With an expression of innocent trust on her face, a towheaded toddler in a raspberry-pink tulle skirt gazes up at the alarming-looking man who is extending his hand to her. Clad in blood-spattered hospital scrubs, his face gangrenous green, he is luring the little girl to walk away with a gang of similarly gross and gory revelers. She smiles, adjusts her skeleton tee-shirt, takes her Daddy’s undead hand and trots off to join Rosendale’s fifth annual Zombiefest parade.
Led off by the Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band and Social Club, more than 100 zombies-for-a-day lurched along Main Street last Saturday afternoon to the funereal strains of “St. James Infirmary,” “Thriller” and some oddly upbeat Dixieland and gospel numbers. As they walked from Willow Kiln Park west to the Rosendale Café, about-faced and headed north to the firehouse, turned again and returned to the park for more festivities, bystanders applauded, took pictures and spilled out of doorways to join the line of march. The Rosendale Theatre’s marquee bolstered the pre-Halloween theme with the title of its current film, The Skeleton Twins, and even the attendees at a wedding in progress at the Belltower seemed to be enjoying the passing show.
It was the sort of glorious late-October afternoon that makes one aware that there won’t be many such balmy days left before winter sets in. That was a stroke of luck for Zombiefest organizers Lara Hope and Elena Brandhofer, who usually stage the event in September, but were so busy this fall that they had to delay it to October 25, when the skies can often be trending toward the wintry. But the weather cooperated, and plenty of folks young and old took the opportunity to give this year’s trick-or-treat costumes a dry run. “We thought it would be cool to have it closer to Halloween,” Hope declared as the post-parade fun continued at Willow Kiln Park. “Today’s amazing and perfect and I’m in love with the world!”
Hope, a professional musician [see profile by John Burdick in this week’s Almanac Weekly], explained that she was looking for some volunteer work to do when she moved to the area, and a friend suggested organizing an event to benefit the Rosendale Food Pantry. “I wanted to pick a Rosendale-based charity,” she said. “It’s funny, because zombies eat people. We like to say that they’re tired of eating brains, so donate some real food!” Last year’s Zombiefest generated about $500 in voluntary donations to help stock the Food Pantry’s larders, she said.
Live music is one of the event’s chief attractions; Hope has good regional connections in the business because “I do a lot of show-booking and promotions for a living.” Saturday’s lineup included Connecticut-based Ninth Wave (performing as Ninth Grave for the occasion), the Silverhounds from New Jersey, the appropriately named Red Necromancer from Kingston and Project IV from Wappingers Falls. Deejay Wayne Manor filled in the gaps between bands with a selection of songs with spooky seasonal themes. All the performers donate their time, according to Hope.
At a booth where the folks from Dillidalier Whimsical Arts & Crafts were displaying their wares, the Ebola-doctor Dad seen earlier in the parade bought his delighted skeletal daughter a peg rack shaped like a skeletal teddy bear for her bedroom wall. Other visitors perused Possum Tree Creations’ animal bone and tooth jewelry or the Christmas ornaments painted with minutely detailed Mexican Day of the Dead-style skulls by Pat Wasko. Luminous Chocolate of New Paltz sold ghost-shaped chocolate lollipops in unusual flavor combinations, and the Banana Moon Baking Company touted its bite-sized apple and cherry tarts as Brain Pies and Bloody Guts Pies respectively. At Pippy’s Hot Dog Truck, hungry revenants lined up to buy a Zombie Dog “with every spicy fixin’ on the truck.”
Every street festival has its face-painting tent, of course, but the one at Zombiefest wasn’t decorating children’s faces with the usual sparkly butterflies and whiskery kittens. The professional makeup artists from Beauty by Chloe are experts in special effects makeup, their handiwork including a broad selection of highly realistic oozing wounds. Indeed, many in the Zombiefest crowd sported very impressive simulated gore, exposed organs and rotting flesh. One man’s face, divided by an open zipper to show raw muscle underneath, was particularly striking. A Cat in the Hat with lacerated guts was accompanied by two youngsters dressed as Thing One and Thing Two, both their faces bloodied as if raked by their Mom’s feline claws.
Who among all these imaginative people playing dress-up would win the Zombiefest’s costume contest by evoking the loudest applause at the end of the afternoon? Would it be Zipper Man, the bearded Corpse Bride, the scythe-carrying zombie farmer in overalls? I wouldn’t want to have to be the judge, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t want to cross some of these people; they just might come back on Halloween night and eat your brains.