Bones ok with me going?  Yes.

Do I have a valid passport?  Yes.

Have I ever worked with a microphone before?  Yes.  Granted, not in a haunted house, but if you can talk on headset answering visitors’ questions while working in a minizoo with a screaming parrot and a gaggle of teenage volunteers, you can probably handle being on headset at a haunt, yes?

Have I been in costume for 12 hours?  Ummm…sorta?  Does a ren faire count?

At the end of the call, I was advised to go talk to Bones some more and spend some more time thinking about everything that had been discussed in the past 30 minutes, and to let B&B know in 24 hours if I was still in or not.

…I didn’t need that much time to email them back and say, ‘Yes please!’

*cue the panic to get everything done and documented at work so that Bones will be in the best possible position for me to be gone for 3+ weeks*



on having my face stolen


On December 11, 2010, my friend Lynati stole my face.

More specifically, she did a cast of my head for a project she was working on. It was interesting and a bit terrifying and I only caught some of it in photographs…but here’s my version of what happened.

Lynati mixing plaster of paris and VERY VERY COLD WATER

I apparently looked pissed off a LOT during this process.

(We attempted to contain my hair with a shower cap and a bathing cap. My hair is sentient so this didn’t work as well as it should have. Which is entirely the fault of my hair, I assure you.)

We covered my face, neck, and ears in Vaseline. Because we surely do know how to party on a Saturday night.

The back of my head, covered in plaster of paris.

(This felt really heavy..and then weird as the plaster warmed up and started hardening, pulling at my skin.)

At this point, my phone was taken from me so I couldn’t twitter any more whining about how friggin’ COLD that crap was, nor could I take any more pictures. Which is fine because the next step involved sticking tubes up my nose and covering my face in alginate..and I’m not actually sure I want to see that. 0_o

COLD COLD COLD. And not as claustrophobic as I thought it might be. Though there’s some…you become very very focused on breathing. I kept playing with the globs of stuff that were falling off of my face, in part to show that yes, I was still alive.

Then one of my breathing tubes fell out. I panicked a little bit, I admit.

Then the next layer of plaster started. “You probably won’t feel how cold this is,” I was assured. Not quite true, but not as cold as the first layer had been.

But what’s really friggin’ weird is staying still while someone is slathering isolating layers of plaster on your head. Will you be able to get back out of this? You suddenly feel very vulnerable. I couldn’t help but wonder how this was used during, say, the Inquisition…and really, if it was? I’m not sure I want to know, because my mind is already spinning out some pretty horrible ‘what if?’ scenarios.

I think the whole process of turning my head into a cast took..an hour and a half? Maybe? And was infinitely messier than I’d anticipated. (Fortunately, Lynati knew EXACTLY how messy this was going to get.)

And then I could hear her trying to describe what she was doing to free my head, but..I couldn’t really hear her. I did hear her say to start moving my facial muscles to loosen up the alginate, which was an innnnteresting feeling.

And then we realized that my friggin’ hair was very very caught up in the plaster and we had to cut and struggle to get me out. Friggin’ hair. I did of course immediately start whining that she and her cast was scalping me, because I am a joy, a friggin’ JOY, to work with, oh yes I am.

See how joyful?

“Mm, I have her face AND her scalp!”


My face!

My scalp!

…All joking aside, this was a really REALLY nifty experience and I’m so so glad I got to do this! I may have had vaseline in my ears for the next week and sneezed sculptures for…a while, but it was nifty!

The reason for all of this was that Lynati was creating a mask for me that remains one of my most favourite possessions.


delayed dreams of painting


My first memory of working on a haunted house is less than glamorous.   I was standing in the basement of  a partially-in-use barn and was told, “We need to have this space cleaned so we can use it for a costume room.”  Next thing I knew?  All the people in that room had left me alone with a vacuum and a lot of work.

I did it, of course.  It didn’t occur to me to say, “Oh, hell no.”  But later, when I wrote about how I became a haunter, this story didn’t make the final cut.  Neither did the tale of my first legit project in the haunt, which was helping to build a set of front porch stairs.  This was much more exciting to me than I can adequately describe, because it was me  MAKING something.  As a child, I was largely denied the use of tools due to my gender, so…yeah.  I was pretty damned excited.

Before I ended up focusing primarily on actor hiring and management, I had the time to help in small ways with the creation of the haunt I loved so much.  In the beginning, that help was with scenic painting – in small ways, of course.  Our scenic painter, Mookie, guided my nervous self as we worked on curved crypt hallways and metallic lab wall panels.  She herself was full of fire, dramatic accents and laughter, covered in paint splatter, and embodied everything I thought a scenic should be.  She and our haunt boss seemed to share a brain, she seemed able to create any look he dreamed up, and she quickly became a sort of creative hero to baby-haunter-me.

Years later, after our haunt went dark, we became friends, and she brought me on for a day of helping paint some theatre sets. It was a fantastic experience.  But I never quite put it together in my head that I could maybe repeat that experience elsewhere.

As I’ve written here, I became my haunt’s scenic painter by default, with varying levels of success.  It’s been terrifying, to be honest, because I think about Mookie and all of the amazing things I’ve seen her create, and I know I don’t measure up to that.  I am well, well aware there’s so much I don’t know, and I want so much to be for Bones what Mookie was for Allan.

Last year, I saw an opportunity to help do some scenic painting at the Kalamazoo Civic for a show I was working on, “Crazy For You.”  Bones agreed to go along with me to help paint.  We spent the day working on huge drops under the guidance of the Civic’s David Kyhn, and by the end my arms were much more sore than I’d anticipated…but I’d learned so much!  (One of those things, of course, was that there were much easier ways to give a wall a woodgrained look than what I’d done at our haunt that year.  I hadn’t thought enough outside the box to realize I didn’t have to actually use a woodgraining tool on the panels…as gorgeous as it had looked, the detail was lost in haunt lighting.  Alas.  David’s techniques were much more practical.)

I’ve become a bit (?) of a scenic groupie since then, asking questions about how varied sets have been painted. I’m finding that I’m noticing more details in what Mookie painted back in Philly..that I’m starting to see things a little differently.  And when I noticed this page in the current Civic’s show’s program last night, I couldn’t wait to share it with Mookie.


I’ve probably never told Mookie how much I appreciate her guidance in the past – her patience and her passion – how much I think about her every time I wash out a paint brush – how much I value the adventures we’ve had together, and how much I think of her and miss her.

There’s a small list of people that inspire me to try to be a better haunter.  And oh, my beloved Mookie, you are ever on that list.  It’s a shame it’s taken me over 10 years to get to somewhere vaguely in your world – but I’m here, and I’m trying, and I’m thinking of you.  ❤


bringing up the gothic baby


About two years ago, Bones and I trashpicked a baby stroller that had seen much, much better days.

This thing was DISGUSTING in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious.  It was waterlogged from being out with the trash.  It had a far-from-healthy layer of mildew/mold growing in the liner.  Apparently it had been some sort of parade prop, judging by the pipe cleaners and silver sticker lettering that hadn’t quite managed to fall off yet.

Bones thought it was perfect for a haunt just the way it was.

I, on the other hand..

Well.  In most ways, Bones and I think very much alike.  And then there are surprising blip-moments in which I am reminded that I must not assume we are always completely in sync and maybe I should ask him for his opinion before I start to dismantle an Awesome Something.

I decided to start to tear the bedraggled buggy apart and work on the metal frame first.  Rust was removed and everything was given a new layer of paint.

buggy c


As is usual for my projects, I didn’t consult the Google before I began trying to figure out how to transform this monstrosity.  I dug through my stash of fabric and found some lovely black flocked velvet and a sheer red that fit my mental image of what a proper gothic buggy should look like, and I decided to reupholster the vinyl.  Some of the inner bits had to be disposed of because they were just too disgusting to save.

This horrible photo is doing its best to disguise my horrible first attempt at creating a flat inner lining using hot glue.  In retrospect, spray-on adhesive might have been a better bet.  I’m not sure.  In the end, I would have to redo a fair bit of this, including the realization that part of my problem was that I actually was using too much fabric.

buggy d

I don’t have photographic evidence of my first attempts to cover the blue vinyl with black fabric.  When I tell you that I had no damned idea how to deal with all of the different angles/lines and how to get around the metal framework, you honestly can’t imagine how bad a job I was doing with all of it.  I also don’t have a photo of the look on Bones’ face when he realized I had taken his fantastically disgusting prop and started to make it pretty.


We had initially planned last year to use an orphanage theme for our haunt.  When our focus changed, I set the buggy aside, and it languished unloved and vaguely reupholstered until this past summer, when I decided to take a deep breath and try again to wrestle the thing into submission.

After a good deal of cutting away of the previous efforts and regluing things into place?  I was finally becoming happy with my project.  Bones was finally digging it, too, and gave me some feedback on what to do with the roof of the thing.  I went back into my fabric stash and pulled out some black trim to finish off the gothy goodness.

Creepy Zombie Baby was ok, but Roxie and I decided that Werewolf Baby was a much better choice.


I wanted something else to finish off the sides of the buggy, and remembered I had some bats from a company I used to love, The Eccentric Griffins.  A few coats of silver paint and a bit of hole drilling by my ever-fabulous partner, Bones, and we called the project complete!


let’s go fly a kite: Chris Silvia


With tuppence for paper and strings
You can have your own set of wings
With your feet on the ground
You’re a bird in a flight…

I can’t remember when Chris  told us about his adventures in competitive kite flying in Japan.  I’d known he spent time in that country – when I first ‘met’ him in 1998(?) via the online community Halloween-L, his nickname was “Isolated Loony” because he was living overseas at the time – but I had no idea he had a love of kite-making.

He described an incident in which he had been doing some synchronized team kite flying and an unexpected gust of wind had grabbed his kite hard enough to lift him out of his chair.  “I just held on because I didn’t want to interrupt what we were doing,” he laughed, “so it dragged me across the beach until someone finally noticed.  After that, I started wearing a seat belt so it wouldn’t happen again.”

It’s maybe my favourite example of how Chris was not limited by his wheelchair.

You can dance on the breeze
Over houses and trees…

Chris created beautiful costumes and haunt props.  I watched him do demos on creating bleeding portraits and intricate foam tombstones (he was, in fact, the first person I’d ever seen work so much magic on sheets of pink insulation foam), and he inspired me to want to learn how to make props myself.  Truth be told, he is the biggest reason I’ve been a pain in the ass about wanting to learn as much as I could about how to make things, and he’s the reason I’ve remained so frustrated at myself for not creating a mechanical prop or learning how to program a controller.

He also built the most amazing costumes that embraced his wheelchair.  From being a passenger in a Doombuggy to being a wheelchair-bound werewolf, he not only created fantastic things for himself but for his partners in crime to wear as well.  I don’t have photos to share, but rest assured each one was FANTASTIC.

It seems very fitting that, when I started driving, I traveled to Salem the day after I got my license to meet up with a group of haunters that included Chris for an informal haunt gathering*.  He inspired one to  simultaneously not let yourself be limited even as you dealt with your limitations with grace and dignity.

During that trip, I stood next to him outside a historical building we had traveled to see and, when we realized he couldn’t make it into most of the building, he said, “I understand. And I’m glad I can see some of it.”  That response is perhaps the biggest reason I’ve focused so hard on maintaining wheelchair accessibility in my haunts.  There are enough limits in the world for such a chair…why add to the count?

With your fist holding tight
To the string of your kite…

As an east coast haunter, my path crossed Chris’ often enough for me to define him as a friend.  When the Transworld trade show started making it harder for haunters to score access to the show floor, I offered Chris a press pass if he’d write an article for me.  This came as a surprise to my boss, who saw Chris’ badge and commented, “Oh?  You work for me..?

“Yes he does,” I replied, and walked Chris over to the show office, where I had a vaguely heated argument with a security guard who wanted to know why Chris couldn’t get out of his chair and walk up the small flight of stairs in front of us.  I may have never wanted to punch a security guard more than I did at that moment…but Chris was, as always, calm and rational and sweet, and within a minute we were given use of another access point.

I have a terrible temper.  I really do.  I’ve never admitted before that it was Chris that taught me to have a slower-burning fuse.

Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear…

Something else I’ve never admitted, but I’ll whisper it here: I’ve been a tiny bit in love with Chris for a long time.  Just a little.  Just enough to follow his adventures via social media after I moved to Pittsburgh, and then to Michigan.  Our paths crossed more and more sporadically at conventions and, with my usual awkward shyness, I became less and less willing to go over and talk to him because he always seemed to be busy.  And so I’m not sure when I last actually communicated with him.  I should, of course, have written to him, checked in with him.  He’s never had any idea how much of an impact he had on me as a haunter and as a person.  He is such a shining example of how much one person can influence another’s life and have absolutely no idea of the fact.

Chris passed away last night.  It seems an impossibility.  It was unexpected and as I write this, no details have been shared yet as to what happened.  I was going to wait to write this until I had more information. I  don’t have a right to be as sad as I am, because I was not a close friend.  And yet.  And yet.

Thank you, Chris. You were one of the kindest, sweetest, most creative and patient people I’ve ever known.  You have been inspirational and amazing and I feel so lucky your life touched mine just a little.

…And I’m still gonna learn how to create a mechanical prop someday, dammit.

Oh, let’s go fly a kite!


* I still have a small pirate flag that he created for that weekend, as we were all running around Salem dressed as pirates for a good deal of the time. With all of my moves, all of my varied pirate things, and all of my jettisoning of stuff, I’ve managed to not lose that flag, and it makes me smile every time it makes an appearance…