Berwyn says, 'Boo!'
Residents' creativity, escapism makes city's Halloween vibrant
|Richard White of Forest Park gets his face painted by Horrorbles owner John Aranza prior to the Zombie Walk and Pub Crawl in Berwyn on Oct. 27. (Erica Benson)|
Made famous by Svengoolie’s spooky shtick and promulgated by local businesses such as Horrorbles and Cigars and Stripes, Berwyn has a deep-seated love of the scary celebration. A bevy of events have sprung up around the holiday, giving community members a chance to show off their artistic abilities and flair.
One of the premier events for the artistically inclined is the Roosevelt Road Zombie Walk and Pub Crawl. Last weekend, about a dozen make-up artists transformed living people into the walking dead, who then ambled from bar to bar, groaning in celebration.
The event is organized by Horrorbles and its owner John Aranza, who said Berwyn’s tight-knit nature makes it a hotbed of Halloween activity.
“I think it started with Svengoolie’s groundwork by originally using Berwyn as part of his routine. Then it just so happened that Horrorbles ended up being in Berwyn,” said Aranza. “That fed into it, but more than anything, it’s that Berwyn is a community and a working-class area.”
To Aranza and others like him, Halloween is a night of escapism from workday concerns.
“It’s the one night of the year when you’re allowed to create something totally unconnected to the rest of the year. People would look at you with strange eyes any other time, but Halloween is one true night of creativity,” Aranza said. “People like forgetting for a little while.”
Matt Wilberg, who’s worked at Horrorbles for seven years, spent a month planning out his costume for the zombie walk: a reanimated H.H. Holmes, famed for being America’s first serial killer.
To true enthusiasts, the Zombie Walk is more than just shuffling and groaning.
“There’s a lot of detail that goes into it. There’s tearing up the clothes, and applying the spots of decay. You have to decide where you were originally bitten to end up as a zombie,” Wilberg said. “It’s been more like my Christmas instead of just being Halloween.”
Just like costumed revelers, Halloween often gives professionals a chance to use their talents for more creative endeavors. Many of the make-up artists who volunteer for the zombie walk — now in its third year — are professional beauticians who get to spend their time making people hideous instead of beautiful.
“They’re really happy for that one day to break out of their routine and do something truly radical,” Aranza said.
Berwyn’s creative desire for Halloween also fits in with the town’s burgeoning Mexican-American population, whose traditional Day of the Dead celebration coincides with the time and part of the spirit of Halloween. Instead of gory frights, Day of the Dead focuses on honoring and remembering friends and family members who have died.
Eva Gonzalez won $50 for her Day of the Dead statues in a contest at the North Berwyn Park District’s recent Fall Fest. She spent two days making the figures out of recycled materials for the contest and family members.
“I really like Day of the Dead. In Mexico, we celebrate by going to the cemetery and making the food of our family members and making other things that they liked,” Gonzalez said. “I enjoy making arts and crafts for the front of the house, and Day of the Dead and Halloween are a great time for that.”
That sense of community that leads people to decorate their homes and hand out candy to children also leads local business owners like Aranza to make the most of the holiday. The Zombie Walk serves as a charitable event, with this year’s proceeds going to West Suburban Public Action to Deliver Shelter and its efforts to alleviate homelessness in the area.
Horrorbles also spreads its connections by partnering each year with the Roosevelt Road Business Association to gather bar owners into the fold.
“It’s really an effort to get the different businesses to gel and jive around a single event,” Aranza said. “It’s a partnership that starts as something fun but makes it into something that’s community-driven.”
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