People may love their Christmas trees and their Labor Day cookouts and their dinner out for Valentine's Day, but there's no question that Halloween is the fastest growing holiday in the country. Halloween taps into something truly special and, frankly, sometimes strange about human beings. No longer just about dragging the kids from block to block to collect candy, the holiday has been all but hijacked by adults who can't wait to bring the kids home so they can hit some Halloween party where they can play dress-up too.
Kicking off the season in style, Fort Wayne's Fright Night, now in its ninth year, has grown from a relatively small event, held mostly to bring people into the Embassy Theatre and perhaps the adjacent Botanical Conservatory, into a large scale party with events aimed at kids or adults or, in many cases, both. Both edgy and family-friendly, Fright Night's schedule of events truly has something for everyone.
Taking the event from a small scale evening into must-see revelry has been largely due to the involvement of the Downtown Improvement District which has brought more sponsorships, partnerships and activities to the growing annual tradition. Their efforts have been as much about bringing in businesses in the downtown area as making Fright Night bigger.
"When DID came in as a central organizing body, we really focused on the activation of different business owners in downtown," says Frank Howard, director of marketing for Downtown Improvement District. "2010 was my first year involved in it, and we had a free ghost hunt with a real ghost hunting organization at the Pfeiffer House on Wayne [Street]. Even after maximizing the fire code, we had 249 folks who came and had to turn away 200-300 others. We've really been growing attendance in the last few years."
While there is a new event this year - the costumed funk band Here Come the Mummies! joins the Zombie Walk as a big attraction this time around - the focus is less on growing the number of already sizable events but rather on bring more partners to the fold.
"Each year Fright Night takes on a life of its own and grows," says Cody LeMay, events and program manager at DID. "We always look to see what more we can bring to the table and how we can empower our partners to become part of it. We're not going bigger, really, but deeper."
Howard and LeMay find each year that even after their marketing materials are done and it's difficult to add more partners and sponsorships, businesses and organizations still come to them to become involved. LeMay says "that organic growth drives interest," and each year there's a new element brought to the event thanks to the expanding awareness and interest of those partners.
Making sure there's something for everyone is always part of the planning process, and Howard says there have been those who feel that the evening is geared more for kids or families than for young people in their 20s. But Howard says that a little research will prove that isn't so.
"I always suggest to them that they check out the activity list on our website because with a little planning you can see that there's really something for everyone."
In fact, the full list advises what events (available on the DID website) might not be particularly suitable for kids, including the annual showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Botanical Conservatory and the Murder, Mystery, Mayhem Haunted Walking and Bus Tours given by ARCH. Cinema Center is also hosting its Paranormal Activity party that is decidedly more adult in content.
But it is true that there are plenty of ideas for the young and young at heart. Interestingly the Zombie Walk, which one might think would scare the bejesus out of small children, is often a very family-oriented event, with makeup tables outside the Allen County Public Library downtown and the walking dead taking to the streets of Fort Wayne. Certainly the Conservatory's Pumpkin Zone and Punkin' Path are ideal ways to celebrate both Halloween and holiday squash with the little ones.
Local arts organizations are also involved. The Fort Wayne Ballet Youth Company will have their first Family Series performance of the season that morning (tickets are $10) and will be performing "Firebird," while the Fort Wayne Dance Collective will offer "Run Fast and DON'T Look Back!" Tickets for that are $15 for adults and $13 for students.
The Community Center has become more involved in recent years, one example, Howard says, of how new organizations get more and more involved each year.
"The Krooz In' Car Show Spooktacular is three years old now and just keeps getting better and better each year," he says. "This year they'll have 'Trunk or Treat' where kids can get some treats while their parents are looking at the cars. This was just one of those things where the Community Center came to us and said 'We'd love to get involved,' and we love to empower our partners to do things like that."
Many of the obvious places are still part of the mix, with Parkview Field hosting their Scavenger Hunt, the ACPL hosting Not-So-Frightening Fun and Zombie Attack-Strike Back and the Old Fort providing Lantern Tours. Pedal City hosts the Zombie Ball while the Embassy launches Here Come the Mummies! As Howard said, the key to enjoying the day is to plan ahead, and DID has made that very easy to do.
"We really encourage everyone to check out our Survival Guide and visit our website at frightnightdowntown.com for all of the information to plan for the evening. There are a lot of things going on at different times. We are always mindful that we want this to be a community event that is low cost or no cost so that it's accessible for any income and for every level of participation.
"There are events that are creepy, and there are some zombie-free zones. The website will also tell you where to find ATMs and where to park. Every year we try to make it better and better and give people as much information as possible."
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July 11 • Foellinger Theatre