Hauntfest returns as the area’s biggest Halloween blast
By Kevin J. Gray
It’s twilight, nearly dark. A crisp cool hangs in the late-October air. A metal barricade blocks the intersection of Fifth Street and Wayne Avenue. A parallel barricade stands at the other end of the Oregon District, just below the trail trusses. A small army of volunteers lines up behind the barriers.
Just before 7 p.m., the volunteers spot the first group. Zombies. A herd of them. The undead drag themselves down Wayne. Seconds later, another group emerges from around the corner, then another and another. Men, women and children all move towards the barricades, heading straight for the volunteers. The folks on this side of the barricade steel themselves, ready to jump into action. It’s going to be a long night.
Is this a scene from The Walking Dead? No, it’s the start of Hauntfest, Dayton’s largest and longest running Halloween tradition. Hauntfest runs from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 27. The event is the annual fundraiser for the Oregon Arts District and it has become a massive party, both for families and those looking to get their spirits raised.
There are several reasons to come to Hauntfest – the bands, the food, the restaurants, bars and retailers, but the number one reason to come is for the costumes. The event is large. Previous years have seen attendance near 18,000. And, depending upon the year and the weather, as many as 80 percent of those folks come in costume.
Many of the costumes are handcrafted and are unlike any you might see elsewhere. (Organizers reminisce about an 8-foot yellow Transformer from last year who took three months to build his costume). In the earlier hours, costumes trend towards the more conventional and more family friendly. Ninjas, cartoon characters, comic book superheroes, robots and villains make their way through the streets. Look for hordes of the undead this year – zombies are the 2012 theme.
However, as evening wears on, moms and dads take the kids home, or drop them at the sitter’s, and the drinks continue to flow, costumes tend to consist of less and less material, often in spite of the chill, or more and more adult themes – sexy zombies? Zombies with marital aids stuck all over them? Some that might even make Larry Flynt blush. That’s when the people-watching gets really interesting.
Anyone is welcome and encouraged to dress up. Have an awesome idea for a costume? Enter the costume contest. Open to all, the contest offers cash prizes in a variety of categories: best group costume, best individual costume and best zombie costume.
Jim Bucher from Channel 2 will emcee the contest, with help from the Bud Girls. Sign up any time between 7 and 9:15 p.m. at either of the gates and pay your $5 entry fee. Then make it to the main stage at 9:30 p.m. for the preliminary competition. Entrants will be judged by audience vote and the top five winners in each category will advance to the finals. Cash prizes and trophies will be awarded for first, second and third place in each category. Likely cash prize payouts this year are $300, $200 and $100 for first, second, and third place in each category, respectively. That’s plenty of money to “reinvest” in your favorite Oregon District watering hole.
Costume watching is the number one reason to come to Hauntfest. Yet, there are other reasons to stick around in the Oregon District. For starters, the event is the year’s only fundraiser for the district. The businesses in the area have joined together as part of the Oregon District Business Association, which works as a group to continually improve the area. Mike Martin, President of the Oregon District Business Association, explains: “Funds from this event are used to maintain landscaping in the District, add new landscaping, fund advertising and marketing promotions, fund some special entertainment venues for First Fridays and Urban Nights, provide continuity of security throughout peak seasons in the District and additional physical improvements in the District.” The association also uses their funds to help attract new businesses to help fill open real estate and to promote the district. In other words, funds from Hauntfest help keep the Oregon District one of Dayton’s best hotspots.
On any given night, the Oregon District has a lot to offer. Many of the best bars and restaurants in Dayton are on or near Fifth Street. The Oregon District has become an art gallery destination, touting works from a variety of local artists. Add in the unique shops, from music (CDs and vintage vinyl) to clothing to antiques, folks looking for unique finds have a lot to love about the Oregon District. Finally, there are the tattoo shops, yoga studios, and hair salons – all places to transform your outer and inner you. Much of this is possible through the efforts of the Oregon District Business Association.
In addition, the Oregon District Business Association works with other Miami Valley non-profits to help these groups meet their own fund-raising goals. The volunteers who staff Hauntfest are members of these local area non-profits. They donate their time to help make the event a success. In return, the Oregon District Business Association makes a financial donation back to their organization. ODBA President Martin explains, “In return for these organizations performing tasks such as pouring beer, taking tickets, manning the entry gates, cleaning up, etc, the Oregon District Business Association donates funds to their respective organizations. Over the years the ODBA has donated thousands of dollars to other local non-profits through this partnership.” The types of non-profits run the gamut. This year’s list includes the Brookville Corvette Club, the Dayton Area Rugby Club, the Dayton Area Board of Realtors, the Dayton Ski and Board Club, Garden Station, the Oregon Historical District Association, Paul’s Animal Shelter, Rogue’s Soccer Club and SICSA.
Costumes and good causes aside, Hauntfest is also just one hell of a great party. Pick up a lighted mug from the School Supply Connection (available at either gate), fill it with beer from one of the beer trucks located on Fifth Street (the mug comes with tickets for a free beer) and mill about. A number of food vendors will also be positioned along Fifth Street, with food ranging from American, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine to pork chops, pizza, hot dogs and deep-fried PB&Js. After you’ve filled your belly, head down to the photo booth (located near Blind Bob’s) to memorialize the event. This year’s food and services vendors include School Supply Connection, Photo Booth, Cork n’ bottle American, Cork n bottle Italian, Caribbaeanas, Hearts Hot Dogs, Horseless Buggy, R-Jays, Vanessa’s and Auntie Lolita’s.
You can also explore some of the local businesses located on Fifth Street. Get a tattoo at one of the local tattoo parlors. Or get a Mohawk – Derailed Hair Salon will be providing them for free. Some of the other local retail establishments may also be open. And Omega music is hosting an auxiliary party just outside the western gate.
In addition to the beer and food available on the street, all of the area pubs will be open. Many have parties of their own, but will not be charging cover charges. Several bars will have bands, and those bars that do charge a cover usually wait until later in the evening to do so. So, bar hop a bit, then head back out into the street to people watch and get a bite to eat. Or go listen to the live music outside by Aces High (An Evening with the Music of Iron Maiden), Engine of Chaos and roving performers. Check with volunteers for the full music schedule.
Planning to go? Several things to keep in mind. First, the entire event is enclosed and secured by Dayton Police officers as well as private security that the ODBA hires for this event. This level of security keeps the event fun for everyone and keeps the late evening crowd orderly. The Police Department’s Neighborhood Assistance Officers, volunteers from the Oregon District, also provide secure access to the Oregon residential district. If you are a resident of the District, you can get in for free.
As far as getting there, organizers encourage guests to park in the City’s Transportation Center at Fifth and Jefferson Streets, as well as on-street parking outside the District. If you are going to be drinking, arrange for a ride home or take a cab.
Also, if you plan to drink, bring your ID. You will be carded at the gate, and it’s also likely that you will be carded at the individual bars. And, ahem, make sure the ID is actually yours.
Finally, this year the party continues a little later because of the time change. Beer sales end at 1 a.m., but organizers have committed to leaving the area secured and open until 2 a.m. so you have time to finish their drinks, have plenty of food and have some more fun.
Hauntfest takes place on Saturday, Oct. 27 on Fifth Street in the Historic Oregon District. Tickets are $5 in advance and $5 at the door from 7-10 p.m. After 10 p.m., door tickets are $10. For more information, follow Hauntfest on Facebook at www.facebook.com/hauntfest or contact organizers Dan Hapner at 937-657-4750 or Bob Ewald at 937-657-1660.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin Gray at KevinGray@daytoncitypaper.com