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Fort Wayne Fright Night
Downtown businesses and organizations come together for a night of Halloween thrills
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
On Saturday night, October 27, the streets of downtown Fort Wayne will be swarming with ghosts, goblins, witches… and probably a few pirates, princesses, dinosaurs, and Jedi. But don’t worry: they’ll all be the friendly type.
The occasion is Fright Night, which features a huge selection of Halloween-styled events all taking place downtown. A few of the events on Fright Night include costume-related activities, a tour of haunted spots around Fort Wayne, a magic show, and a coffin race (more on all this below).
If there’s an overall organizer to Fright Night, it’s the Downtown Improvement District, but the event actually represents a combined effort by a number of downtown organizations and businesses. “The Embassy contacted the D.I.D. about doing something around their event (a screening of The Black Pirate),” says Michael Waskiewicz, marketing director at the Downtown Improvement District. “We were going to do something that same night, too, so we thought what if we could work together and tie both events in…”
It snowballed from there, with other business and organizations calling to get involved. For such a large event, it only took about six weeks to pull the whole thing together. “In no time at all, a bunch of downtown organizations got together to create something new,” says Waskiewicz. “There’s a lot of momentum going on with downtown revitalization, and all these organizations and businesses are really passionate about making downtown better.”
The events are all family friendly (well, except for maybe The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but that doesn’t start until late) and most of them are free. The Embassy is the only organization charging a reasonable $4 (children) and $7 (adults) for their event, while the ARCH walking tour costs $5 (adults) and $2 (children).
It promises to be a fun event, one the Downtown Improvement District hopes can grow for next year. “We’d like to make downtown Fright Night a regular fall event in Fort Wayne,” says Waskiewicz. “Judging from what all these different organizations did in such a short amount of time, I don’t see why we can’t make next year’s Fright Night even bigger. We’ve even received calls from other organizations who want to get involved for next year.“
The festivities start late Saturday afternoon at 3:30, with music on the Library Plaza. But as the sun starts to set, the action moves a block or two east…
Around 4 pm there’s the Ultrazone Coffin Race, a Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival Event. Yes, you read that right: it’s a Three Rivers Festival Event in October. Crazy? Maybe. But the return — or in this case maybe we should say resurrection — of the bed race to the Three Rivers Festival last summer proved tremendously popular. So why not tweak the idea with a Halloween theme?
Either way, it promises to be just as fun. Coffin teams kicks off the race from in front of Toscani’s on Wayne street, and rumbles west for 1.5 blocks to end at the Library Plaza. "When approached by the Downtown Improvement District to participate in Downtown Fright Night we decided the Ultrazone Coffin Race would be the perfect compliment to the overall event,” says Shannon White, Executive Director of the Three Rivers Festival. “We wanted to help produce a couple events outside the traditional festival timeframe just to keep awareness up.”
“Also, it keeps our staff on their toes and gives us something to look forward to,” White laughs.
"We‘re very excited to have this opportunity to work with the Fort Wayne Newspapers Three Rivers Festival and help create an event that I hope becomes a long standing festival tradition," adds Pat O’Connor, owner of Ultrazone. "Plus, this just sounds like a lot of fun!"
Also around 5:30 pm, the Grand Wayne Center — teaming with WAJI, A Party Apart, and Science Central — opens its doors for a host of costume-related events, with games, prizes… and even glowing “Ectoplasm” slime courtesy of the Mad Scientists at Science Central. A Party Apart is turning the sky bridge between the Grand Wayne Center and the Embassy into a haunted corridor.
All through the evening, starting at 5 pm and continuing until 10, ARCH will be offering tours of haunted Fort Wayne, as well as other spots of historical weirdness. “I think the oldest places have the best ghost stories, and the Fort Wayne area is one of the oldest settled places in Indiana,” says ARCH director Angie Quinn. “There are hundreds of years worth of stories here.” The ARCH tour will hit on some of the best — “best” in this case meaning creepy and weird, like the perennial favorite “The Lady In White,” and the gruesome but true tale of the remains of our namesake, Anthony Wayne. The tours begin in the lobby of the Indiana Hotel (rumored to be haunted, by the way). While you’re waiting for your tour to begin, storytellers from the Allen County Public Library will be on hand to whet your appetite with some spooky tales.
At 7, magician Dick Stoner presents a show at the Embassy. Stoner is a bit of a Fort Wayne legend in his own right. His blend of comedy and magic has been entertaining people for years, and not just in Fort Wayne. His career includes performances for celebrities (he was at Muhammad Ali’s 50th birthday party) and stints as the opening act for music groups.
Then at 7:30, the Embassy Theatre will show the 1926 silent film The Black Pirate, with a live soundtrack provided by Dennis James on the Grand Page Organ. This is a rare opportunity to experience a film like The Black Pirate the way it was meant to be experienced — in a movie palace, on a big screen with musical accompaniment written specifically for the film. You get to see exactly what the film makers had in mind, and exactly what audiences back then felt and saw.
Of course, all that wouldn’t matter if The Black Pirate weren’t simply a fantastic adventure movie. Douglas Fairbanks plays the only survivor of a pirate attack who joins the buccaneers with the purpose of exacting revenge. The Black Pirate is one of the classics of the silent age, and one of the very few silent movies of that era to be filmed in color. But its real claim to fame are the action sequences. The Black Pirate is packed with swashbuckling derring-do, from ship-to-ship sea battles to acrobatic sword fights. The film even marks the first appearance of a staple of practically every pirate movie since, the oft-imitated “riding down a sail on the edge of a knife” stunt.
Organist Dennis James returns to accompany The Black Pirate on the Embassy’s Grand Page Pipe Organ. A renowned silent film accompanist (he’s been at it since 1969), James played with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic last year at a showing of Buster Keaton’s The General, and also provided the live soundtrack for the Embassy’s showing of The Phantom of the Opera.
For less family-friendly fare, anyone over 18 can head down to the Allen County Public Library Plaza at 9:30 for a showing of the camp classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Before practically every household had cable and a VCR, midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the theater turned every weekend night into Halloween, as people would show up dressed as characters from the movie (yes, this even happened in Fort Wayne). Of course, that was a while ago, but… “I’m told it is to be full participation, which I think means costumes and assorted other implements,” says Steven Fortreide, Associate Director of the Allen County Public Library.
For more information, visit the D.I.D.’s website at www.downtownfortwayne.com
3:30-6:00 — Band at the Main Library Plaza
4:00-6:00 — Three River Coffin Race presented by Ultra-Zone
5:00-10:30 — Haunted Bus/Walking Tours
5:00-10:00 — Library Storytelling at the Indiana Hotel
5:30-7:00 — Grand Wayne Center, WAJI & Science Central costume-related activities
7:00-7:20 — Dick Stoner Magic Show at the Embassy
7:30-9:00 — “The Black Pirate” at the Embassy
9:30-11:00 — “Rocky Horror Picture Show” at the Main Library Plaza