Love Your Local Haunts: Why the Halloween Industry is Significant in “Keeping Louisville Weird” in the Wake of Recent Business Closings.

Local business icons seem to be falling like dominos, and it’s important for all of us to recognize, appreciate and support the grass roots business projects we love in this town before the cultural graveyard is overrun with beautiful corpses.

A Phantom of the Ville Editorial

Clowns don’t scare me. Spiders don’t either. Zombies, vampires, werewolves, chainsaw wielding maniacs and boogeymen are my friends and family. The only thing that wakes me up in the dead of night with a cold sweat is the gentrification of my beloved city.

I awoke this morning to the announcement of the permanent closure of both the Phoenix Hill Tavern and Jim Porter’s Good Time Emporium. The outpouring of memories of first dates and old friends filled my Facebook feed, including testimony from Louisville horror legend, John Dugan (Grandpa in the original “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as well as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” and “Texas Chainsaw 3D”), who had his first date with his girlfriend at Phoenix Hill.

How many Velcro Pygmies concerts did I see at the Phoenix Hill Tavern? How many games of The Addams Family pinball machine did I play there between sets of Rock and rounds of drinks? One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen took place at the Phoenix Hill Tavern in the late 1980’s when the legendary Ramones took the main stage for an unforgettable set of nearly 50 songs in 35 minutes.

The last show I saw at Jim Porter’s featured infamous mountain dancer, Jesco White AKA “The Dancing Outlaw,” tap dancing (and drinking) his way into local weirdness folklore in support of Will Russell’s Funtown Mountain project.

This city has come a long way since I was a junior Phantom growing up in Eastern Jefferson County with the fear of God and the Pope Lick Monster inspiring me with equal measure, but in recent years we’ve lost more than our fair share of local institutions.

Let’s say their names in whispered reverence: The Vogue, Lynn’s Paradise Café, ear-x-tacy and Wild & Woolly Video. These were cornerstones of Louisville culture. Don’t forget about Mazzoni’s Oyster Café, which invented the rolled oyster and served Louisville for 124 years before moving to Middletown and closing its doors within six months.

The Courier-Journal sold to the Gannett in the late 1980’s, eliminating The Louisville Times and eventually most of the locally created content. Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark have sold to a Japanese company. It seems our very essence is up for sale to the highest bidder.

There are still a handful of both old guards and brash upstarts keeping the flame from dying. Caufield’s Novelty and The Great Escape keep us in monster masks and comic book heroes while newbies like The Comfy Cow, Alchemy and Ultra Pop act as defibrillators that keep the city’s heart beating as we deal with one crushing blow after another.

All of which brings me to a subject near and dear to my dark heart, and something you may have subconsciously been aware of but never really brought to clarity. The Halloween industry is still something created and produced regionally and locally all across the country. There really are no corporate chains of haunted attractions or Halloween parades, jack-o-lantern trails and zombie walks. All of these attractions and events are the result of the passion, blood, sweat and tears of their local owners, operators and crews.

Although the boundaries of any map of the United States clearly indicate that Louisville resides in a Southern state, I’ve always felt that we better fit the description of a Midwestern town like the “sequestered glenWashington Irving painted in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” or the small town Ray Bradbury conjured in “The Halloween Tree.” There’s something in the wind here; a sleepy, dreamy concoction that evokes fallen leaves and honeysuckle that once one has breathed in, he is forever lost in timeless, imaginary worlds that only exist in the shadows of the city proper.

The magical spell of the Halloween season lasts all year here.

Louisville Halloween was created to celebrate this unique piece of the puzzle that makes this city unlike any other. The Spook Run was invented here, and Danger Run is the only annual car oriented, puzzle solving, haunted road game of its kind. The first recorded seasonal haunted houses in the country are believed to have sprung from the Jaycees in Cincinnati and Louisville. The Louisville Zombie Attack is the largest annual zombie walk in the country. Paul Cadieux of the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular in Iroquois Park fell in love with our city so much that he actually moved here from Rhode Island to create one of the most beautiful and evocative new Halloween events in town.

We have the fantasy oriented Grim Trails Haunted Attraction with its signature Maleficent’s Castle, Asylum Haunted Scream Park with its theatrical, interactive Zombie City, the Gothic grandeur of The Devil’s Attic, the legendary and historic Haunted Hotel, the old school at heart shocks of the 7th Street Haunt, the elaborate acres of terror at Field of Screams, the midnight black, heartland corn maze at Cobb’s Haunt, the dark woods adventure in Nightmare Forest, the cavernous underground crypts of the Baxter Avenue Morgue, the historic and magical charms of the Culbertson Mansion’s haunt just over the bridge in New Albany and the incredible “super haunt” known as Fear Fair just down the road in Seymour. Of course, you may have also heard about both the real and created ghosts that haunt the Waverly Hills Sanatorium hidden in the hills off Dixie Highway in the South End, and you may also be aware that local business owner, Will Russell, is in the process of saving and restoring one of the oldest standing haunted attractions in the country, the Haunted Hotel in Cave City.

All of these attractions are locally owned, operated and terrorized by local actors, effects artists and crews. All are part of the haunted landscape we call home and all are important to our city in terms of tourism, the local economy and our identity in the regional landscape.

We’ve lost some important icons in recent days, but the soul of Louisville will not be quieted. The rest of the country will continue to hear our monster roar as long as we recognize and support those unique spirits that live, work and create here. We will not be gentrified. Not on my watch.

The Phantom of The Ville

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